From Google Groups Jordan179:
The book was published in September 1933, which means that it was presumably written up to a year earlier. This is interesting in terms of _when_ its "present" was (the early years of the Great Depression, and right when Hitler had taken power in Germany). It is also interesting to note that this was around the same time as _Last and First Men_, and that Stapledon and Wells, as two British socialist literary science fiction writers, almost certainly would have known one another in person. I wonder if there was some sort of informal challenge in their circle to try to "write about the future," or something of that sort?
_The Shape of Things to Come_, of course, is a far less ambitious work than _Last and First Men_, in terms of scope. While LaFM covers two billion years of the history of not only our own species but its successors as dominant sapient races of the Solar System, TSoTtC covers only about a century (to the 2040's) in any sort of detail, and gives some vague hints of what happens out to 2100. This is roughly 110 to 166 years past the point of publication, corresponding to the very earliest parts of Stapledon's book in terms of timescale.
The framing story is that this is the "dream book" (recording of a series of dreams experienced by) of Dr. Phillip Raven, a progressive-minded statesman, influential in the League of Nations, who died in 1930. As becomes apparent to his friend (presumably H. G. Wells himself), the dreams were accurately prophetic (he foretells the election of FDR among other things), channelling a history book written in 2106, and so Wells decides to write them up into this history of the future.
I say "history of the future" rather than "novel" with precise meaning. Like _Last and First Men_, _The Shape of Things to Come_ is not really a novel: it has very little characterization and indeed few named characters engaging in anything like normal dialogue or plot. It's actually set up as if it really were a history of the last 200 years, writen in 2106 (as it claims to have been). The only places where it's dramatic is where one might expect a well-written, lively sort of history book to be so.
This of course ruins it as a novel, but then that's never what Wells was aiming at. He was aiming at a "future history," and as such this book really has more in common with works such as the _Star Trek Spaceflight Chronology_ than with science fiction _novels_ in general.
It's interesting to note that both TSoTtC, and LaFM, were written several years before the earliest story in Heinlein's famous "future history." I wonder if Heinlein read either book before coming up with _his_ notion of a "future history?" Wells was, of course, quite famous by the late 1930's / early 1940's, both as a fiction writer and a serious futurist.
The work is divided into five "books," each the length of a short history book. The first: "Today and Tomorrow: The Age of Frustration Dawns," is Wells' precis of the history of the world from roughly 1914-1933, as it might be seen from the viewpoint of his fictional 2106. It is, as one might expect, essentially socialist and pessimistic in view: Wells believed that Western Civilization had lost and was continuing to lose tremendous opportunities of education, production, and progress owing to what he saw as the pernicious effects of capitalism and superstition. He also had by this time lost almost all hope that the Soviet Union was going to turn out any better than Western Europe had. This part is somewhat amusing in terms of exposing Wells' own views, but is less than fascinating even viewed as history (and I like to read history). Wells himself would do this sort of thing _far_ better in his famous _Outline of History_.
The second book,"The Days After Tomorrow: The Age of Frustration," is essentially about the wreck of Civilization. Basically, the Great Depression (which he calls "the Slump") gets worse and worse. In 1935, Franklin Delano Roosevelt calls The London Conference in which all the nations of the world try to come to an agreement to end it: they fail miserably and the Depression continues to deepen.
(this follows logically from Wells' own socialist views: if the Depression was caused by the limitations of capitalism, obviously nothing short of a complete restructuring of the economy towards socialism could cure it).
(in our time line, of course, what happened was that the Depression partially lifted in 1934, and conditions gradually improved throughout the 1930's; finally, World War II caused governments everywhere to demand massive war production that put an end to it once and for all. Wells, embarassingly, was to see his theory proven false _within one year after the publication of the book_, which may be why there isn't any mention of a Depression On Steroids in the movie version).
Anyway, things get worse and worse, socially as well as economically. Production of whole classes of goods ceases (this is logically inconsistent with the structure of a Depression, but Wells isn't a very good economist). Crime and despair spread.
In 1940, the Germano-Polish War starts, by accident, over the Danzig Corridor. A Nazi shoots a Polish man at a train station, and Poland invades Germany and drives a good way into the Eastern part of the country before being stopped by German fortifications.
(this is the same year that "the Second World War" starts in the movie, but in the movie we never learn the cause of the war or even the identity of the foe)
Germany and Poland trade continual air raids while their ground armies are locked in stalemate on massive trench lines, including extensive poison gas and anti-tank obstacles ...
(continued on google groups)