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A science fiction novella by H.G. Wells. The theme this time is bio-engineering, and the horrors its used to create. We're talking chimera, or animal/human hybrids. But unlike the mighty monsters from Greek legend these chimeras are just kind of sad and pathetic.
Right this is my fourth and hopefully final H.G. Wells review. It'll be nice to read something exciting for a change. Wells is obviously a very clever man but his books are often quite, quite boring. Hang on though, this ones actually alright. And I'll tell you for why as this review progresses.
We begin with our main character Edward Predrick involved in a ship wreck and ending up rescued by a fishing boat. Now I'll get this out of the way, straight away. This guy is largely indistinguishable from every main character in every H.G Wells novel I've read so far. Hes a rather whiney Victorian gentleman. Its hard to identify with him on any level, he's just kind of shocked or horrified by everything. And despite being well- educated, a proffesional biologist even, he never seems all that smart. For a start it takes him a bloody age to figure out what the reader picked up on 40-odd page ago. Considering that the plot revolves around a misguided/evil biologist you'd think perhaps that through this protaganist we'd get some sort of useful perspective on events. Y'know his opinion as a scientist or something. No. The only time we're ever aware that hes a biologist is when he says to someone;
"I'm a biologist."
Personally, I think he was lying. Other than that one bit, he could quite easily be any H.G.Wells character: the Time traveller, the guy hunted by the invisible man or the War of the Worlds chappie. Okay l suppose you can say its an ordinary man in an extraordinary situation. Quite an interesting conceit, but every book you write? Dont read all the H.G Wells novels in a row. You'll just get annoyed.
Anyway on this boat he meets a fellow passenger called Montgomery. Montgomery is a scientist as well and assisstant to Dr. Moreau. He's probably the most interesting character we meet in the novel. But thats probably because he's the only interesting character we meet in the novel. Montgomery is accompanied by some most peculiar assisstants. One has a protruding face, shaggy black hair and is rediculously loyal towards his master. You mean like a dog? Yes like some sort of man/dog hybrid in fact. Its quite some time before our protaganist joins us in working this out so you will have to suffer numerous sections given to his endless circumlocutions on the lines of 'I couldn't help being disturbed by these assisstants, there was something altogether queer about them. I just couldn't quite figure out what.' You mean that they look like animals?! Work it out man!
It turns out that the sailors on this boat aren't too fond of their cargo, especially the dogman. I wonder why. Montgomery and his freakish ensemble are uncerimoniously offloaded and Prendrick is dumped helplessly back in the lifeboat he was picked up in. Montgomery eventually takes pity on him and tows him back to his big evil island. There we meet a man who does horrible experiments on animals that have them howling in agony for days on end. (Anti-vivissection societies sprang up because of this book.) Dr. Moreau is utterly unapologetic. Your typical evil scientist he's ruthlessly pursuing his ambition, going where man was not meant to tread, etcetera.
I imagined him as looking like 'The Architect' from Matrix Reloaded if that helps.
Prendrick begins to fathom that something deeply nefarious is afoot (about time!) and finally when he bursts into the laboratory and sees the full horror of Moreau's work, hot-foots it out of there. At this point thinking that Moreau is blending humans with animals. His choice of fleeing- destination is not altogether a wise one (i.e. Monster Jungle) and he ends up in the company of Moreau's manafactured tribe of monstrous men.
To be fair this is all quite exciting as is much of the rest of this tale. The atmosphere is, at times electric, and fraught with dramatic tension. The plot is intruigingly cerebral, bringing with it heaps of excitement and a tangible sense of danger both from the outside, with the assembled rank of grotesquery in the jungle, and from within, where a man is playing at being God, which as we know from every story ever told on the subject, is not going to end well.
Moreau creates his horrible mockeries of man, by essentially just tinkering with the animal in question not by splicing beast with man as you would perhaps expect. To be honest the book was much more interesting in the early stages when this is implicated. That aside though, the whole scientific principal H.G Wells has going here is hard to believe. Granted the man has rather ingeniously fortold of modern bio-engineering, but still! Using no other materials Moreau makes these human-like things?
He stretches the animals? How does he give them two legs? There intelligence comes from him educating them. Yes 'educating' them. As though we could get a Leopard to talk if only we tried hard enough. This is all fine and well, you might think, because this is just science fiction, but surely science fiction works best when the science is concievable and therefore closer to home?
Its not too hard to detect an underlying atheistic subtext in the pathetic creations of Moreau, prostrating themselves before their creator and following his will unquestionably. They chant endlessly the cardinal tenets of their society, unthinkingly and rather idiotically. These rules relate to acting like men.
Basically Moreau is God, acting like men; their religion, and the chanting; their prayer. This obviously casts some ill aspersions religion's way, seeing as the creatures are depicted as imbecilic and following something which is not actually true. They're not men and Moreau is just a crazy scientist. Contreversial no?
As a book The island of Dr Moreau is very reminiscent of Gullivers Travels. Not in terms of quality. No, Gullivers is an epic masterpiece. But in terms of their denouement which both find the main characters misanthropic and feeling isolated from humanity. As I say though this is not a partcularly flattering comparison because in Gullivers Travels this seems poignant and believable. In Moreau you don't believe it for a second. What? Do you want to go back to the animal people? Whatever. Theres implication that Humans aren't all that much different from the horrific artificial creations of Moreau.
So there you have it a veritable chimera of a review. On one hand this book is quite good, thought-provoking and at times dramatic, easily my favourite from Wells' literary canon, but on the other hand it still suffers from all the faults particular to H.G. Wells novels in that it is written in a flat monotone, lacks characterisation and tends towards dullness.
On the whole then I would still recommend this book, if only so you can pick up some perspective on bio-engineering before scientists finally clone us a mammoth. Something which has been in the news lately. On the basis of this book I think we can safely say that Wells would probably advise against such a thing.