This is a compilation of thirteen stories by H.G. Wells, the well-known author of The Time Machine, War of the Worlds, The Island of Doctor Moreau, and The Invisible Man. Known for his prolific body of fiction and some of the earliest examples of science-fiction writings, Wells was equally prolific in non-fiction writing – an interest which fuelled some of his fictional works.
Published in 1903, in the early Edwardian period, this volume collects works from a five year period between 1898 (the year he published War of the Worlds) and 1903.
All of the stories in tihs volume follow a simple and classic pattern: Exposition, conflict, resolution. Because of the short story format, there is not much room for complication or denouement, so these stories by nature are simpler than some of Wells’ other work.
Some writers use short stories as a way to cleanse the creative palate when working on larger works, and you get the sense that these may have been some of those purposely “distractive doodles” from Wells. Some of the stories seem a bit aimless, and some seem to be inspired by a particular thought, as doodles often are. As such, they are interesting diversions to read or listen to, and can occasionally leave you with something to think of afterward as a delightful mental aftertaste of sorts.
Much of Wells’ work included social commentary, and many of these short stories contain that theme, as much as the short story narrative would allow.
The stories included in this collection are:
Filmer (1901) – An inventor named Filmer creates a flying machine, and the story follows the arc of the fame and celebrity that accompanies it, and its almost unavoidable conclusion.
The Magic Shop (1903) (reviewed elsewhere) – A father and son visit a magic shop that is different from other magic shops in that the magic is real and not simple tricks and illsuions. In the display of magic, the son is made to disappear.
The Valley of Spiders (1903) – A western tale – as in American frontier – of a group of riders pursuing a woman who has escaped from them. Their chase takes a strange turn when they encounter a valley filled with billowy white webs and sacs of spiders.
The Truth About Pyecraft (1903) – A man of notable girth pesters a fellow member of a club who is believed to have mystical indian potions and remedies. The man with the potions ‘rewards’ his persistence with a seemingly magical weight loss potion.
Mr. Skelmersdale in Fairyland (1901) – Following a fight with his fiancee, a man falls asleep on a hill and while dreaming, he encounters the Fairy Queen and her subjects. His ethereal experience with the fairy-folk leaves his life forever “touched”.
The Inexperienced Ghost (1902) – Similar to the plot of Beetlejuice, a very entertaining story where a brand new ghost tries in vain to haunt a private members’ club. One of the club members helps him out as kind of an advisor. In the process they both discover the method that would send the ghost from the world of restless spirits which borders on our own to the world of the dead. The method, however, is not limited to inhabitants of the spirit world.
Jimmy Goggles the God (1898) – A diving party is attacked and killed by indigenous people. “Jimmy Goggles” is the name of the diving suit worn by the lone survivor of the group who was underwater at the time of the attack and makes the survivor appear as a god to the indigenous people.
The New Accelerator (1901) – A professor creates a potion that allows himself and his friend to effectively speed themselves up (like Quicksilver in the X-Men movies) to a degree that allows them to speed around their town, causing mischief.
Mr. Ledbetter’s Vacation (1898) – An English teaching cleric seeking some adventure in his life takes an uncharacteristic risk and ends up marooned on an island at the hands of a master embezzler.
The Stolen Body (1898) – A story of spiritualism, which was popular at the time, in which a man astrally projects himself and goes on a spectral walkabout. However, while he’s away, another spirit inhabits his body and uses it to evil ends.
Mr. Brisher’s Treasure (1899) – In a story of just rewards, a man discovers a stash of silver coins that were hidden in his nasty father-in-law’s garden.
Miss Winchelsea’s Heart (1898) – In another story of just rewards, a pompous teacher on a trip to Rome with friends becomes involved with a man who is just as pompous as she is.
A Dream of Armageddon (1901) – A story of a man tormented by a series of dreams, who relates these dreams to a fellow passenger on a train. The dreams are set in the future and feature a man of great influence in the world’s political stage who walks away from it all for the love of a woman. In the leadership vacuum created by his absence, the world descends quickly into global war and both he and his love pay a dear price.
The book is available in audio format, at LibriVox for free download or streaming. The individual stories range from 18 to 55 minutes in playing time.
The book is available for free download in three different scans in the Internet Archive. The first two are the original 1903 publications from the University of California Libraries, and one is a good quality colour scan while the other is a lower quality monochrome scan. The Internet Archive also hosts one other scan, this one a decent colour scan of the 1904 re-issue from the Robarts collection in the University of Toronto archive.
The book is also available for free download from the Project Gutenberg site in several formats including ePub, Kindle and plain text.