Just Finished: “The Stolen Bacillus and Other Incidents” by H.G. Wells

I’ve spent a rather pleasant afternoon with two great writers – H.G. Wells and Kurt Vonnegut. As coincidence would have it, my two “main” book clubs are reading short story collections this month. I had already started the H.G. Wells collection several days ago, and today I was kind of alternating between the two, finishing the last five Wells stories and reading the first four of Vonnegut’s collection, “Welcome to the Monkey House.”

I think Wells is a splendid writer, and went through a “Wells Phase” in the late 90s, reading “tons” of work by him. Many of the stories in this book I had read before, in a used paperback collection (one of those non-standard sized oddities that wreak havoc with the symmetry of one’s bookshelves), but there were a few unknown nuggets for me here as well.

I was struck once again by Wells’s capacity for placing ordinary people – or maybe more accurately, people with ordinary points of view – in extraordinary situations, and seeing where that takes them. He also has a great skill, in my opinion, in giving brief physical descriptions of characters which convey a whole lot of information – a handy talent in a short story writer I suppose. The engineer in the story “Lord of the Dynamos” comes to mind as an example.

Which stories were my favorites? that’s a tough one. Of the fifteen stories in the book, I’ll pick four: “In the Avu Observatory,” “Aepyornis Island,” (and a shiny nickel prize to the first reader who can tell me how to pronounce that!) “The Lord of the Dynamos,” and “The Diamond Maker.” I’ve already commented on “The Remarkable Case of Davidson’s Eyes,” which is also quite good. There were only a couple that I didn’t like: “Triumph of a Taxidermist” and “The Temptation of Harringjay.”

My book club is discussing these stories in a couple weeks and I’ll probably share some of the others’ impressions here later.

Below: Aepyornis Maximus. This was a real creature (!) though extinct. I had no idea!

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3 Comments

  1. Ann Marie said,

    October 11, 2010 at 7:48 pm

    I am still working through the short stories. (I am about to start the Davidson’s Eyes story). The stories are very imaginative. But several of them left me feeling unfulfilled. I felt as though the store ended too abruptly. I will let you know what I think at the end.

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  2. stentorpub said,

    October 12, 2010 at 5:32 am

    Yeah, I kinda know what you mean – they do often leave you wanting more. I guess that’s the nature of the beast with short stories though. If they give you more, then they end up novels (or novellas) or very long “short stories” like Bartleby the Scrivener…

    I also liked the last one “The Treasure in the Forest”; its atmosphere reminded me a little of Poe’s The Gold Bug, which we read last October.

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  3. Ann Marie said,

    October 12, 2010 at 10:58 am

    I have to disagree with you a bit. I think a well written short story does not leave you wanting more. Did you read the author’s intro to Stephen King’s “Just After Sunset”? He spoke a bit about this issue. He discussed the difficulties in writing short stories including developing characters and story lines sufficiently. For the most part we agree on which stories we liked from the HG Wells collection. Those are also the stories which did not leave me unsatisfied. The ones for which I did not care seemed to be more of “an idea for a story that he was going to develop and write” rather than “a story.” I am not sure whether I am making sense, but we can discuss it more at book club.

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