John Gosling's site on the broadcast.
There was a specific event that inspired Wells. In 1894 Mars was positioned particularly closely to Earth, leading to a great deal of observation and discussion. Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli had reported seeing "canali" on Mars, meaning "channels," but the term was mistranslated as "canals," leading to much speculation about life on the red planet. [Although scientists were able eventually to photograph what seem to be large stream beds on Mars, these are on a much smaller scale than the blobs and blotches which misled Schiaparelli into thinking he had seen channels.] One of the 1894 observers, a M. Javelle of Nice, claimed to have seen a strange light on Mars, which further stimulated speculation about life there. Wells turned Javelle into Lavelle of Java, an island much on people's minds because of the explosion there in 1883 of Mount Krakatoa, which killed 50,000 people and drastically influenced Earth's climate for the next year.
Wells became famous partly as a prophet. In various writings he predicted tanks, aerial bombing, nuclear war, and--in this novel--gas warfare, laser-like weapons, and industrial robots. It was his tragedy that his most successful predictions were of destructive technologies, and that he lived to experience the opening of the atomic age in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Wells was to become famous as a...