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The Country of the Blind and Other Stories

H.G. Wells

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    I had read a short collection of stories by Wells, published by Dover, back in 2012, entitled The Country of the Blind and Other Science-Fiction Stories. It contains six stories and an Introduction which mentions other collections of short stories by Wells, also stating that these six are the most well-known. Hmmm. This present collection was not even mentioned, and it contains thirty-three stories. However, the most comprehensive collection was mentioned, that being The Short Stories of H.G. Wells, from 1927, which contains 62 stories. I have found that one at Gutenberg Australia.
    Anyways, in this edition, the Introduction is written by Wells himself. He says that, with one exception, "no short story of mine of the slightest merit is excluded from this volume." In fact, he states that some of the ones that are included "are of questionable merit." Well, that isn't quite true, because his collection called Thirty Strange Stories, (which I have also downloaded from Project Gutenberg), contains eleven that are not included here, and it was published much earlier in 1898. (This one was published in 1911.) So there are some discrepancies. He also notes that his creative juices for short story writing had dried up or burned out, but in any case, he states he is not writing them any more. But since there are sixty two stories in the above-mentioned collection from 1927, I suspected he did write more, and my suspicions are correct, although not that many more. Here is his bibliography page, and you can see he was extremely prolific.
    Wells was certainly an interesting character, probably a genius, an eccentric, and maybe a little nutty. He surely wrote about a huge variety of subjects, in a huge variety of styles. Of course, he is known for his science fiction, futuristic, and creepy stories. Examples would be The War of the Worlds, when the Earth was invaded by Martians; Men Like Gods, a version of Earth far into the future and one of my favorite Wells novels; and The Island of Doctor Moreau, which is quite terrifying. But he also slipped humor into the strangest places. Novels that seem like they are serious turn out to be silly, such as The Food of the Gods and How it Came to Earth, which is one of the goofiest science fiction stories I have ever read. This collection of short stories represents the whole realm of Wells' moods, and so therefore, I am going to do something I usually do not do especially with such a large collection: I am going to list all thirty-three, and supply (mostly) a few sentences about each one. You may also check out the H.G. Wells Index Page for more about the man and his works that I have reviewed so far. And here they are!

I. The Jilting of Jane
    This is a humorous story of a rather common servant who falls in love with William, a proper, church-going, teetotaler, who is second porter at Maynard's, the draper. But then he starts to rise up in the world, and finally, after three years, William dumps her. She does not take the jilting as a lady properly should.
II. The Cone
    In this story, an artist comes to Stoke-on-Trent to study the ironworks and industrial landscape. He is staying with Horrocks, the manager at one of the Blast Furnaces. However, he begins an affair with Horrock's wife. Horrocks suspects, so their visit to the furnace is not a pretty one.
III. The Stolen Bacillus
    Here is one of those disaster-scenario stories that ends up with a laugh, and that's all I will say.
IV. The Flowering of the Strange Orchid
    And ditto for this one! Sort of. Winter Wedderburn is looking for excitement and adventure, and he certainly gets is. And survives! I have to add that it is not pure fantasy when plants exhibit a type of intelligence, in fact those, like myself, who have a close relationship with plants and nature observe it all the time. Such as my cucumber plants that climb to the ceiling of the greenhouse. HOW do they know when and where I have provided twine to assist their journey? In fact, as soon as I hang the twine, the tendrils begin reaching out for it. Humans are not as smart as they think they are.
V. In the Avu Observatory
    This is one of those B-movie types, with an unidentified creature as the antagonist.
VI. Aepyornis Island
    Here's another goofy one about a man who finds a dinosaur egg which he is hunting for a collector. He is lost at sea, but makes it to an island, where it hatches! He and the bird-like creature become buddies until the creature becomes much bigger than him, then they are not such good friends.
VII. The Remarkable Case of Davidson's Eyes
    This story also is found in the Dover book mentioned above, and is quite a good one, very classic sci-fi. A man is hit by lightning in his science lab, and suddenly finds that his eyes are now seeing an area, thousands of miles from where his body exists.
VIII. The Lord of the Dynamos
    Some of Wells' stories are just plain gory, like The Cone above. In this one, a dark-skinned worker is tired of being treated abusively at his job, where he is a stoker at a power station for the London underground electric railway. Eventually he becomes friends with the generator, or dynamo which he tends. In fact, he thinks it is a god, and does its bidding, which is not a good thing for his boss.
IX. The Moth
    Many of these stories are concerned with botany and biology, and in fact, Wells was trained in the latter. In this story, two scientists, Hapley and Pawkins, have been in competition for a long time, with Hapley constantly ridiculing the other. Well, just as Hapley thinks he has a great way to put down Pawkins, Pawkins up and dies. But he gets that last laugh in a tale that borders on the silly.
X. The Treasure in the Forest
    Here is a tale that could be true. It is about two men who have killed some Chinese men to get a map to a buried treasure. Ah, greed. It will always come to no good.
XI. The Story of the Late Mr. Elvesham
    Kinda like a Dorian Gray type deal, Mr. Elvesham thinks he can swindle old age.
XII. Under the Knife
    Another one of the six stories found in the Dover collection, this is actually really quite mesmerizing. A man has lost his enthusiasm for life, and now, he must have surgery. He is quite sure he will die while "under the knife." He is chloroformed, and believes he sees the doctor struggling to save him from bleeding to death. He leaves his body and embarks on a fascinating voyage into space. Very classic Wells!!
XIII. The Sea Raiders
    In another one which could be "real," a strange species of huge squid-like creatures invade the Devon coast, where they attack and kill people.
XIV. The Obliterated Man
    And now we return to the totally ridiculous, where a quiet man who has never been to the theatre is suddenly put on assignment as Dramatic Critic. He becomes possessed with the spirit of the drama, and begins behaving as if he is on stage. The disease takes effect quite quickly. He knows he is still named Egbert Craddock Cummins, but he is no longer that person. What one cannot help but wondering here is if Wells was not satirizing some particular person.
XV. The Plattner Story
    Here is one of the more complicated stories that involves a man, Gottfried Plattner, a "Modern Languages Master" at the Sussexville Proprietary School, who also teaches chemistry, commercial bookkeeping, shorthand, drawing, and other subjects of which he knows little to nothing. It is the chemistry one that gets him onto trouble, however, when a little boy named Whibble brings him a bottle of a greenish powder. When Plattner lights it, it explodes, catapulting him into the "Fourth Dimension." It is very dark, but at first, he exists in both worlds. He can see his world, but as sunset comes on, the Other World becomes very dark. He sees other beings who are like big heads with a tadpole body, who seem to float. They also seem distressed. After nine days, he returns to his own world, but his anatomy has been reversed. His heart is now on the right side of his body, and his hands are reversed.
    But there is also a spiritual aspect to the story, in that Plattner wonders if the creatures there are not people who once lived in his world, and who have passed on, guarding or observing their loved ones. Also, while he is between these two realities, he can see inside houses. He sees what appears to be a woman neglecting her dying husband as she searches for legal papers. It turns out the man did die, and the woman, who was much younger, remarries soon after, though she denies what Plattner observed while in the Other World. He also witnesses some students cheating. Interesting story, and quite profound.
XVI. The Red Room
    Ghost stories can be either goofy or silly, or they can be of a higher quality that makes one think. This is the latter, and it is about a man who spends a night in a room after being warned it is haunted. While brave at first, he soon finds himself terrified, because the force or spirit, which he later calls "fear,", isolates him through darkness. Though the candles are lit and the fireplace, too, one by one they are all extinguished. It's quite scary.
XVII. The Purple Pileus
    In this humorous story, Mr. Coombes has walked out of his house because he is tired of his wife's vulgar behavior, and even worse, the friends she invites to dinner. He wanders across a bridge and into a woods, even contemplating suicide. Then he come across some funky mushrooms, and knowing they are "poison" he eats them anyways, then passes out. When he wakes up, he is quite the different man, and goes home in a very, um, altered state of mind.
XVIII. A Slip Under the Microscope
    Not a sci-fi, nor humorous, nor silly, this story is about morals and honesty. It takes place mostly in a science lab at the College of Science, where students from all walks of life, including young ladies, attend. There are two in particular who are in competition. One is the well-off, H.J. Somers Wedderburn, whose father is an eye specialist, and the other, William Hill, whose father is a cobbler. When final exams are approaching, Hill decides he will be first in the class, partly because he wants to impress a girl. In one segment of the botany exam, the students must look into a microscope, but are not allowed to move the slide because they must identify the specimen, and by moving it, its identity would be obvious. When Hill approaches the microscope, he involuntarily moves the slide, then quickly remembers he should not. No one has seen him, and he scores the highest. But he struggles with the moral dilemma.
XIX. The Crystal Egg
    Science fiction writers have historically had an inordinate fascination with the moon and Mars, and Wells was no exception. In this story, a poor used-trinkets merchant has a crystal egg which bears a secret. He also, as in The Purple Pileus, has a bitchy and interfering wife.
XX. The Star
    If you do not read any other story from this collection, you must read this one, because it paints a picture of an apocalyptic Earth just a little too familiar with our current reality. In this one, one of Neptune's satellites goes rogue and collides with that planet, and the both of them fall to the sun, with the Earth in their path. Wells' description of the flooding, heat, rising oceans, volcanoes, fires . . . Oh MY! And even worse, it is the 90 percent of the people who go about their business until they are forced to face reality. A mathematician has worked out the probabilities of disaster, and is treated much the same way as Dane Wigington is now. This one is also found in the book above, and one of Wells' best. You know, when I read it back in 2012, it did not hit me the same as it did this time because the planetary situation was nowhere near the collapse it is in now. If you do not read any other story from this collection, please read this one. You can read it online at the link above, and it is a short story. Here is a quote from the book.

    But hereafter the laughter ceased. The star grew—it grew with a terrible steadiness hour after hour, a little larger each hour, a little nearer the midnight zenith, and brighter and brighter, until it had turned night into a second day. Had it come straight to the earth instead of in a curved path, had it lost no velocity to Jupiter, it must have leapt the intervening gulf in a day; but as it was, it took five days altogether to come by our planet. The next night it had become a third the size of the moon before it set to English eyes, and the thaw was assured. It rose over America near the size of the moon, but blinding white to look at, and hot; and a breath of hot wind blew now with its rising and gathering strength, and in Virginia, and Brazil, and down the St. Lawrence valley, it shone intermittently through a driving reek of thunder-clouds, flickering violet lightning, and hail unprecedented. In Manitoba was a thaw and devastating floods. And upon all the mountains of the earth the snow and ice began to melt that night, and all the rivers coming out of high country flowed thick and turbid, and soon—in their upper reaches—with swirling trees and the bodies of beasts and men. They rose steadily, steadily in the ghostly brilliance, and came trickling over their banks at last, behind the flying population of their valleys.
    And along the coast of Argentina and up the South Atlantic the tides were higher than had ever been in the memory of man, and the storms drove the waters in many cases scores of miles inland, drowning whole cities. And so great grew the heat during the night that the rising of the sun was like the coming of a shadow. The earthquakes began and grew until all down America from the Arctic Circle to Cape Horn, hillsides were sliding, fissures were opening, and houses and walls crumbling to destruction. The whole side of Cotopaxi slipped out in one vast convulsion, and a tumult of lava poured out so high and broad and swift and liquid that in one day it reached the sea.
    So the star, with the wan moon in its wake, marched across the Pacific, trailed the thunder-storms like the hem of a robe, and the growing tidal wave that toiled behind it, frothing and eager, poured over island and island and swept them clear of men: until that wave came at last—in a blinding light and with the breath of a furnace, swift and terrible it came—a wall of water, fifty feet high, roaring hungrily, upon the long coasts of Asia, and swept inland across the plains of China. For a space the star, hotter now and larger and brighter than the sun in its strength, showed with pitiless brilliance the wide and populous country; towns and villages with their pagodas and trees, roads, wide cultivated fields, millions of sleepless people staring in helpless terror at the incandescent sky; and then, low and growing, came the murmur of the flood. And thus it was with millions of men that night—a flight nowhither, with limbs heavy with heat and breath fierce and scant, and the flood like a wall swift and white behind. And then death.
    China was lit glowing white, but over Japan and Java and all the islands of Eastern Asia the great star was a ball of dull red fire because of the steam and smoke and ashes the volcanoes were spouting forth to salute its coming. Above was the lava, hot gases and ash, and below the seething floods, and the whole earth swayed and rumbled with the earthquake shocks. Soon the immemorial snows of Thibet and the Himalaya were melting and pouring down by ten million deepening converging channels upon the plains of Burmah and Hindostan. The tangled summits of the Indian jungles were aflame in a thousand places, and below the hurrying waters around the stems were dark objects that still struggled feebly and reflected the blood-red tongues of fire. And in a rudderless confusion a multitude of men and women fled down the broad river-ways to that one last hope of men—the open sea.

XXI. The Man Who Could Work Miracles
    I'm not sure I would have liked Wells as a person, but he and I certainly think along the same lines. As readers of my articles know, I firmly believe we have the power to manifest in the physical world. Here, Wells takes a comical look at a man, George McWhirter Fotheringay, who suddenly finds he has the gift of "working miracles," or, as we would say today, of manifesting his physical reality. However, having been a person to whom the ability always seemed far-fetched, he is not quite sure how to use his new talent, so he makes some little blunders. When one of them attacks a policeman, in an attempt to escape the policeman, he sends him to Hades. Feeling bad about that, he sends him to San Francisco instead. But it isn't until he confides in the vicar, and the vicar realizes the two of them can now reform the world, that his gift gets out of hand.
XXII. A Vision of Judgment
    This is a very short and humorous story, a satire about the Last Judgment when all the dead souls rise from their graves to be sent to their final destination. However, it has a rather tender ending. I don't think Wells was much into the whole "God" thing, and neither am I.
XXIII. Jimmy Goggles the God
    In yet another humorous story, a man and his buddies are trying to salvage a shipwreck of gold when attacked by native islanders. The narrator, only identified as "the sunburnt man," however, at the time of the attack is underwater wearing a diving suit affectionately called "Jimmy Goggles." He manages to make it to the island, and is not attacked as expected, but worshipped as a god, the natives not realizing there is a human being inside the suit.
XXIV. Miss Winchelsea's Heart
    Miss Winchelsea is thrilled to be going to Rome. She and her two companions, Fanny and Helen are part of a tour group, but separate from it. Miss Winchelsea doesn't not want to appear "touristy" or vulgar. At one point, they hear mention of a "Mr. Snooks" and mock the person who would have a name like that. Meanwhile, a certain gentleman seems to always be around to assist them with their luggage and other tasks that would be helpful to ladies. But while in Rome, this young man and Miss Winchelsea find themselves going off together. She is impressed by his knowledge of art, and thinks he must be a teacher, which he is, and so is she. However, things do not work out quite as she had hoped, mainly because of her arrogance.
XXV. A Dream of Armageddon
    In this story, two men on a train begin a conversation concerning the frightening series of dreams the one man has been having. They take place in the future, and he is often confused as to whether they are real. Wells had a great interest in time travel or future worlds, and also of war. This one includes both, and it is easy to understand why Jerry Yulsman made Wells into an important character in his fascinating novel, Elleander Morning.
XXVI. The Valley of Spiders
    If this was meant to be scary, it isn't. In fact it is kinda goofy. Two men on horses follow their master through a desert country in pursuit of the half-caste girl. We never really find out what that was all about because they are attacked by giant spiders, or rather their webs, that blew in the wind like "gigantic heads of thistledown."
XXVII. The New Accelerator
    An equally silly one in which Wells was certainly being humorous, yet it is told in all seriousness. An honored scientist, Professor Gibberne, has created a substance, that when swallowed allows the person to greatly speed up. His original intent was to enable people who are in a hurry, say, with a deadline, to be able to do things much faster, like expanding time, but it is really an altering of the body's energy and nervous system. He goes a bit overboard, and when he and his friend, the narrator, take the drug, everything around them seems in extreme slow motion. In the end, when they try to run, they nearly catch fire. Fortunately, the effects wear off quickly. This one also appears in the printed book mentioned above.
XXVIII. The Truth About Pyecraft
    Here we continue with silliness. Pyecraft is an extremely obese member of a London club. He befriends the narrator, who really does not like him. All he does is complain about being overweight. Somehow he discovers that his "friend" has Indian ancestry and that his great-grandmother had a recipe for reducing weight. Reluctantly the man shares it with Pyecraft. Well, it does reduce his weight . . . .
XXIX. The Magic Shop
    This is one of the best stories in the collection. It is one of those gems filled with suspense—waiting for something terrible to happen. But does it?
XXX. The Empire of the Ants
    As mentioned above, Wells had a degree in biology, and his writings are filled with interactions between humans and the plant and animal world. Sometimes they are silly, though perhaps not meant to be, as in the Valley of the Spiders, and sometimes they are truly terrifying, because they contain a germ of possibility. In this story, a Portuguese/Creole Captain and an inadequate crew are sent down the Amazon to eradicate an invasion of particularly toxic ants. An Englishman, Holroyd, is one of the crew. As it turns out, these are not only huge ants, but as poisonous as poisonous snakes. But it is Holroyd that observes these ants exhibit a frightening intelligence and organization—planning and maneuvering as would an army. Of course, stories like this really make one think, "what if?". If humans could evolve intelligently, why not other animals? In fact, they have, and are. Even today, we are experiencing unusual behavior in animals, perhaps as revenge for eons of human abuse.
XXXI. The Door in the Wall
    This is another very good story, and extremely profound. A little five-year old boy is being raised by a governess because his mother has died. His successful father barely gives him attention, so it stands to reason he is lonely. One day while out wandering alone, he comes across a white wall with a green door. After arguing with himself, he opens the door and goes in. There, he finds a garden, a world of love and beauty, and new magical friends. A rather serious woman shows him a book, and as she turns the pages, he knows it is the book of his life. But they come to one page that the woman does not want to turn. The little boy did anyways, and finds himself back in West Kensington. When he tries to tell his father about his experience, he is beaten for lying.
    The memory of the experience haunted him, but he did not go back. When he got older, he saw the door while walking to school, and, because he did not want to be late, he resisted his urge to open it. But he made the error of telling another boy, not even a boy he trusted, and that boy blabbed. He told all the boys he would show it to them, but of course, then he could not find the wall or the door.
    As an adult, he was very successful—a Cabinet member, and a very important one. On several occasions, he had an opportunity to see the door again, and choose whether or not to go through. Every time, he put business ahead of what could have been paradise. As he tells the story to his friend, he deeply regrets not taking the chance on happiness and wonder, instead choosing worldly success.
    I want to add that the idea of a door, or some physical place or object being a portal to another world is certainly not unique. Think Harry Potter, His Dark Materials, The Chronicles of Narnia, and probably hundreds of other lesser known stories, such as The Green Door.
XXXII. The Country of the Blind
    This story comes in two versions. The one on the paperback book linked above is the expanded version, that ties up the conclusion. This version leaves one hanging. Since I wrote a lengthy review it in my book review linked above, I will say no more here.
XXXIII. The Beautiful Suit
    And we end this collection with yet another very profound work. A mother makes her boy a very beautiful suit, but he is not allowed to enjoy it. He can only wear it on special occasions, and then the mother wraps the special buttons in tissue paper and does everything to guard the suit from wear and tear. She tells the boy he may never again have a suit like this. But he continually dreams of his suit—longs for it, in fact. And so, one night, he sneaks into the place where the suit is kept neatly folded, puts it on, and escapes out the window. He runs through mud and thorns, dust and a pond. The deeper meaning here, of course is that we should enjoy life to its fullest because one never knows when it will end. And it also speaks of the human yearning for freedom.

    And on that, I will conclude this very long review. H. G. Wells is one of my favorite authors. One never quite knows what he will say, and his works are essential reading. This lengthy collection provides a glimpse into his wide range of styles and subject matter, and it is free from Project Gutenberg. Highly recommended.

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