Following on from the debacle of my recent reading of Edgar Allen Poe, I decided to grab another small paperback of short stories from my tottering literary pile, this time a 1970s Penguin edition of 21 short pieces by H.G. Wells.
As with many of the old books I’ve been recently reading, I’ve had this copy since I was an undergraduate. I’m in a different decade of my life and on a different continent now: I’ve carried these things around long enough. It’s time to read them or get them pulped. I am, of course, reading them.
Wells, like Poe, is someone whose literary reputation I have long been aware of, though have never having knowingly read anything by him, except an essay in the centennial edition of the New Statesman I carried around with me while med-hopping in the summer of 2013. Wells is famous for writing The War of the Worlds and The Time Machine, though the former is better known as a 2005 Tom Cruise film, a weird 1970s hit concept album by a man who wrote advertising jingles and a 1938 radio play by Orson Welles1, while the latter has a reputation more as “the first sci-fi time travel novella”, rather than as a good one.
I’d never thought of H. G. Wells as a literary figure, rather as a pop cultural one who also made inroads into left wing2 politics. But that reading is unfair, because Wells’ stories here do what I was hoping to get from Poe. Though, as with the Poe, there are lots of mediocre pieces included, there are far more “hits” than misses, and though many pieces do hold a clear structural similarity, there is enough variety both within and outside of these pieces to hold my attention through the volume.
‘The Time Machine’ is a far more engaging piece than I’d anticipated, and it’s also nearly novel-length. It’s all about deep future time travel and plays with early theories of evolutionary apocalypse and even veers towards a dramatisation of the heat death of the universe. There’s another great piece about a mountaineer getting stranded in a valley where everyone bar him is blind, but rather than fulfilling the mantra “in the country of the blind, the one eyed man is king”, he is instead persecuted as a light-obsessed aberration. There’s a story about humans beginning to worship machines, a terrifying prediction of machine warfare and a pleasing journey into how Wells envisioned commercial air travel just a few years before the invention of the aeroplane. Cute.
There are familiar and unfamiliar ideas and tropes here, and though too many are reliant on a second-hand narrator who is recounting the unbelievable experiences of someone else, this device (used by Wells’ contemporary Conrad to more literary ends), there is enough description and world-building and characterisation to make up for the parts that aim to be funny (because, obvs, comedy ages badly). Though I doubt I’ll ever reread anything in here, I could see myself picking up a secondhand copy of The War of the Worlds if I saw one going cheap and I was already making a purchase in the same shop.
It’s fun, I suppose. That’s all for now.
1. Incidentally, I’ve never seen a film directed by or staring Orson Welles. There are still many gaps in my cultural knowledge that by now I should have remedied, but haven’t. It’s hard to shake off the feeling of cultural ignorance that my upbringing left me with, even though it’s demonstrably no longer true. I don’t feel comfortable in theatres, most art galleries or even, really, in live music venues. Culture is something I was brought up ignorant of, and even now I fear this is something I will never escape. I like books, but do I only like books because I knew what they were when I was pre-pubic? Should I look to shake my cultural dependency on literature and the written word? Should I even still be writing this blog? Viewing figures have plateaued, and though I’d love to pretend to myself that there is still growing TriumphoftheNow could do, I don’t think that would be justifiable. I’m not writing much even though I’m getting more published. I’ll run out of things I’m happy with soon and I’ll just maybe drop and slide away. Maybe that’s one of the reasons why I’m feeling so bleak and stuck atm. Also it might be the transition from English to North American sertraline, though I fear that blaming my current feelings of age-inappropriate existential emptiness on a probably non-existent change in the composition of my meds rather than being near-alone on a continent where I know nearly-no one and none of the cities look like how I’m used to cities looking and everyone is too fucking friendly all the time. In Europe’s cities we leave everyone alone, we don’t hold doors open for them, we don’t seek eye contact or conversation in minor practical interactions and that, for me, is the difference between a city (i.e. somewhere) and a small town (i.e. nowhere). Rant over. I need to try and enjoy myself. I’m reading a lot and starting to save some money, but what for? Where’s the forward momentum? There is none. I feel bored. Lol obvs the rant wasn’t quite over. ↩
2. Obviously the core values of the left have shifted, and it’s also highly likely that Wells’ own opinions developed somewhat during the course of his life, as there’s lots of sneering racism and plenty of classism, too, both of which are things that any good fucking socialist shouldn’t be proudly engaging in. ↩
On November 14th 2018, I launched my first (and so far only) book, Bad Boy Poet, in the basement of Burley Fisher Books, Dalston. Here are some of the songs and poems I performed:
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