Wells, H.G. : Complete Short Stories
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A Tale of the Twentieth Century, for Advanced Thinkers, (1887)
The Flying Man, (1893)
The Stolen Bacillus, (1894)
The Flowering of the Strange Orchid, (1894)
In the Avu Observatory, (1894)
Triumphs of the Taxidermist, (1894)
A Deal in Ostrich’s, (1894)
Through a Window, (1894)
The Diamond Maker, (1894)
Aepyornis Island, (1894)
Lord of the Dynamo’s, (1894)
In the Modern Vein; An Unsympathetic Love Story, (1894)
The Jilting of Jane, (1894)
The Hammerpond Park Burglary, (1894)
The Treasure in the Forest, (1894)
The Temptation of Harringay, (1895)
The Remarkable Case of Davidson’s Eyes, (1895)
The Moth, (1895)
Argonauts of the Air, (1895)
The Catastrophe, (1895)
The Cone, (1895)
Pollock and the Porroh Man, (1895)
The Reconciliation, (1895)
The Plattner Story, (1896)
The Purple Pileas, (1896)
The Red Room, (1896)
A Slip Under the Microscope, (1896)
The Story of the Late Mr Elvsham, (1896)
In the Abyss, (1896)
The Apple, (1896)
Under the Knife, (1896)
The Sea Raiders, (1896)
The Crystal Egg, (1897)
The Lost Inheritance, (1897)
The Star, (1897)
A Story of the Days to Come, (1897)
A Story of the Stone Age, (1897)
Jimmy Goggles the God, (1898)
The Man Who Could Work Miracles, (1898)
Miss Winchelsea’s Heart, (1898)
Mr Ledbetter’s Vacation, (1898)
The Stolen Body, (1898)
Mr Brisher’s Treasure, (1899)
A Vision of Judgement, (1899)
A Dream of Armageddon, (1901)
Mr Skelmersdale in Fairyland, (1901)
The New Accelerator, (1901)
The Inexperienced Ghost, (1902)
The Land Ironclads, (1903)
The Magic Shop, (1903)
The Truth About Pyecraft, (1903)
The Valley of the Spiders, (1903)
The Country of the Blind, (1904)
The Empire of the Ants, (1905)
The Door in the Wall, (1906)
The Beautiful Suit, (1909)
My First Aeroplane, (1910)
Little Mother up the Morderburg, (1910)
The Sad Story of a Dramatic Critic, (1915)
The Story of the Last Trump, (1915)
The Grisly Folk, (1921)
The Pearl of Love, (1924)
The Queer Story of Brownlow’s Newspaper, (1932)
Answer to Prayer, (1937)
A Tale of the Twentieth Century for Advanced Thinkers
A very amusing yarn set in 1999, in which a cross between a train and a perpetual motion machine is invented and set going round the circle line on the London Underground. It works perfectly but for one flaw, the brakes.
The Flying Man
A lieutenant tells of when and his party are trapped halfway up a cliff by some (presumably African) natives, and how his method of escape led him to become something of a legend among them. The framing tale is less ideologically suspect than some of the other short stories, but the main narrative soon reverts to type.
The Stolen Bacillus
A scientist has his Cholera Bacillus stolen by an anarchist posing as a reporter. Ending rather contradicts the scientist’s actions, and there is a touch of misogyny about the scientist’s attitude to his wife.
The Triumphs of the Taxidermist
A Taxidermist sits and boasts about the fraudulent creatures he has created. The taxidermist plays god, claims to advance science, and comes across as something of an unpleasant, dirty, and reprehensible figure. Contrast with scientist characters.
A Deal in Ostrich’s
An Ostrich swallows the diamond from the front of an eminent Hindu’s turban before losing itself amongst four other ostrich’s. The birds are then auctioned off for high prices. Ends in a similar fashion to The Stolen Bacillus. Contains some wonderfully period and relatively mild turns of phrase regarding foreigners.
Through a Window
A man sits and watches events upon a river from his window whilst he convalesces. Initially an amusing Benny-Hill style caper, but ends rather unpleasantly. More misogyny and idle racism, but this one may tell us a bit more about attitudes towards race.
The Diamond Maker
Straightforward scientific romance in which a scientist discovers a way to create diamonds, but before he can capitalise on it, he becomes suspected of being a bomber. Good concept, uncertain ending.
A biologist is stranded on a desert island after falling out with his native assistants with a couple of eggs from an extinct bird called the Aepyornis. He eats one, but the other one hatches. Fast moving story, but still feels more completely created than some of the others.
The Lord of the Dynamo’s
Concerns the goings on in a shed that houses three dynamo’s that power an electric railway. This one is ideologically complex. The description and actions of the protagonist are, frankly, appalling, as is the narrative voice, but the behaviour of the white men is equally abhorrent. A good story, but hugely racist in a stunning variety of ways.
In the Modern Vein: An Unsympathetic Love Story
Wildly different from anything else written at this time, In the Modern Vein tells the story of a minor poet who has a brief chaste affair with one Miss Smith and considers eloping, only to be jilted at the last and left to return home to the domestic attentions of his wife. Clearly based on Wells’ own experiences, this story feels like an exorcism of something that Wells needed to get rid of. It is pulsing with emotion and contains a myriad of tiny, delicate touches and observations that are totally lacking in anything else of this period. A small bombshell of a story that was amusingly originally published in a periodical called Truth.
The Jilting of Jane
Another domestic story that, like In the Modern Vein… was wisely left out of Wells’ first 1895 short story collection, The Stolen Bacillus and other Incidents. Tells the story of an orphan girl who gets engaged to a drapers assistant, only to be jilted in favour of another woman as the mans pecuniary position changes. Again feels a little confessional, especially in light of William’s trade. Most interesting perhaps for the character of Jane’s employer.
The Hammerpond Park Burglary
A man goes to the country and poses as an artist in order to burgle the manor of a newly married, rich couple. It does not go to plan, however, as someone has got there before him. Ingenious story, very good.
The Treasure in the Forest
Two men are after the gold from a wrecked Spanish galleon, buried somewhere in an Amazon-like environment by a Chinese man. The treasure is, however, well protected. A good boys own story were it not for certain attitudes raising their heads once again.
The Temptation of Harringay
An artist attempts to paint a portrait, and ends up painting the devil, who offers him fame for his soul. Interesting for Harringay’s unusual reaction to the offer, and for the scorn heaped upon artists.
The Remarkable Case of Davidson’s Eyes
A scientist suffers an enforced bout of remote viewing. He can feel and hear his immediate surroundings, but he see’s an island in the Pacific ocean, and as he moves around in the real world, so he moves about the island. He eventually regains his sight and has his story corroborated.
Two entymologists have a lifelong professional rivalry, until one of them dies. The other finds he cannot work without the rivalry, and tries other distractions, until a strange new species of moth shows itself to him. Interesting subtext about the nature of scientific progress and relationships within the scientific community.
Argonauts of the Air
A millionaire builds a huge launch apparatus above London to facilitate his flying machine experiements. He is forced by circumstances to make a test flight somewhat early. This is a fantastic story, with much about amateur and professional engineers and inventors, stuff about empire, and much steampunky goodness.
A man has opened his own drapers shop (another appearance of a Wellsian standard) but the business is suffering in competition with larger stores and is about to close. A catastrope befalls his wifes family, which turns out to be anything but. A good story with a very shaky start that deals in an unmoralising way with the essential selfishness of people.
Raut, a man who is having an affair with a coal works owners’ wife, takes a walk through the indutrial landscape at night with the cuckold. The emphasis here is on the massive machinery and industrial processes in contrast to a fragile human life. Dark, satanic mills are here invested with an extra degree of horror and murder.
Pollock and the Porroh Man
A very confused beginning leads into a story set in Sierra Leone about a man named Pollock who wrongs a native witchdoctor. In an attempt to avoid the witchdoctors curse he has him killed, but the severed head of the wronged man will not leave him. Despite a condemnation of Pollock as racist and a vague impression that Pollock gets what his cruelty deserves, the story is still filled with objectionable language and gaudy stereotypes. Still, it represents something of a move away from the wholly unrepentant racism of Wells’ earlier shorts. A shame, because the ending is extraordinarily accomplished.
Two scientists go out and get drunk together after a long time apart, the absence apparently caused by a dispute over a woman. The drink brings out their rage and they engage in a boxing match. Seemingly an echo of The Cone that shows the animalism beneath a scientific and cultured exterior, this story revolves around the similarity between a certain ear-bone belonging to whales and a boxing glove.
The Plattner Story
A school teacher by the name of Plattner has his right and left sides reversed, including his hands and his internal organs. The story of how this came about marries chemistry with mathematics, as well as physics and religion. Very, very interesting. Also has overtones of The Remarkable Case of Davidsons Eyes.
The Purple Pileas
A quiet, stolid little man gets annoyed with his wife’s friends coming round on a Sunday and making a racket in his house, so he goes out for a walk. Along the way he finds some purple capped mushrooms and, much upset, decides to eat one in the hope that it will kill him. Instead he goes on a full-on cylocybin induced rampage and scares the bejesus out of all and sundry. An amusing little tale that unfortunately ends in a very victorian spot of mysogony.
The Red Room
A nice little ghost story, possibly inspired by the haunted room from Jane Eyre. However, Wells never allows for the actual existence of ghosts, merely the power of fear upon the mind. Some might see this as a cop out, but it prevents the story from straying too far into fantasy. An elegant save from Wells.
A Slip Under the Microscope
An enterprising young scholarship student, the socialist, atheist son of a cobbler, struggles to be the best in his class against his privileged rival and competes for a girls affection with the same man. During an examinaion, he accidentally moves a slide on the microscope revealing the answer. The moral dilemma thus caused illustrates the remorselessness of discipline in college’s of the time, and provides a somewhat unstaisfying conclusion. Again, this feels like something that Wells writes from firsthand experience.
The Story of the Late Mr Elvsham
Probably the first ever body-swap story, and a damn sight creepier and more malignant than anything featuring Tom Hanks. Once again, as in Plattner and Davidson’s Eyes the possibility of being removed from ones body is explored.
In the Abyss
A wonderful story of undersea exploration. A man sinks five miles to the bottom of the sea in a diving bell. The first part of the story is dramatic and tense, the second half, the narrative of what he found there, is a tale of piscine horrors worthy of Lovecraft. Highly recommended.
A student on a train is offered an apple from the biblical tree of wisdom whilst on a train journey into Sussex. The unlikely characters and location are more than carried off by the entertaining and beautifully written story. Contains the oft copied line ‘It was as if the real was a mere veil to the fantastic, and here was the fantastic poking through.’
Under the Knife
A man’s prediction that he will die under the surgeons knife comes true, and he leaves his body. The story is something of an excuse to travel upwards through the atmosphere into space, and thence through the solar system, and finally out through the boundaries of the known universe using a dead mans soul as the narrative vehicle. Again contains traces of the out of body experience idea as contained in The Story of the Late Mr Elvsham, Plattner, and Davidson’s Eyes, but this time contains more connotations regarding the nature of the universe and the soul itself. Very interesting story that is definitely worthy of further study.
The Sea Raiders
A shoal of giant man eating squid are sighted around Devon and Cornwall and go on a bit of a rampage. Squiddy and wierd, should appeal to all fans of Lovecraft and Mieville. Point of interest, Wells gives his squid the fictitious latin name of Haploteuthis Ferox, roughly translating to ‘fierce single squid’. A little odd considering he presents a shoal of them, but this nomination is presented in the first paragraph and may be a symptom of Wells’ reluctance to write more than one draft.
The Crystal Egg
The owner of a bric-a-brac shop discovers that one of his items, the eponymous crystal egg, displays unusual luminous qualities at certain times, and upon investigation, also allows a form of remote viewing. Another story about ‘action at a distance’ that also includes interplanetary SF’ness. The character of the nagging wife crops up again.
The Lost Inheritance
A man tells the story of his Uncle, a failed writer who left a lot of money to him. Unfortunately, the man couldn’t find the will and spends his life down at heel. A nice little story about how ‘inheritance grubbing’ is a poor way to earn a living, and how we should all pay more attention to one another.
A gigantic meteor smashes into Neptune and knocks it into a collision course with the sun, a slingshot around Jupiter then diverts its course towards the Earth. This story, short as it may be, is vast in its vision. Wells deals with events on a truly global scale and the feeling of terror caused by a threat from the cosmos entirely outside of man’s control is beautifully wrought. Utterly riveting.
A Story of the Days to Come
This is a much longer story than most of Wells’ short pieces, and whilst good, is somewhat confused. The story starts by describing a vision of the C21st in which humanity has moved to an entirely urban population. The cities are something of a hive, in which the rich inhabit the upper layers closest to the open air, and the poor inhabit an industrial underworld. The story is told through the eyes of a pair of young lovers who marry against the upper-middle class girls’ fathers’ wishes. Initially the couple move to the countryside to be alone together, but their upbringing has not prepared them for the rigours of an outdoor life, so they move back to the city and slowly fall in status until they are indentured workers in the under-city.
Wells moves slowly from a story in which he is mainly describing the world of the future, which he does with great panache, envisioning such technologies as moving images used for advertising purposes a’la piccadilly circus and green energy technologies, to a more modern critique of a religio-capitalist class structure. Wells finally shows his hand through the mouth of a doctor who proposes that eventually science will advance to the point where it takes over governance, making capitalism obsolete. Wells describes the violence and poverty inherent in the capitalist system extremely well, but falls afoul of his old misogynistic ways. Despite this, the story is fascinating reading as a prime example of early textbook science fiction rather than the scientific fiction that the author was previously concerned with.
A Story of the Stone Age
Another long one, possibly intended as a counter foil to A Story of the Days to Come. This concerns two primitive people, Ugh-lomi and Eudena, as they are driven out of their tribe for no appreciable reason. Ugh-Lomi invents the axe, becomes the first man to ride a horse, and also kills a lion. Eudena kind of helps. A confused beginning to the story where once again Wells doesn’t exactly make himself understood and clearly couldn’t be bothered to revise the story. Didn’t really go anywhere and doesn’t really have an overarching narative in the same way that Days to Come does.
Jimmy Goggles the God
A story about a search for sunken treasure. Jimmy Goggles is the name given by the crew of a boat to their diving suit. Whilst one man is underwater everyone else is killed by, to put it nicer than Wells does, indigenous peoples, who then take the man in the diving suit for a god. Despicable attitudes on display here ameliorated only slightly by an antagonism towards missionaries.
The Man Who Could Work Miracles
During a discussion in a pub regarding the existence of miracle, a man is rather surprised to find that he can perform them at will. An entertaining and homely little story which becomes more interesting after the local vicar gets involved and has big ideas about using miracles to ‘help’ people. Slight criticism of religion here. Wells describes this story as a ‘Pantoum in Prose’, but I fail to see it.
Miss Winchelsea’s Heart
Miss Winchelsea is a sightly over-refined teacher with a bit of a chip on her shoulder. She goes to Rome with some friends where she meets an equally pretentious man. Destiny seems ready to reveal itself until Wells drops in a nice little callback that throws all Miss Winchelsea’s plans awry. A delicate and gentle dressing down of those who take culture far too seriously.
Mr Ledbetter’s Vacation
A conservative young cleric who is fond on complaining that there is no adventure in life decides one evening, after a healthy amount of whisky, to break into a house just to show that he could be a burglar if so desired. The clumsy trespasser is soon discovered by the owner of the house, and embezzler on the run, who kidnaps him and leaves him on a desert island. Quite an amusing little story, written seemingly to poke fun at a certain sort of blowhard.
The Stolen Body
A man attempts to astrally projects himself, and succeeds, but his body is taken over by a malignant spirit who goes upon a rampage. Another out of body experience from Wells, this time tied up with spiritualism, and the idea that a spirit world inhabited by the never-born surround us attempting to gain a foothold upon life. Nice development of previous attempts at this theme.
Mr Brishers Treasure
A tale about a man who finds a treasure trove of silver coins buried in his mean father-in-laws garden. The story is told by the man in a heavy dialect which adds to the amusement of the story. Nice little moral ending about comeuppance.
A Vision of Judgement
The title says it all. A daring piece detailing the last judgement of the souls of man by god. The story shows a great sinner and a great saint, both brought to a level of shame by the mere accurate recounting of their lives. Ultimately a wish for mankind to know one another better.
A Dream of Armageddon
Essentially another of Wells’ out-of-body experience tales, this time taking the form of a dream in which a man is swept forward into the future to live the life of a man who forsook his fellows and his duties for a woman, thus causing a war. Details are sketchy and there is a faint echo of mysogyny again as it is unclear whether it is the mans or the womans fault, he for giving things up, or her for being so beautiful. The framing narrative is another strangers-on-a-train jobby, much like The Apple and Miss Winchelsea’s Heart. Confusing ending that appears to show that the dreamer now has nightmares about hell, or something similar.
A story about a man called Filmer who invents an aeroplane, although here it is called simply a flying machine. Concentrating on the character of the man rather than the machine itself, it follows his fortunes as an irritatingly concieted scientist, to popular celebrity, and finally as a coward who does not want to use his own contraption. Rather busily written with not a great deal of interest in it apart from a criticism of upper-class social pressure upon the famous, something that Wells’ may have been feeling himself at about this time.
Mr Skelmersdale in Fairyland
A rather charming story about a man who falls asleep upon a tumulus after a row with his fiancee. During his nap a fairy queen falls in love with him and he is taken into the barrow to live with them for a spell. A classic folklore tale of being kidnapped by the fairies and thereafter ‘touched’, set somewhere on the hills overlooking the weald of Kent. Rather a good framing narrative about the man’s life many years later. Some really nice touches in this one, like the fairy queen seeming to shine out of the narrative despite the man’s rough dialect. Excellent story clearly inspired by the wealden countryside.
The New Accelerator
Another example of Wells creating a new SF’nal trope. In this case, the new accelerator has nothing to do with particle physics, rather it is a potion that allows the drinker to speed up their actions to many times normal speed, effectively slowing down time for themselves. The creator and his friend take a dose each and proceed to whizz around Folkestone lea’s causing mild havoc. A little aimless as a story, but the concept is brilliantly and originally imagined.
The Inexperienced Ghost
A rather amusing story about the ghost of an ineffectual man who infiltrates ‘The Mermaid Club’ and attempts to haunt it. He is counselled by one of the members, and eventually learns the arm motions required to make himself move on. Unfortunately, the counseller also learns the motions…
Colourfully done, with a few clever plays on words and moments of restrained wit.
The Land Ironclads
A very famous tale in which, it is commonly proclaimed, Wells foresaw the advent of the tank. Here the tanks are extremely large vehicles more akin to ships than tanks, and the treads are described as a series of linked legs, but overall the impression is reasonable. The story is framed as a war between civilized men of science and rough men of nature, initially the assumption being that the more rough and tumble men would win out, but science does for them in the end.
The Magic Shop
A boy and his father go into a magic where the magic is genuine. After displaying his list of wonders, the shopkeeper makes the boy dissapear. There is a nice element of fear about whether or not the boy will be abducted. Classic ‘dissapearing shop’ story.
The Truth About Pyecraft
A corpulent gentleman named Pyecraft approaches a member of his club because he is rumoured to be in possession of indian remedies handed down to him by his grandmother. His persitence results in him being given a potion for weight loss. An amusing story, based essentially around a pun and the desire to mock the ponderous.
The Valley of the Spiders
A singular tale apparently set on the American frontier. A woman who does not appear escapes a powerful man, and he leads a group of men on horseback to track and find her. They are thwarted in their efforts when they come across a valley in which giant white gossamer sacs containing hundreds of large spiders float on the wind. Entertaining, but not particularly noteworthy except for the unusual (for Wells) scenery.
The Country of the Blind
A climber in the South American mountains (presumably the Andes) comes upon an isolated valley in which all the inhabitants are completely blind. Being sighted he thinks to make himself their king, but finds that this is not so easy as they have become so used to living their lives blind they do not understand the concept nor need it. A thought experiment that starts with a totally unecessary framing narrative, and a long, dull description of the valley which, by the end, has transmuted into a delicate celebration of nature’s beauty. Fascinating and eventually wonderful, if ill-crafted.
The Empire of the Ants
A colony of deadly ants starts spreading throughout Brazil, and a scientist is sent to investigating what is going on. It turns out that the ants have become intelligent and are waging some kind of war for territory against humanity. A little silly, but the first half of the story takes place in a tense atmosphere and stifling marshy conditions. Heart of Daftness?
The Door in the Wall
A variation on the old ‘dissapearing shop’ routine. This time a politician recounts his childhood encounter with a door in a wall which led him to a wondrous garden. As he grows up the door shows itself to him on occassion, but he is so taken with the cares of the world that he never enters. The narrative ends with a question as to whether death is a retreat from the world into darkness and fear, or into bliss.
The Beautiful Suit
A somewhat wistful story of a boy who has a richly guilded suit made for him by his mother, but he is not allowed to wear it except upon special occasions. One night it all gets too much and he puts on the suit and goes for a midnight walk wearing it. Could read this in a vaiety of ways, whether about happiness, or being careful with ones possessions, or about what constitutes a special occassion.
My First Aeroplane
A wealthy young man of leisure buys an early aeroplane as he fancies himself as something of an early adopter. He manages to fly in it, but has accidentally left two iron posts tied to bits of rope trailing from his wings, and wreaks a trail of destruction across his small village. Mostly an excuse to poke fun at posh young men, but also an interesting counterpoint to Argonauts of the Air.
Little Mother Up the Morderberg
The silly-arse principle of My First Aeroplane joins a mountaineering club and becomes annoyed with the other members boasting and their safe methods. He decides to take his mother up a particularly difficult mountain just to make his point. Feels a little like Wells wrote this vent some frustration at other people’s way of doing things. Light-hearted and more than a bit silly.
The Sad Story of a Dramatic Critic
An impressionable young man who works for a newspaper is made a drama critic despite his never having seen a play before. He is so impressionable he takes on all the exaggerated mannerisms of the actors upon the stage. Largely a piece designed to point out the absurdity and histrionics of actors mannerisms compared with everyday comportment.
The Story of the Last Trump
The trumpet that shall sound the end of the world is dropped from heaven, and picked up by some working men from a shop in London. Unable to get a note out of it, they attach it to a pair of bellows and inadvertently cause the end of the world. This is stopped almost immediately by god, but everyone on earth gets to see him for a split second in all his might. The story is about believing what you see with your own eyes, and whether something entirely out of the ordinary appears whether you actually see it or not. There is also a religious message that, despite knowing that god is omnipresent and watching all the time, people just keep on doing the same old things.
The Grisly Folk
Intended as a didatic tale about Neanderthal man. Here called the Neandertalers, Wells imagines the ‘true’ race of men, homo sapiens, coming into Western Europe and discovering his animalistic counterpoint already there, and a great war breaks out fought in skirmishes, as the Neanderthal has a tendency to eat human children.
Interesting as an imaginative exercise, but not of much more use than that. It is most interesting to note the way in which Wells takes news of a slightly divergent line of humanity to imagine them as brute and cannibalistic threats to the safety of ‘true’ men. He just can’t seem to get away from a colonial state of mind that is constantly desirous of a sub-human other.
The Pearl of Love
The wife of a Persian ruler dies, and he decides to build a beautiful tomb to her memory. He starts with a rich sarcophogus, and proceeds to build the most fabulous tomb. A brief story about the power of love, grief, and ruling passions.