Setting out to write a book about H. G. Wells was a strange and counter-intuitive thing for an academic, schooled in the high canon of literary modernism, to undertake. After all, Wells is barely recognized or taught in the academy; the works that are appreciated today all stem from the first 10 years of his 50-year writing career, and all are science fiction, itself a marginalized genre among literary scholars.

But my decision to write a book about him came not really as a decision at all but as a kind of inspiration. I knew almost nothing about his writings—I had spent two decades writing and teaching the canonical figures of his era (Woolf, Conrad, Eliot, Joyce, Lawrence, Yeats)—and, yet, it came to me with the force of conviction that Wells belonged, that we needed him in our understanding of the 20th century. Something was missing from the standard account of this period in literary history; here was someone with whom all of those modernists (and many other writers) were mildly obsessed; and, more to the point, it seemed that his ideas ranged far and wide, a genius whose imagination had found its way to us in the 21st century despite a 50-year neglect of his work in academia. This was Wells.