Storytelling in optimistic industrialism (5/5)
H.G. Wells’ novel The War of the Worlds (1897) was my introduction to both the bibliography of Wells and 19th century science fiction. I felt immersed in the familiar world of southwestern London (a map kindly provided here). While the “fiction” part of the novel was a fantastic story in itself, the non-fictional inclusion to the plot won me over. It was a sensation mix even though I wasn’t personally familiar with the geography of England.
Here in his Selected Short Stories, the non-fictional portions of each story lend an extra sense of earthly-ness, but it doesn’t take precedence over each story as much as The War of the Worlds; rather, in this collection, the steady stream of ideas is what captures the reader’s heart. This captivating aura of each story is assisted by the optimistic vision of industrialism and scientific progress. This sense of positivity and advancement isn’t dulled by the repetitive delivery of each story: storytelling in the most classic sense.
This 1958 publication, with 21 stories, draws stories from a much lengthier collection entitled The Short Stories of H. G. Wells from 1927, containing 63 stories. The stories within date from 1894 to 1921, but most date from pre-1900. Regardless of the century-plus age of these stories… they remain timeless.
The Time Machine (novel, 1895) – 5/5 – The Time Traveler, as he is known to the narrator, constructs a miniature model of a time traveling machine. His skeptical guests ponder upon the displacement of the tested machine, perhaps the victims of a slight of hand or some other tomfoolery. Yet, when the narrator and other guests return to the man’s house for a dinner party, they are met by the same man, yet this time disheveled, bloodied, and with an appetite of a waking bear. Could the glimpsed majestic machine, the “time machine”, actually be the real deal? The story spun by the Time Traveler is very detailed, lending it to credibility if it weren’t for the exotic claims forwarded by the Traveler.
The Time Traveler is optimistic of the progression of Man, so he takes his machine to the far future. During his voyage through time, he witnesses, albeit at a very accelerated rate which blurs past him, an England which builds up and up. Eventually, in the year 802,701 A.D., the Traveler stops his machine at the base of an enigmatic statue surrounded by lush forest and sentinel-like hills. The drastic difference of the reality compared to his expectation doesn’t immediately upset him.
The simple, curious, lithe, and innocent citizens of the surface of earth are friendly yet detached from the sudden appearance of the Time Traveler. He considers the people’s progression from technologically-oriented to one of bucolic harmony-orientation. He’s comfortable with the idyllic lifestyle until the disappearance of his time machine. The Eloi are disinterested in his loss, yet cower at the coming of dusk; the Time Traveler ponders if the dark harbors a manifestation of this fear.
He soon discovers a labyrinth beneath the plush, wooded surface, an underground world shut out from the piercing rays of sunlight and enveloped in a cloak of darkness which the Morlocks call home. These creatures, as human as the Eloi yet more visually regressive to animal form, stalk the meek human on the surface; the Time Traveler’s time in the caverns is limited for good reason, but the presence of throbbing machinery and prandial carnivorousness are an interesting contrast the Eden of the Eloi.
Eventually befriending a svelte, young Eloi for himself, the Time Traveler feels better equipped to explore the more mysterious buildings of the hills, one of which houses an ancient museum. Reliving history through the halls of technology, the Time Traveler feels the pang of nostalgia amid the verdant brush and sun kissed landscape. He becomes determined to find his machine, advance further into the future for a glimpse of things to come, and return to his laboratory to spin his extraordinary yarn. 75 pages
The Lord Ironclads (novelette, 1903) – 4/5 – An artist and war correspondent view a trench war from the side of the simple peasants. Prepared with rifles and howitzers, the army lies in their trenches expecting their enemy to attack from their own trenches; yet large dark figures are witnessed on the enemy’s horizon. Some of these machines advance with lethal intent and accuracy, overpowering the villagers and turning a war into a one-sided slaughter; the headlines will read, “Mankind versus Ironmongery”. 22 pages
The Door in the Wall (shortstory, 1906) – 3/5 – What begins as a childish tale of fantasy and secrets becomes so much more convincing when the storyteller dies under strange circumstances: walking through a door which led nowhere but down. The tale spun relates to a childhood memory of a fantastic garden with playmates and emotional umbrage, all accessed by a door which is invisible to all else. Through the bard’s life, the same door appears but he ignores its draw… so he laments. 17 pages
The Country of the Blind (novelette, 1904) – 5/5 – Ascending an unclimbed peak deep in the Andes mountains, Munez stumbles at night and falls down a series of slopes to softly land on a forested plateau. Below, he discovers a community of blind villagers shut off from the outside world. Reciting his mantra of “In the County of the Blind the One-Eyed Man is King”, Munez is frustratingly unable to overpower the perfectly adapted blind villagers. His ability to “see” is symptomatic of insanity, says the village doctor. 24 pages
The Stolen Bacillus (shortstory, 1894) – 4/5 – Showing of his laboratory to an interested admirer of bacteria and science, one bacteriologist throws in a shade of bravado before he realizes that his guest has slipped away with the bravado bacteria itself—cholera! Fleeing in pursuit without hat or slippers, the man hails a cab to chase the thief down, and the bacteriologist’s wife chases her husband with hat and slippers in tow. The visitor accidently breaks the phial and assigns himself to Anarchist martyrdom. 7 pages
The Diamond Maker (shortstory, 1894) – 3/5 – Drained from work and loathe of additional work or entertainment, a man takes a respite to the riverside where another man, of ragged appearance and defeated will, spins a story of diamond making. His dangerous method in his Kentish Town flat runs akin to bomb making, so after two years of growing his prized diamonds, the diamond maker is on the run and desperate to sell his “hot” diamonds, yet £100 is too steep for the tired man. 8 pages
Aepyornis Island (shortstory, 1894) – 4/5 – Butcher had gone to Madagascar to find the remains of an Aepyornis bird. Having been extinct for nearly one thousand years, only the bones and eggs remain in the salty swamps of the northern delta. He’s able to retrieve three eggs but a series of unfortunate events leaves him with one egg, alone, and on a nearly deserted isle. For two years, the bird kept him company and grew to fourteen feet; but back home, he expects compensation for his duty. 12 pages
The Remarkable Case of Davidson’s Eyes (shortstory, 1895) – 3/5 – In a freak laboratory accident, Davidson lost his sense of vision; however, his vision was replaced by that of the sight of another man on a ship and, later, on an island. Davidson’s other senses were grounded in the reality of Harrow Technical College, but eventually the divergent sensory input lapses back to his normal vision in patchy foci. His experience in remote viewing is bolstered by a visiting sea captain. 10 pages
The Lord of the Dynamos (shortstory, 1894) – 5/5 – The Camberwell dynamo station is run by the slightly sadistic, borderline belligerent man James Holroyd and his noble savage Azuma-zi. The hum and throb of the dynamo offers a stark contrast to the idle Buddha statues of Rangoon, so the savage whispers to the Dynamo, asking for signs and begging for omens. His sacrifice to the Dynamo God is the life of James, a crime which his superiors attribute to suicide. 9 pages
The Plattner Story (shortstory, 1896) – 2/5 – A greenish powder from a local kiln is tested under amateur scientific experimentation by the Modern Languages Master of a small private school in the south of England. The resulting explosion leaves no trace of the man for nine days until he unexpectedly drops upon the school’s principal. Mr. Plattner, the Language Master, tells a bizarre tale of experiencing a reverse polarity world and has, since his return, had his body laterally reversed. 19 pages
The Argonauts of the Air (shortstory, 1895) – 3/5 – Monson’s Flying Machine has been under construction for five years and though its namesake suggests it actually flies, in reality the massive construction project is still amid its metallic scaffolding. Tourists take the train through the project, gawking at its grandeur while journalists mock the once multimillionaire and his grounded money pit. Sick of the bad press and desperate for success while so close to being broke, he finally sets flight. 12 pages
In the Abyss (shortstory, 1896) – 3/5 – Five miles above the floor of the Atlantic Ocean rests the exploration ship Ptarmigan, her crew, a nine-foot iron sphere and its passenger to the deep—Elstead. While the crew debate the sphere’s safety, Elstead is confident of his design and so descends to the unknown depths with only one last resort for escape—up. His tardy return to the surface is accompanied by Elstead’s amazing tale. 16 pages
Under the Knife (shortstory, 1896) – 5/5 – Morose as to his coming surgery, an emotionally despondent man rationalizes his detachment and hypothesizes about the attendance of his funeral; the low projection has no input on his psyche. At his surgery while under the anesthetic of chloroform, the man feels his body detach from his ascending extra-corporeal self. His physical death is superseded by his ascension into the vacuous heavens, where the universe’s reality isn’t what it seems. 13 pages
The Sea Raiders (shortstory, 1896) – 3/5 – The Haploteuthis ferox species of octopus reigns the deep sea where it battles whales yet is ignorant of humanity’s presence on the ocean’s shores… until the day they swarm offshore of Sidmouth, taking the life of a youth and whetting their appetite for human flesh. Mr. Jennings is the man who is beset by the advancing creatures yet escapes, sounds the alarm, and rallies a counterattack. 10 pages
The Cone (shortstory, 1895) – 3/5 – Raut is a man impressed with the effect of nature on man, how the moon shines, and how vibrant the viridity of the trees is; Horrocks, however, is an industrialist who finds beauty in man’s own creations: steel mills, iron forges, and steam trains. Raut is expecting Horrocks to show him the beauty which has escaped him thus far. Horrocsk expects the tour to go smoothly, but doesn’t expect Raut of perusing a personal agenda. 11 pages
The Purple Pileus (shortstory, 1896) – 4/5 – Mr. Coombes is a man of virtue and tradition with a timed fuse for those who counter his ways. Able to calm his previous grudges against his wife and her parasitic friends for years, one monumental night he verbally lashes out at them and storms out of his own house and into the forest. Unnerved into despair, he seeks forms of suicide, the most agreeable of which being the consumption of a mushroom patch. Rather than death, his spirits are lifted. 11 pages
The Grisly Folk (essay, 1921) – 3/5 – Mankind’s ascension to dominance on earth wasn’t without its epoch of struggle. A handful of sub-human races posed a threat to mankind’s existence, so they were systematically killed to make way for the expansion of man’s generational lineage, ideal, and customs. The flints of the technological progress of man and the other vanquished races stand testament to the size, importance, and struggle of the early diaspora. 14 pages
The Man Who Could Work Miracles (shortstory, 1898) – 5/5 – An argumentatively assertive man, yet innocuous in most ways, is debating the inexistence of so-called miracles. Hypothesizing the impossibility of a lantern burning upside down, the very lantern flips and burns as normal, much to everyone’s amazement. Fortheringay tests his new miraculous prowess by having candles, diamonds, and fishbowls materialize. Consulting the chaplain Mr. Maydig, the two test his powers on the worldly scale. 17 pages
The Truth About Pyecraft (shortstory, 1903) – 5/5 – Formalyn’s great-grandmother was of pure South Indian stock and bequeathed an array of odd potions for various ailments and magic. When Formalyn enters the smoking room of a club, an obese man instantly attaches to him, cajoling him into plying his secret elixir to cure his weight problem. Working through the proper translation of the correct potion, Pyecraft hunts down the ingredients but berates Formalyn for the unexpected success and consequences. 21 pages
Jimmy Goggles the God (shortstory, 1898) – 4/5 – A man dons his masked and weighted diving suit, which the three-man crew man have dubbed Jimmy Goggles. Submerged off a Papuan island looking for gold treasure in a shipwreck, the man sees his two crewmen sink to the ocean floor with spears through their bodies. His only path of escape is walking up the seabed’s incline to the nearest island, where the sight of his mechanical diving suit causes the savages to prostrate before him. His four months of godliness end with a missionary. 21 pages
The New Accelerator (shortstory, 1901) – 4/5 – Professor Gibberne is a wonder with pharmaceutical alchemy and he hopes to produce an accelerant for the whole body rather than one that only affects one or two systems. His end product is an accelerant for the human body that amplifies all sensations by 1,000-fold. Unhappy with being limited to the home, the professor and his friend take to the streets to observe life in slow motion—bees, an orchestra, a cyclist, and the neighbor’s infernally yapping dog. 14 pages