The H. G. Wells Collector’s Book of Science Fiction, by H. G. Wells, has been on my shelf for far too long waiting to be read. The 2016 Reading Challenge gave me the perfect opportunity to make this book a priority. It joined the list as selection #11, “a book that intimidates you.” Though I started reading this before NaNoWriMo interrupted me last year, I didn’t finish it until this month. Therefore, I felt justified in adding it to my 2017 Reading Challenge also as a collection of short stories.
Why did this book intimidate me? It’s H. G. Wells! Only one of the top names in science fiction writing. Ever! Plus, it’s a rather large, hardbound book containing 500+ pages of double columns of text. It includes three of his novels and sixteen short stories as they were originally published in magazines from the 1890s-1900s.
Wells was all over the science fiction map, writing about space travel, alien invasion, mad scientists, ghosts, man-eating plants, sentient ants, prehistoric fables, biological terrorism, miracles, future dystopias and more! If there is a science fiction sub-genre not included in this collection, I’m not sure what it might be.
In many of these stories Wells takes the stylistic approach of writing as if the narrator of the story was an observer, or someone relating a story told to him by another. Other stories, such as The First Men in the Moon, were written as the narrator told his own story. I found this second style much easier to engage with and enjoy. In fact, for being more than a hundred years old, I discovered I could enjoy Wells’ stories quite a lot. Some, more than others.
“The Story of the Inexperienced Ghost” was probably one of my favorites of the stories included in this anthology. Even though it was written in the “as told to” style like so many of the others, I found myself engaged in this story to the end. The suspense is well done, and even though I anticipated the ending, I still read it impatiently, eager to see just how the ending came about.
The “Empire of the Ants” on the other hand, was one of my least favorites. It tells the story of a man from Britain traveling in the Amazon region of Brazil. While there, he encounters, along with a local military captain, a plague of ants. But these are no ordinary ants. The British traveler accompanies the captain as he goes to investigate and eradicate the ants and together they learn some remarkable truths about these strange insects. The story ends abruptly, however, with the British man returning home with no resolution to the ant situation.
I was delighted to find that I could be instantly sucked into some of these stories, such as The War of the Worlds. Others were difficult, even painful to get through. I think of all the stories, my favorites were a series of related stories titled Stories of the Stone Age, fable-like tales relating the adventures of Earth’s earliest humans.
This collection of stories by H. G. Wells serves as an excellent primer on the realm of speculative fiction. Going in, I had no idea of the wide range of Wells’ writings. Labeled as a science fiction author, I was prepared for the likes of The War of the Worlds and The First Men in the Moon. But I was surprised by many of the others like the stone age fables and the political dystopia, When the Sleeper Wakes.
Though it was difficult at times to wade through, overall this was a fascinating read, one that sparked curiosity and ideas that may one day fuel my own writing. If you have any regard for science fiction and have never before read anything by H. G. Wells, I would recommend this collection as a great place to start.