Top critical review
14 people found this helpful
Full of Ideas
on 28 July 2010
These thoughtful and largely sci-fi themed short stories are literary Marmalade - full of zest and interesting chewy bits, nicely suspended in a well made and rich structure but somewhat old fashioned and strangely masculine. Not everyone will want to take the lid off but recommended for those who enjoy invention.
I thought this collection of short stories was fantastic when I read it as a young teenager and many of them have stuck in my mind - especially the title piece - so I was really looking forward to a second helping. However, I'm forced to agree with the comment in the introduction that 12 is the perfect age to enjoy this volume, because Well's power of imagination imposed on a mind of that age is like nothing else experienced. Older readers will be more inclined to regard his ideas as simply amusing diversions, partly because they are not built into the structure of a full blown novel and partly because his science is 100 years old but, in my view, if Wells had turned almost any of them into a novella they would have equalled Jekyll and Hyde, Frankenstein or his own War of the Worlds. Wells understood the limitation of these stories and makes it clear in his introduction that they are something to be dipped into for between 15 and 50 minutes and nothing more. He certainly wouldn't have approved of reading this cover-to-cover as I did, and he would be right because rather oddly there is a tendency to become impatient with a very short story in order to get onto the next one, rather than letting go and simply enjoying the piece.
Despite their brevity, Well's traditionally muscular prose is not diluted and his landscapes and characters are surprisingly fully formed. His creativity and acute observation are used to build each little world and he puts the various characters through a range of emotions from love to loss through fear and detest. In general the lead characters are men and it is difficult to get away from the idea that this is a man's book - although I am hostile to that concept. Partly this is because most of the stories have a sci-fi angle to them and that tends to be a boyish pre-occupation, and partly because the worlds he conjures up are slightly clubby or tribal. That said, at least three of them have a love story at their heart and moreover they often capture the feeling of their male characters slipping in and out of control that is a feature of the best women's writing.
The range of ideas is fantastic and includes a viperous and decrepit old man who body steals from the fit and young, a dead man who comes back as a moth, a prehistoric tale of love, bravery and primitive technology, a patent medicine that slows down other people's time, and the terrific Land of the Blind where a sighted traveller seeks and fails to become king, and is left agreeing to surgery so that he can lose the disadvantages of sight. It only becomes clear what fabulous invention Well's has deployed if you try to plausibly construct such a story in your own mind.
If you are a teenager, or young at heart, and interested in ideas then you will greatly enjoy this book.