This collection of strange and wonderful stories written between 75 and 116 years ago (as I write this in 2012) represents some of H.G. Wells’ lesser-known works. I found a copy in my local public library, which is one of my favorite places for finding new books, or, as in this case, old books.
There are a couple of things you may notice when you read these stories. One, of course, is how prophetic H.G. Wells was in terms of changes that occur in technology. When he talks of futures in which airplanes, superhighways, instant communication, and electronic appliances of various kinds are common, you must remember that when he wrote these stories, they weren’t.
Another is how little human society has changed in the last century. Wells was uncomfortable with the level of social and economic disparity of the late Victorian era, and his utopian novels such as ‘Star Begotten’ and ‘Men Like Gods,’ which are contained in this collection, show a bright future in which this is no longer the case.
Such idyllic societies remain a utopian dream, however. The system we have today is more like the one depicted in the dystopian view of the future provided in the novella ‘A Story of the Days to Come,’ which is also included in this anthology. This is a story of two idealistic young lovers who find themselves in virtual serfdom after borrowing against an inheritance at high interest rates. The passage below is how Wells describes the 22nd Century London they are born into:
‘The new society was divided into three main classes. At the summit slumbered the property owner, enormously rich by accident rather than design, potent save for the will and aim, the last avatar of Hamlet in the world. Below was the enormous multitude of workers employed by the gigantic companies that monopolised control; and between these two the dwindling middle class, officials of innumerable sorts, foremen, managers, the medical, legal, artistic, and scholastic classes, and the minor rich, a middle class whose members led a life of insecure luxury and precarious speculation amidst the movements of the great managers.’
This is a version of the future in which the economic conditions are very much like those of Victorian England. I won’t argue that things have not improved since, but the similarities between this dystopia and our current system are disturbingly obvious.
Of course, not all of the stories here are comments on society or economics. Some, like ‘The Magic Shop,’ are simply charming, if sometimes a bit odd. I particularly liked this story, though.
As for the collection as a whole, I highly recommend it. If you like speculative fiction, if you want to see some of the earliest and best examples of it, pick up this anthology or read any of the stories you can find from wherever you can find them.
- Men Like Gods (Novel – 1923)
- The Empire of the Ants (Short Story – 1905)
- The Land Ironclads (Short Story – 1903)
- The Country of the Blind (Short Story – 1904)
- The Stolen Bacillus (Short Story – 1894)
- The Flowering of the Strange Orchid (Short Story – 1894)
- In the Avu Observatory (Short Story – 1894)
- A Story of the Stone Age (Short Story – 1897)
- Aepyornis Island (Short Story – 1894)
- The Remarkable Case of Davidson’s Eyes (Short Story – 1895)
- The Plattner Story (Short Story – 1896)
- The Argonauts of the Air (Short Story – 1895)
- The Story of the Late Mr. Elvesham (Short Story – 1896)
- In the Abyss (Short Story – 1896)
- Star Begotten (Novel – 1937)
- Under the Knife (Short Story – 1896)
- The Sea Raiders (Short Story – 1896)
- The Crystal Egg (Short Story – 1897)
- The Star (Short Story – 1897)
- The Man Who Could Work Miracles (Short Story – 1898)
- Filmer (Short Story – 1901)
- A Story of the Days to Come (Novella – 1897)
- The Magic Shop (Short Story – 1903)
- The Valley of Spiders (Short Story – 1903)
- The Truth About Pyecraft (Short Story – 1903)
- The New Accelerator (Short Story – 1901)
- The Stolen Body (Short Story – 1898)
- A Dream of Armageddon (Short Story – 1901)