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The Food of the Gods and How It Came to Earth (1904)

por H. G. Wells

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Two scientists devise a compound that produces enormous plants, animals - and humans! The chilling results are disastrous. First published in 1904, this gripping, newly relevant tale of science fiction combines fast-paced entertainment with social commentary as it considers the ethics involved in genetic engineering.… (mais)
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A mixed bag. Spoilers to come.

The The Food Of The Gods is split into four smaller "books" which in turn are split into chapters and they too are divided into mini-chapters. It begins with two scientists who stumble across a formula for a food that will make the consumer grow gigantic (they call it "Herakleophorbia 4", the public call it "Boom Food" and the narrator refers to it as "The Food of the Gods"). This has modest beginnings in the form of a chicken farm, but things soon go very wrong and poor management results in other creatures gaining access to the food, resulting in giant ants, wasps, rats ect.

It's an interesting concept - or at least it would have been at the time of its writing, though in our day and age there's no shortage of gigantism in film, television and literature. There was certainly many a movie back in the day that involved the attack of some horrendously giant creature - "Them!" (giant ants), "Tarantula" (giant spider), "Attack of the 50 Foot Woman" (giant woman), "King Kong" (giant ape)... H.G. Wells, of course, wasn't the first to cover this idea. It was also briefly explored in Jonathan Swift's classic, Gulliver's Travels. Interestingly enough, both Wells and Swift used the concept not merely as a tool for fantasy storytelling but as a metaphor for the political happenings of the time.

The motive Wells lays out for creating the food is relatively noble, the goal being to increase the amount of food available to mankind by making animals and plants larger than normal. The focus on giant insects and animals soon completely withers away though and the majority of the book focuses on how the food inadvertently results in a race of giant people and their inability to function together in a society dominated chiefly by little people. This could have been interesting, but it's mostly quite dull. With a concept such as this, where a substance is loose, even airborne, and is resulting in the uncontrollable growth of anything it comes into contact with... There's a lot of potential. Why then, does Wells spend 50 pages on the dissatisfaction of a giant toddler? A further 30 pages on "giant lovers" and the rest of the book on politics? There was actually a moment in the book where I thought "Yes! Now we're getting somewhere!" as Wells introduces a new part of the story and propels our minds forward to a time when giant things and little things have become the norm and the world has never known anything different. There are giant plants, bugs, animals, people of various sizes all over the place due to an idea two scientists were unable to control. Good setting. Let's get on with it. Wells says:

"To tell fully of its (the food of the Gods) coming would be to write a great history, but everywhere there was a parallel chain of happenings. To tell therefore of the manner of it's coming in one place is to tell something of the whole."

No! No, Wells. You've told me the beginning. I'm already halfway through the book. Move on!

I would criticise the lack of character development and story, but I don't think that would be fair, as it's not what the real issue is here. It's not really that sort of book. The issue is that there is all the right amount of focus and detail put on the wrong aspects of the story. The concept needed further exploring. No harm would have been done in providing some decent character development but it probably would have been futile in as much as it would in Asimov's "Foundation". Both books of which are split into sections detailing different time periods and focusing on different scenarios of different characters.

I'm a big H.G. Wells fan, but he does sometimes have a tendency to gloss over the interesting aspects of his ideas and spend forever on things that most readers won't even care about. As a fan though, I thought it was worth the read.

The ending is quite good. The big people have been at war with the little people and the little people have given the big people terms for peace: they are to be given a region where they will live out the rest of their lives in seclusion, unable to spread the food of the gods and forbidden to reproduce. They are offered the opportunity to live provided they also allow their race to fall into extinction.

So I will leave you with the closing moment in which the leader of the giants delivers an inspiring speech to his fellow beings in retaliation of the terms given (paraphrased):

"It is not that we would oust the little people from the world" he said, "in order that we, who are no more than one step upwards from littleness, may hold their world forever... For we are but the momentary hands and eyes of the life of the world... This earth is no resting place; this earth is no playing place, else indeed we put our throats to the little people's knife, having no greater right to live than they... We fight not for ourselves but for growth, growth that goes on forever. Tomorrow, whether we live or we die, growth will conquer through us. That is the law of the spirit for evermore... To grow at last into the fellowship and understanding of God. Growing... Till the earth is no more than a footstool... Till the spirit shall have driven fear into nothingness, and spread..." He swung his arms heavenward - "There!" His voice ceased. The white glare of one of the searchlights wheeled about, and for a moment fell upon him, standing out gigantic with hand upraised against the sky.
For one instant he shone, looking up fearlessly into the starry depths, mail clad, young and strong, resolute and still. Then the light had passed and he was no more than a great black outline that threatened with one mighty gesture the firmament of heaven and all it's multitude of stars.
( )
  TheScribblingMan | Jul 29, 2023 |
What a mix up! But also so interesting and engaging.
The first part is almost all light hearted,comic and satirical.....
Then a sad but still tongue in cheek part deals with young Caddles...
A short fairytale romance follows
And finally grim " reality " of sorts where two kinds of humans will not agree or even leave each other in peace....
It's not realistic in many ways of course, and the practical aspects of being a giant is hardly touched on , especially for the upper class and intelligent giants......yet ,sadly the people and their oddities,or uncaring selfish attitudes are very clear. It also is very fresh seeming and modern , only in two sections where house transport is mentioned are you reminded that this is set over a hundred years ago. The society divided theme never seemed more apt than in recent years....countless times have different groups of people been targeted and made to feel they should not exist..... ( )
  SarahKDunsbee | Aug 2, 2021 |

A H.G. Wells book that I had never read, or even really heard of. A scientist carelessly develops a food that causes rapid growth in both animals and plants; the experimental farm that he sets up is overrun with gigantic vermin (in scenes satirising middle-class life); twenty years later, there is a reckoning between the giant human children who have emerged, enlarged in body and mind, from exposure to the new food, and the rulers (for now) of England. It's pretty short and makes its points very clearly. I'm surprised that it is not better known. ( )
  nwhyte | Mar 2, 2021 |
This was an interesting romp of both mystical adventure and high poised probabilities. I was surprised at what this had to offer, and I feel it is a good read for those interested in keeping their selection of Wells open. Wells seems to variate, from novel to novel, his form, style, and technique- this book is no different. If you're interested in Wells, be sure to check this book out.

3.25 stars. ( )
  DanielSTJ | Apr 28, 2020 |

Originally published in 1904, The Food of the Gods by H. G. Wells is less well known than the author’s The Time Machine and The War of the Worlds but it is a highly philosophical and entertaining science fiction novel and one not to be missed. And I’d suggest the SF Masterworks edition since there's an informative, insightful Introduction by Adam Roberts.

The storyline is simple: two amateurish scientists, Mr. Bensington and Professor Redwood, create a miracle substance accelerating growth in both plants and animals. They carry out their experiment on a farm run by a Mr. and Mrs. Skinner, feeding their “Herakleophorbia IV” to chicks. The chicks grow to six times their normal adult size. Unfortunately, the slovenly Skinners are careless, spilling the substance all over the ground and very quickly thereafter other plants and animals grow to monstrous proportions - vines, grass and gulp! - wasps. Then even more alarming news: rats!

Newspapers run headlines about the monstrosities. Bensington and Redwood know something must be done forthwith. The scientists swing into action - here are my comments coupled with a number of direct quotes from Chapter 3 - The Giant Rats:

"The doctor, one gathers, stood up, shouted to his horse, and slashed with all his strength. The rat winced and swerved most reassuringly at his blow—in the glare of his lamp he could see the fur furrow under the lash—and he slashed again and again, heedless and unaware of the second pursuer that gained upon his off side." ----------Completely uninformed about recent developments with various animal life, a country doctor returns home on his horse-drawn carriage after delivering a baby only to be attacked in the early dawn by three giant rats. One of the most vivid scenes in all of literature. The way in which the narrator reports the unspeakable horror of such an occurrence passes over into humor.

"Go up the street to the gunsmith's, of course. Why? For guns. Yes—there's only one shop. Get eight guns! Rifles. Not elephant guns—no! Too big. Not army rifles—too small. Say it's to kill—kill a bull. Say it's to shoot buffalo! See? Eh? Rats? No! How the deuce are they to understand that? Because we want eight. Get a lot of ammunition. Don't get guns without ammunition—No!" ---------- Bensington and Redwood lean on civil engineer Cossar, just the Action Jackson to organize a hunting party to kill the giant rats. Such an ugly turn of events. An to think, the two Brit scientists had no more evil intentions with their growth formula than Laurel and Hardy. Unfortunately, Bensington and Redwood had hardly more brains than those two famous film nitwits.

"By five o'clock that evening this amazing Cossar, with no appearance of hurry at all, had got all the stuff for his fight with insurgent Bigness." ---------- What is so striking is the enormity of the change in nature, a change that will expand into global crisis, and the reaction from this small band of bumbling Brits. Hey, why get the government involved when we can organize our own hunting party? Perhaps H. G. Wells is making a statement on the general state of human intelligence - hardly above the level of the Three Stooges.

"They left the waggonette behind, and the men who were not driving went afoot. Over each shoulder sloped a gun. It was the oddest little expedition for an English country road, more like a Yankee party, trekking west in the good old Indian days." ---------- I so much enjoy the British author's swipe at the American frontier mentality. I can clearly picture these eight men - Redwood, Bensington, Cossar and the five men Cossar rounded up - striding down the road on their rat hunt.

"Redwood had kept his gun in hand and let fly at something grey that leapt past him. He had a vision of the broad hind-quarters, the long scaly tail and long soles of the hind-feet of a rat, and fired his second barrel. He saw Bensington drop as the beast vanished round the corner." ---------- This encounter with the giant rats (seven feet long from head to tail) has all the making of a blockbuster B film. Many are the movie posters featuring the attacking giant rats.

"When things were a little ship-shape again Redwood went and stared at the huge misshapen corpse. The brute lay on its side, with its body slightly bent. Its rodent teeth overhanging its receding lower jaw gave its face a look of colossal feebleness, of weak avidity. It seemed not in the least ferocious or terrible. Its fore-paws reminded him of lank emaciated hands. Except for one neat round hole with a scorched rim on either side of its neck, the creature was absolutely intact." ---------- And what is Professor Redwood's reaction to such a event? He chimes: "This is like being a boy again." The immaturity of the current human population is one of the novel's abiding themes.

"Cossar was on all fours with two guns, one trailing on each side from a string under his chin, and his most trusted assistant, a little dark man with a grave face, was to go in stooping behind him, holding a lantern over his head. Everything had been made as sane and obvious and proper as a lunatic's dream. --------- Cossar crawling through the giant rat holes, shooting the giant rats, makes for a spectacularly harrowing scene in a B film. Oh, incidentally, the boy's adventure also includes dealing with giant wasps.

Alas, Redwood feeds the “Boomfood” to his own son. Likewise, there are other children raised on the miracle formula. Soon the world has to deal with baby giants and toddler giants and then, fully grown giants (forty feet tall, as tall as a four story building). With such sad giants inhabiting the planet, sad because the little people become increasingly intolerant of their presence, The Food of the Gods turns into a tale of pathos and high drama, a tale of political corruption and general ineptitude in humans dealing with anything outside their conventional framework and worldview.

Also added into the philosophic mix is a topic of particular relevance in today’s world – genetic modification and the so called Frankenstein foods. All in all, there is good reason why The Food of the Gods is published as part of the SF Masterworks. Highly recommended.

British author H. G. Wells (1866 - 1946)
  Glenn_Russell | Nov 13, 2018 |
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H. G. Wellsautor principaltodas as ediçõescalculado
Bergen, DavidArtista da capaautor secundárioalgumas ediçõesconfirmado
Hay, GeorgeIntroduçãoautor secundárioalgumas ediçõesconfirmado
Roberts, AdamIntroduçãoautor secundárioalgumas ediçõesconfirmado
Wollheim, Donald A.Introduçãoautor secundárioalgumas ediçõesconfirmado
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Two scientists devise a compound that produces enormous plants, animals - and humans! The chilling results are disastrous. First published in 1904, this gripping, newly relevant tale of science fiction combines fast-paced entertainment with social commentary as it considers the ethics involved in genetic engineering.

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