H. G. Wells Module Week 1: Short Stories

* by Mr Andy Sawyer

Other writers of "scientific romances":

Jack London (1876-1916): "The Scarlet Plague" (1912), "The Star Rover" (1915), The Iron Heel (1907): strong Marxist/Darwinist elements.
Geroge Griffith (1857-1906), prolific sf/future-war writer: The Angel of the Revolution (1893), A Honeymoon in Space (1900)
Percy Greg (1836-1889): Across the Zodiac (1880) (Space travel)
Richard Jefferies (1848-1887): After London (1885): a post-collapse catastrophe novel
Edward Page Mitchell (1852-1957): many short stories on themes like time travel, matter transmission, invisibility, in periodicals, collected in The Crystal Man, ed. by Sam Moskowitz.
Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936): "With the Night Mail: A Story of 2000 A.D." (1905 McClure's Magazine) and its sequel "As Easy as A.B.C." (1912). The former is sometimes reprinted without the "apparatus" of adverts and reports which are meant to give it the flavour of being a product of 2000 AD. Compare Kipling's "Aerial Board of Control" with Wells's "Samurai" and "Air and Sea Control" of A Modern Utopia (1905) and The Shape of Things to Come (1933).

and of course JULES VERNE (1828-1905).
But see Tom Shippey, introduction to The Oxford Book of Science Fiction Stories on significance of Wells.

Short Stories
Possibly the first major writer to be trained in science. Following various "false starts" as drapers' apprentice and pupil-teacher, won (1884) a scholarship to the Normal School of Science in London where he studied biology under T. H. Huxley. His subsequent years as a student were not as distinguished (in Experiment in Autobiography he shows his disappointment and lack of empathy with his teachers) and he failed his final exam but took his B. Sc externally with first class honours in zoology. Taught in schools and University Correspondence College as biology tutor. Worked on textbooks (1892-3). Published scientific journalism, including the essay "The Rediscovery of the Unique" in 1891 and his important speculative essay "The Man of the Year Million" (1893). Began to sell short stories, many with a fantastic or speculative theme, published in magazines such as The Strand and Pall Mall Budget, and later in:
The Stolen Bacillus and Other Incidents (1895)
The Plattner Story and Others (1897)
Tales of Space and Time (1899)
Twelve Stories and a Dream (1903)
The Country of the Blind and Other Stories (1911)

Some, e.g. "A Slip Under the Microscope" (Yellow Book, Jan 1896) are mainstream stories reflecting his science student days. Others, e.g. "The Lord of the Dynamos" (Pall Mall Budget, Sep 1894) are not extrapolative, but nevertheless science or technology is important literally and figuratively: a stoker tending an electric dynamo worships it as a god.

Other extrapolate on technology:
"The Argonauts of the Air" (Phil May's Annual, 1895) anticipates flying machines; "The Land Ironclads" (Strand, Dec 1904) gives us the tank as weapon of war.

"Aepyornis Island" (Pall Mall Budget, Christmas 1894), "The Empire of the Ants" (Strand, Dec 1905).

Other Worlds:
"The Crystal Egg" (New Review, 1897): an egg-shaped piece of crystal turns out to be a viewing device which offers scenes of the planet Mars. Compare the large-brained, tentacled Martians with those of The War of the Worlds and the evolved human of "The Man of the Year Million" (1893).

Disaster & Apocalypse:
"The Star" (Graphic, Christmas 1897): a comet from outer space narrowly misses the earth. (Poe in "The Conversation of Eiros and Charmion" (1839) had a similar destruction of the earth by a comet) But see also Frank Lillie Pollack, "Finis" (The Argosy, June 1906, reprinted in Moskowitz, Science Fiction by Gaslight) in which two lovers await the inevitable end as light from a vast central sun finally strikes the earth.

* "Collective" narration. Impersonal author, focusing upon the details of the phenomenon and their implication. Multiple viewpoints: "the yawning policemen saw the thing, the busy crowds ..." as the star comes nearer we see it through the "weeping woman", "the schoolboy", "two negro lovers", "the master mathematician" each with their own relationship: irrelevance, burgeoning curiosity, romantic comfort, rational understanding. A "cinematic" approach -- shot after shot illuminating the bigger picture.
* "Coming doom". But at first most of humanity still goes about its daily business. Devastation and change. But humanity is not wiped out: "new brotherhood".
* Cosmic viewpoint: the standpoint of the "Martian astronomers" who conclude that very little has happened.

* Individual viewpoint: "Davis" and other characters waiting for the forecast arrival of the light. Moving to an "infodump" explanation of the prediction of the Central Sun and the estimate of when the light will arrive. Panic and horror. Eastwood and Alice brought together through apocalypse. Alice the shy woman who can only come to fulfilment through cataclysm: The "last dawn" the first orgasm. "I've never dared to tell anyone what I was, what I wanted ... I have never lived."

"The Country of the Blind" (The Strand, April 1904)
Ironic exploration of the proverb "In the country of the blind, the one-eyed man is king." Not an sf tale; the only remotely "fantastic" element is the idea of the plague which afflicts the remote group of settlers and their remarkable adaptation to it. But in essence it is a story which appears in hundreds of science fiction tales since. Numerous parallels:
* Hidden valley = newly-discovered planet
* Settlers = aliens
* Their adaptation to blindness = new senses
* The valley is a pocket universe (see Philip Jose Farmer's "World of Tiers" series; "Universe" (1941) by Robert A. Heinlein; Non-Stop (1958) by Brian Aldiss or Dark Universe by Daniel Galouye.
* Nunez's assumption that he can dominate because of the advantages of his sight = the invader who thinks that aliens are primitive. See "And Then There Were None" (Eric Frank Russell) in which military domination is undermined by Gandhiist pacificism.
* The sensory acuteness of the settlers almost a conceptual breakthrough. See John Varley's "The Persistence of Vision" (1978).

"The Land Ironclads"
Tradition of future-war stories from George Chesney, The Battle of Dorking (1871). (See I. F. Clarke)

The combating sides not named: "The young lieutenant", "the war correspondent". Stalemate in war broken by advanced technology. See the correspondent's musing towards the end: "Manhood versus Machinery" and the surrendered officers' implications that this is "unsporting". But the victors "not altogether degraded".

First view of the ironclads: fighting for comparisons: the artist: "Something between a big blockhouse and a giant's dishcover ... a prowling nightmare."

Change of viewpoint away from the correspondent as the ironclads attack (section 4): careful description and explanation. Cleverness and efficiency: the "young engineers" resent "the assumption that their own side was too stupid to do anything more than play their enemy's game."

The correspondent as he surrenders: "no end to the surprises of science."

SEE Wells's intro to Scientific Romances of H. G. Wells in which he links his stories to imaginative fantasies such as The Golden Ass of Apuleius.

Denies being in the Vernian business of forecasting.

Imagination is secondary to the effect of the "fantastic element" on human beings. "Anyone can invent humans beings inside out or worlds like dumb-bells or a gravitation that repels ... Nothing remains interesting where anything may happen."

"Work of this sort gets so stupidly reviewed nowadays that it has little chance of being properly read. People are simply warned that there are ideas in my books and advised not to read them."

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