The War in the Air

Infobox Book |
name = The War in the Air
title_orig =
translator =

image_caption = 2002 edition
author = H. G. Wells
illustrator =
cover_artist =
country = United Kingdom
language = English
series =
genre = Science fiction novel
publisher = George Bell and Sons
release_date = 1908
english_release_date =
media_type = Print (Serial, Hardback & Paperback)
pages =
isbn = NA
preceded_by =
followed_by =

"The War in the Air" is a novel by H. G. Wells, written in 1907, serialized and published in 1908. Like many of Wells’ works, it is notable for its prophetic ideas, images, and concepts, in this case, the use of the airplane for the purpose of warfare and the coming of World War I. The novel's hero is Bert Smallways, a forward-thinking young man, a "kind of bicycle engineer of the let's-have-a-look-at-it and enamel chipping variety."

Plot summary

Wells envisions a world in which China and Japan form an alliance of Eastern Asia; Germany is aggressive and thrusting; and the United States is a country torn apart "in violent conflict between Federal and State governments upon the question of universal service in a defensive militia." The British Empire is a more pacific power, whose possessions are scattered across the globe, and distracted by "insurrectionary movements in Ireland and among all its Subject Races. It had given these subject races cigarettes, boots, bowler hats, cricket, race meetings, cheap revolvers, petroleum, the factory system of industry, half penny newspapers in both English and the vernacular, inexpensive university degrees, motor-bicycles and electric trams…" France and the Latin Powers (Italy, Spain, Portugal) are militarized, but reluctant to fight; Russia is divided within itself, torn apart by conflict between revolutionaries and reactionaries. Other smaller states have armed themselves as best they can.

War erupts when German aerial forces, built and supported by aeronautical parks and foundries, and consisting of airships and "Drachenflieger", attempt to seize control of the air before the Americans build a large-scale aerial navy. The Germans assume that the Chinese and Japanese have no air forces. Tensions between Japan and the United States, exacerbated by the issue of American citizenship being denied to Japanese immigrants, also lead to war. The "Confederation of Eastern Asia" (China and Japan) turns out to possess aerial forces, and their aircraft and tactics have been seen as a portent to the kamikaze of World War II. The United States therefore has to fight on two fronts: the Eastern and the Western, in the air as well on sea.

Bert Smallways becomes entangled in the German plot to bomb New York City when he accidentally falls into the hot air balloon of Alfred Butteridge, a British aviator who is apparently the only man with the "secret of the flying machine". The hot air balloon is whisked off and lands in the German aeronautic foundries in Franconia. Mistaken by the Germans as Alfred Butteridge, he is taken on board and questioned by the German ambassador Von Winterfeld. He also comes into the presence of Prince Karl Albert, the German commander of the plot. However, his disguise is foiled, and he becomes stuck on board the "Vaterland", the German flagship. After witnessing the Battle of the North Atlantic and the bombing of New York, as well as an aerial battle between German and American forces, Bert Smallways realises the true horror of war.

After New York City is bombarded by the German flying machines, the Asiatic aerial forces fly over the Rocky Mountains, and engage the Germans in dog fights above Niagara Falls. The Asiatic fleet also attacks a combined Anglo-Indian aerial force, and in Australia as well, capturing the Pacific islands. In Europe, Great Britain, France and Italy fight the Germans and Swiss forces, leading to the destruction of London, Paris, Hamburg and Berlin. Through generosity and luck Smallways returns to his now desolate home. The story advances a few years into the future to find humanity resembling barbarians maintaining a brutal feudal society after the war's destruction.

External links

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