Thursday, May 05, 2011

HG Wells short stories - rated!

One of my favourite non-Target books as a kid was a selection of HG Wells short stories. They were so well chosen that it's taken me another 30 years to get round to reading the rest of the stories. Herewith my spoiler-free rankings (ones I read as a kid marked *)


The Door In The Wall* - a fantastic experience in a man's early life poignantly becomes outweighed by materialistic considerations. Fascinating hints about interface between magic worlds and the real world, picked up I speculate by CS Lewis

The Remarkable Case of Davidson's Eyes* - not much to the plot, but the 'displaced vision' concept is memorable

The Lord of the Dynamos* - technology and 'savage' beliefs come together with fatal consequences for a bully

The Argonauts of the Air* - one of Wells' many stories about manned flight, it focuses on the technology rather than the social consequences. Good sense of inevitability about the outcome

Pollock and the Porroh Man - a venture into Poe territory. Unsettling

The Cone* - very simple story but, like Lord of the Dynamos, the use of technology in the climax makes it stick in my mind

The Purple Pileus* - social comedy in Mr Polly vein. Chance encounter with a fungus changes a downtrodden man's life

The Man Who Could Work Miracles* - very funny and also a a little disturbing. I always interpreted this as a circular story, which makes it even better.

Filmer - manned flight again, this time concentrating on the mental pressures on the pioneer aviator

The Truth About Pyecraft* - much loved comic tale about the dangers of using imperfectly translated magic recipes

The New Accelerator* - inventor discovers a drug that makes speed look tame. All the better for happening in Edwardian Folkestone


The Time Machine* - where it all begins. I unfairly mark it down to 4/5 because the future is so bloody depressing

The Empire of the Ants - more of an idea than a story, but it's a good one

The Lost Inheritance - In O. Henry style. Moral: sometimes it pays to take eccentrics seriously

The Land Ironclads* - famous 1903 anticipation of armoured warfare

The Country of the Blind* - as with The Time Machine, downrated to 4/5 because it creeps me out so much

The Stolen Bacillus* - appears to be serious, but turns into a comic anticlimax

The Temptation of Harringay - quite a sinister little story

The Crystal Egg - fascinating idea about an artefact that acts as a viewport onto another world

Through A Window - so like Rear Window that I wasn't surprised to find that it inspired the novel that the film is based on.

The Diamond Maker* - gives us no hint of whether the eponymous chemist is capable of the task or not. Our wish to resolve the mystery ensures we remember the story

Aepyornis Island* - part zoological fantasy, part a black comedy about a pet getting out of hand

The Star - apocalyptic story, impressive mostly for its scale

The Flowering of the Strange Orchid - strange and deadly. No surprises but stays in one's memory

The Valley of Spiders - Edgar Rice Burroughs vein, Wellsified by one of the characters' sociological musings

The Flying Man - interesting combination of Kiplingesque colonial story and Wells' familiar pioneer aviator theme

The Hammerpond Park Burglary - robber's clumsy disguise as an artist leads to crime-hampering critical acclaim

The Story of the Late Mr Elvesham - youth regained via forcible body-swap. Memorable for the cunning with which the swap is executed

Mr Skelmersdale in Fairyland - unusual venture into the territory of Edwardian whimsy. Works a lot better here than in Tolkien's early writing

The Inexperienced Ghost - fools you into thinking it's harmless japery, then takes a twist

Jimmy Goggles The God* - accidental deification of a treasure-hunter. Includes an amusingly described encounter with a missionary.

The Stolen Body - same area as The Inexperienced Ghost, but more horrific. Some plausible attempts to show how spiritualism, if it did exist, might have a scientific explanation

Mr Brisher's Treasure - anecdote in the area of O. Henry again. Satisfying moral conclusion

Miss Winchelsea's Heart - revisits the pretentious, pseudo-intellectual world that people like Chester Coote and the Walshinghams in Kipps inhabited

Under The Knife* - man undergoing surgery experiences a sort of anticipation of Cosmic Zoom

The Sea Raiders* - like a draft chapter from an anticipation of the The Kraken Wakes


In The Avu Observatory - short, very linear. Like some Lovecraft shorts its main purpose is to unsettle the reader

The Red Room - very simple, early ghost story

A Catastrophe - Mr Polly stuff again. Not much to this

A Deal in Ostriches - Essentially a puzzle (using the same device as Conan Doyle's Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle) but with a twist

The Moth - cautionary tale of collector's mania

The Treasure in the Forest - creepy anecdote

The Plattner Story* - a third visit to the afterlife

In The Abyss* - intelligent undersea life discovered - thanks to the ingenious use of clockwork

The Jilting of Jane - not SF, just a comedy servants story, but interesting for the light it casts on how people interrelated with servants

My First Aeroplane - the first of two stories in the voice of a crass, rich young arse. A few laughs derive from the 'quiet town disrupted by wacky chaos' mode seen in the shopkeeper fight in Mr Polly

The Apple - the fruit of the tree of knowledge turns up in an unlikely place

The Story of the Last Trump - rather like The Apple, but not aiming for poignancy, rather to generate humour from juxtaposition of myth and mundanity

The Magic Shop - short bit of fun whose main aim is to raise an unanswered question

Mr Leadbetter's Vacation - just a short thriller really

A Dream of Armageddon - like a rehearsal or remake of The War In The Air


A Vision of Judgement - interesting at least in that it features God as a character

The Sad Story of a Dramatic Critic - like something Oscar Wilde's drunken journalist brother Willie might have dashed off

The Beautiful Suit - dull fable

A Slip Under The Microscope - moral tale in Mr Lewisham territory

The Reconciliation - violent misuse of zoology. Nothing to see here

Little Mother Up The Morderberg - the second story with the My First Aeroplane narrator. His inability to see how crass he is wasn't that funny the first time, and it's even less funny here

The Grisly Folk* - never made it to the end of this one. It's about Neanderthals

A Story of the Days to Come - inaccurate guesses about the future (Sleeper Awakes-style) provide more humour than the plodding plot

The Triumphs of a Taxidermist - didn't interest me at all

The Pearl of Love - very much in the area of Wilde's The Happy Prince, which isn't my area


In The Modern Vein: An Unsympathetic Love Story - very dull. Possibly I'm not cultured enough to understand it

A Story of the Stone Age - Silly character names stopped me on page 1. Like episodes 2-4 of Unearthly Child, but less gripping.