Selected Stories of H. G. Wells

Selected Stories of H. G. Wells
Ed. by Ursula K. Le Guin

A lot of successful novelists see short stories as little more than finger exercises: warm-ups for more substantial work. I think this was how H. G. Wells saw them, considering stories as too restricted in both form and effect to bother with as much in his later career. That said, he wrote a lot of great stories and they’re nicely sampled here by Ursula K. Le Guin, who also does a great job introducing them.

Some preoccupations, for example flight, would be developed at greater length in Wells’ novels. Others, like out-of-body experiences and transferals of consciousness didn’t make it out of the stories. Le Guin correctly makes the point that SF doesn’t really deal with the matter of predictions, preferring “warning, speculations, and alternatives,” but Wells may be taken as an outlier here as many of his works were remarkably prescient. For example, the pale-faced clerks working “The Land Ironclads” (forerunners of tanks) are moving the same knobs and pressing the same buttons as they operate drones today.

The final stories veer into fantasy and fable, following an arc Wells’ career also described. But while they don’t have quite the same threatening edge, they do illustrate abiding themes in Wells’s work – ones that still resonate today.

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