Tuesday, August 11, 2020
Tales of Space and Time by H. G. Wells
Adventures in the past, present, and future
Tales of Space and Time, published in 1899, is a collection of three short stories and two novellas by science fiction writer H. G. Wells. The five selections in this volume had all been previously published in periodicals from 1897 to 1899. The three short stories take place in the present day and all have something to do with space, while the two longer works supply the time component of the collection, with one taking place in the distant past and the other set in the future.
In the opening story, “The Crystal Egg,” the owner of a curiosity shop is loathe to part with one precious object in his collection. He finds that when he gazes into his mysterious crystal egg, he sees visions of an otherworldly landscape. Unlike the crystal ball of fairy tales, however, Wells invents a science fiction explanation for this phenomenon. Though this story is notable for the precocious ingenuity of Wells’s sci-fi vision, the storytelling is a bit awkward at times.
The next entry, however, does not suffer from the same problem. “The Star” is an excellent and riveting apocalyptic tale. A foreign star enters our solar system on a possible collision course with Earth, destroying Neptune in its path. The story that follows is a combination of educated conjecture about what havoc such an event would wreak on Earth and shocking thrills worthy of a late-20th-century meteor disaster movie. The drama is globally epic in scope, and Wells depicts natural disasters with a detached brutality that readers of his day must have found horrendous.
The two novellas included in this volume act as companion pieces to one another. “A Story of the Stone Age” is just what the title advertises. The story takes place 50,000 years ago, and its heroes are a couple of ape-like archaic humans named Ugh-lomi and Eudena. Despite the connection to human evolution, this barely qualifies as science fiction. The plot is so simple it reads like a children’s story, complete with talking animals that call to mind Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book. Its worst offense, however, is just being way too long and very boring. If you’re looking for a good science fiction novel about prehistoric man, Jack London’s 1907 book Before Adam is far superior to this.
The second novella, its futuristic counterpart, fares much better. “A Story of the Days to Come” is set in the same 22nd-century world as Wells’s 1899 novel When the Sleeper Wakes (later published as The Sleeper Awakes). This novella, however, is far better than the Sleeper novel because it gives the reader a more thorough tour of the future society Wells has conceived, a dystopian vision of London that illustrates his socialist views on the class struggle. Wells also adds a touch of humorous social commentary by focusing on a pair of future lovers who are nostalgic for the romantic days of the Victorian Era. I was disappointed by The Sleeper Awakes, but this exceptional novella proved to be the book I was hoping for.
The closing short story, “The Man Who Could Work Miracles,” is only mildly entertaining. This is a whimsical fantasy about a man who finds he can make anything happen simply by willing it. Though the story does conclude with an element of real science fiction, for the most part it feels too frivolous and foolish. Notwithstanding, Tales of Space and Time is a fine collection overall and worth a read for fans of vintage science fiction. The diverse subject matter and creative premises aptly illustrate the broad scope of Wells’s talents as a sci-fi visionary.
Stories in this collection
The Crystal Egg
A Story of the Stone Age
A Story of Days to Come
The Man Who Could Work Miracles
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