Friday, 15 January 2010

The Time Machine & Other Stories - H G Wells

Several times whilst reading this I found myself checking the dates of publication, most notably for ‘The Land Ironclads’. The grim prescience of this story is chilling. Published in 1903 it depicts trench warfare and the use of tanks with horrific authenticity. Whilst it is true that Wells was not the only writer to envisage modern warfare in the decade before the First World War, his style (the story is told as if by newspaper reporters) and the sheer authority of his voice add weight to his work. That and the fact he did it time and again with scientific romances.

This is a strong collection of work containing stories and fables that are by turns witty, charming, haunting, and horrifying. ‘The Door In The Wall’ is a poignant tale and Wells is an assured enough writer to allow his readers to draw his own conclusions. Another form of obsession features in ‘The Pearl Of Love’ and demonstrates just how callous a person can become in the grip of an obsession. ‘Empire Of The Ants’ is the forerunner of many such natural disasters, and perhaps the best of them all.

‘The Country Of The Blind’, here in its re-written and longer version, is a sublime piece of writing. It is one of many in which Wells explores alternative societies and how they evolve and develop strategies for coping with the world. Yet this is done without once turning into a sociological or political lecture. It is a human story about the sacrifices we are and are not prepared to make.

And, of course, there is ‘The Time Machine’. Not Wells’ first time travel story, but by far the best from him and rarely bettered by anyone else. The strength of story lies, as it does with many of Wells’ scientific romances, in the matter of fact and straightforward way in which he recounts the tale. From its intriguing opening through to its eerie denouement it catches the imagination and sets the standard for works to follow. Again we are presented with an alternative form of society, one that has evolved to an extreme from the very society of Wells’ own time, yet this is part of the story and never a lecture. As Wells grew older and became more frustrated with the idiocies (as he saw them) of humanity, he did tend to rail, but in the early part of his career he kept that balance in his work. You can read this as a political tract without once having the fun of the story destroyed.

Wells goes in and out of fashion, but there is no doubt that his was an original mind which had the blessing of being coupled with an ability to write clear and precise prose. His work is always worth a visit.