His is the Hand that writes

The Island of Doctor Moreau

Wells is rightly considered one of the founding fathers of modern science fiction. While there are many proverbial grandfathers---Mary Shelley, Jules Verne, Stevenson, the strain of occult that pervades pre-Victorian detective fiction---Wells took many existing strands of the gothic and the sinister, and twisted them into a structure capable of supporting the sudden growth of the genre in the twentieth century. He managed to plait together three apparently irreconcilable ideas concerning science: the optimism of the scientist, the whole of the physical world ripe for conquering; the pessimism of the realist, who foresees the ultimate impact of science as being negligible on the development or indeed redemption of the human race; and the antagonism of the naturalist, who saw science overturning the order of the universe with little understanding of the potential consequences. All of his scientists initially embody the first notion; the morals of The Time Machine and The War of the Worlds might be seen to imply the second; but The Island of Doctor Moreau is without doubt an example of the third.

The narrator Prendick has found himself delivered to some Micronesian backwater after being recovered from a shipwreck, and soon discovers Moreau and his right-hand man Montgomery indulging in hideous vivisection, reshaping animals of all species to both look and behave more like men. To the two scientists their own work appears progressive and of little account, respectively. Other areas on the island have been colonized by past experiments, a society as feral as it is feudal, and governed by Moreau's mantra of the Law. In his construction of Moreau's isolated dystopia, Wells is in some ways cautioning against not merely scientific hubris, but social hubris as well. Moreau has been attempting to refashion an ecosystem in his own image, that of man: in a sense, his created community consists entirely of reminders that such homogeneous ideals as the nation state will invariably turn out dysfunctional and cryptofactional. Ironically too, although he never admits it outright, Moreau has failed in every single experiment he has conducted on the island, in both humane and practical senses: without supervision and the pervasive fear of Moreau and his "house of pain" the beast-men invariably become less like men and more like beasts.

At no point in the novel does Wells seriously attempt to engender suspense in the reader. Although his unlikely hero Prendick speculates on, and occasionally pre-empts his own relating of, the fall to which Moreau is heading, this is partly little more than a gossipy confirmation and some of Prendick's many mental wanderings. The nature of Moreau's experiments is confirmed matter-of-factly perhaps a third of the way into the novel, and is only ever an explicit horror. Instead, Wells works in a potboiler--thriller mode, similar to John Buchan, providing action and excitement in which, against all expectations, he subtly drops ethical and moral weights which seem to disappear from view, but nonetheless give the novel substance and force. Wells may have hoped that the genre his child would continue to ask philosophical questions, rendering the ethically complex palatable with a framework of slightly silly fisticuffs and scientification. Like many of his scientists, Wells was an incorrigible optimist; perhaps had he himself had a time machine, he might have felt otherwise.