Much as I enjoyed it myself (primarily as a curio of sorts), this slim little book is one that most SF fans, I think, need not hurry to read. Unless one is truly interested in Wells as a man, in seeing how old age and the knowledge of his approaching death (by liver cancer) affected his thinking and writing, I don’t think someone is likely to get much out of it.
But if you are interested in Wells, this book can help you get a handle on his last few years. These works, especially Mind at the End of its Tether, seem something of a final coda to the anxiety that haunted Wells all his life. After all, many of his best known SF works — those from early in his career as a writer — centered on the philosophical horror show that proceeded from the honest and sincere realization of just what Darwin had told us about the universe, and just how profoundly he’d shattered humanity’s hoary myths about itself.
Evolution, for Wells, is a kind of grand and absurd machine, meaningless and merciless. Evolution giveth, and evolution taken away. As Rudy Rucker notes in his brief foreword to the text, it’s not rare or unusual for someone who feels his own death approaching on tiptoe, or on swift horseback, to see the world through the inevitable gloom that collects around him. Soon, he finds himself prophesying the end of everything, the death of life, the extinction of the little light upon the candle of our world.
Yet Wells repudiates more than life: he repudiates prophecy, and in so doing, seems to repudiate the future as an enterprise. That is, in the first few sections of Mind…: Rucker helpfully notes that a number of the final sections (concerned with evolution more directly) had been written earlier and tacked on as filler.
The Happy Turning is, in contrast, a very odd book. Wells discusses going for walks, but also dreams — I think he’s talking about the same thing, indeed — but there are bits of it that are quite bizarre. Wells has a conversation with a very annoyed Jesus who resents what’s been done in his name, which is not, you know, something we’ve never seen before. But he does it in a very odd, particularized way, in a couple of sections of the book including one audaciously titled “Jesus of Nazareth Discusses His Failure”. He rants about sycamores, too, in a section titled “A Hymn of Hate Against Sycamores.”
If this sounds like it would would tickle your fancy, well, it is a short book, at only 65 pages total. But, as I say, if you’re not particularly interested in Wells’ last years, or last thoughts, I don’t think you need to rush out and find this book, even if I, personally, am glad I read it.