The Holy Terror has become a forgotten novel. It’s not hard to understand why; it’s a novel about a wannabe fascist dictator who takes over the world that had the grave misfortune to be published in 1939, when the public appetite for such things had dropped to precisely nil on September 1st. Furthermore, it’s an H. G. Wells novel from late in his career, long after the speculative whimsy that made his earliest works so endearing and enduring had given way to the Wells the Preacher, endlessly banging on about the Necessity of the World State, Property Held in Common, An End to Religion, And So On And So Forth. As a result, even though you could make a case for it being Wells’ last foray into the fantastic (depending on how you classify 1940’s All Aboard for Ararat), there generally hasn’t been much discussion of it, either at the time of its publication or in the following decades.
Certainly I had never heard of the book until coming across a blog post made by sf author/critic Adam Roberts a few years discussing the book as part of a literary biography of Wells he was putting together. Despite my wariness over late-period Wells, I was intrigued. The Grand Old Man of the Scientific Romance takes on fascism! What sort of hay could be spun from such a premise?
Sadly, the answer turns out to be very little. The Holy Terror is a bad book, both as an exploration of the rise of fascism and as a story in its own right. For those in the realm of dedicated Wellsian scholars, The Holy Terror is probably more interesting as an attempt by Wells to reconcile through prose the long-held ideals of his utopian World State with the actual world of the late 1930s. While the novel presents this attempt as a success, the compromises and misunderstandings required to achieve this success undermine the work, poking at the more unsavory aspects of Wells’ own utopian vision.