BOOK REVIEW – H. G. WELLS THE MAN WITH A NOSE & OTHER UNCOLLECTED SHORT STORIES Edited by J. R. Hammond. 1984 The Athlone Press.
A collection of rare, neglected H. G. Wells’s stories left out of the anthologies that would by habit include The Land Leviathan and The Country Of The Blind.
Editor, Hammond argues that the stories were left out mainly as editors did not think them worthy of including in the more famous collections, even in Wells’s lifetime, and while the author made no fuss about this, Hammond reasons that he tales are every bit as good as the standard classics we are more familiar with.
Sadly, while a few stories stand out, most are quite mediocre. The Title story is one of the worst. A man whinges that his nose is too big, though others disagree. This is a man with a pointless Cyrano De Bergerac fixation, but it goes nowhere. In the final paragraph he relates the news that he is invited to a party merely so the guests can make fun of his nose. It is this cruelty that has led him to believe his nose and appearances dictate his fate.
The New Faust is a lousy screenplay Wells wrote about a mind-swap experiment in which an old man seeks immortality by switching minds with a younger one, as part of a plan to take over the World. He immediately runs into conflict with the younger man’s fiancée, who sees the differences in his personality. The story is very slow, talky and preachy about human nature, and lacks any real action. It’s unlikely to ever be filmed but the idea has been done so much better elsewhere in science fiction. The cat and mouse game between the two men for the return of their minds is utterly predictable.
Walcote is a contrived Poe-esque horror piece in which a man is haunted into confessing to the a murder he committed a year before to the very day when his friends set up a similar situation (a card game) in a house ornamented by statues of demons.
Wayde’s Essence is a sad but entertaining fable about an insecure man given an Elixir that makes him a political and business success for seventeen years, but when he is told it is merely a placebo mix, he loses his confidence and becomes a failure again.
The Queer Story Of Brownlow’s Newspaper is about a man who somehow (for reasons never given) ends up with a newspaper from 1972, forty years into his future. Among predictions that Wells gets accurate is the development of a Society to help protect the number of species of animal facing extinction. However, the newspaper is thrown out as old rubbish by a cleaner, and incinerated. Probably the best story in the book.
The Thing In Number 7 reads like a ghastly urban legend. When a public London firework display is ruined by a spectacular thunderstorm, some men head for the house of one of the party to take shelter, but in the darkness, one man enters a deserted house next door by accident, and emerges in abject terror. With a policeman, the men explore the house, and find a dead burglar, electrocuted by the lightning that has come through the gas pipes he was trying to steal from the abandoned property. That is what has distressed their timid friend.
A Misunderstood Artist deals with art critics on a train, who are joined in conversation by a man who they assume is an artist from his reference to aesthetic values, but they realize that he is a cook who thinks of the meals he prepares as an art form. The story makes the culinary philosophy sound unique, but many chefs even in Wells’s time saw such value in their craft. The story simply fails to ring true.
Mr. Marshall’s Doppelganger proves to be a rather complicated case of mistaken identity and not a ghost story at all.
The Thumbmark tells of a Holmsian policeman with extreme scientific knowledge solving the mystery of who among a group of friends witnessing the fire at a policeman’s house is the anarchist responsible. A thumbprint gives the culprit away and the policeman and anarchist engage in a silly duel in which they throw acids at one another, but the anarchist escapes.
In the very creepy story, Our Little Neighbour, a married couple discover that their new neighbour is an ugly and sinister albino dwarf-goblin figure. Though the estate agent says he is harmless, the couple discover that he is malicious. They find him watching them voyeuristically through the window, and one night they hear him fall from their wall’s clinging ivy, He is dead, having fallen on the knife he intended to use on them had he made it inside their house.
The Wild Asses Of The Devil is a satirical let-down story in which a mild mannered author, (a thinly disguised version of Wells), meets a disenchanted demon who has been cast out of Hades for accidentally releasing a herd of demonic asses, when he was watching the arrival in Hell of William Gladstone instead of watching the herd. The devil tells the writer that the asses are indistinguishable from humans on all but Walpurgis Night. The writer agrees to help the demon find them, and here the story ends. It could so easily have been a novel about the adventures of the unlikely duo.
The Devotee Of Art tells of an artist so engrossed in his work that it comes to life to tell him that he has no inspiration for its creation. Being soul-less it is an abomination. Excited by this, the artist paints on, even when told that his wife is ill, and dying. Her doctor cannot break him away from the canvas…and she dies. The artist eventually wakes up – as wells goes for the most clichéd of all cop out endings – It was all a dream.
The Rajah’s Treasure is about a ruling Rajah who has a safe with a hoard of some undisclosed treasure – Speculation on its contents leads to revolution and counter revolution in which the Rajah is an early victim of murder. Eventually, the safe falls into the hands of the British Empire, and they force it open to discover broken bourbon bottles. Alcohol is forbidden in Islamic states and the Rajah was an alcoholic.
Some good stuff, but overall, disappointing.
© Copyright. Arthur Chappell
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