H. G. Wells

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(Short Story Criticism)

H. G. Wells 1866–-1946

(Full name Herbert George Wells; also wrote under the pseudonyms Sosthenes Smith, Walker Glockenhammer, and Reginald Bliss) English novelist, short story and novella writer, essayist, lecturer, author of children's books, historian, autobiographer, and critic.

The following entry provides criticism on Wells's short fiction from 1990 through 1999. See also The Time Machine Criticism.

Wells is best known as a major progenitor of modern science fiction who foretold the development of such present-day realities as atomic weaponry and chemical and global warfare. Several of Wells's short stories are acknowledged as classics in the fields of science fiction and fantasy and have profoundly influenced the course of both genres. Critics generally concur that the appeal of his work stems from his ability to introduce exotic or fantastic elements into mundane situations, which often arise from institutional social pressures.

Biographical Information

Wells was born into a lower-middle-class Cockney family in Bromley, Kent, a suburb of London. He was awarded a scholarship to London University and the Royal College of Science, where he studied zoology under noted biologist T. H. Huxley, who instilled in him a belief in social as well as biological evolution. After graduating from London University, Wells published his first nonfiction work, Text-Book of Biology (1893), and contributed short stories to several magazines. The serialization of his novella The Time Machine (1895) launched his career as an author of fiction, and his subsequent science fiction and science fantasies proved extremely popular with audiences and critics alike. Enabled by his growing fame to meet such prominent authors as Arnold Bennett and Joseph Conrad, Wells developed his own prose style while serving under editor Frank Harris as a literary critic for The Saturday Review. A socialist, Wells joined the Fabian Society in 1903, but left the group after fighting a long, unsuccessful war of wit and rhetoric over some of the group's policies with his friend George Bernard Shaw, a prominent Fabian and man of letters. Wells's socialist thought, coupled with a belief in the gradual advancement of humanity through evolution and scientific innovation, is expressed in his short fiction in the form of imaginative fantasies in which the innovative ideas of liberated individuals intrude upon conformistic society.

Most of Wells's short stories were published prior to World War I, a period when Wells was commonly regarded as an advocate of the new, the iconoclastic, and the daring. However, the war and its aftermath of widespread disillusionment upset his optimistic vision of humankind. Wells's postwar ideas on the perfectibility of humanity were modified to stress the necessity of education in bringing about progress. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, Wells's fiction became progressively less optimistic about the future of humanity. The advent of World War II increased Wells's despondency about the future, and his last book, Mind at the End of Its Tether (1945), predicts the destruction of civilization and the degeneration of humanity. Wells died in London in 1946.

Major Works of Short Fiction

Wells's canon of short fiction includes approximately seventy short stories and two novellas, most of which were originally published in five collections. His early sketches, many of which appeared in his first short fiction collection, The Stolen Bacillus, and Other Incidents (1895), are considered indicative of the exceptional descriptive skills, narrative prowess, and striking imagination that characterize his later stories and novels. The pieces in Wells's next major collection, The Plattner Story, and Others (1897), are generally considered indicative of the wide range of his talent and are often based upon seemingly absurd premises that have their basis in concrete theory. Tales of Space and Time (1899), a volume of science fiction tales, contains “The Star,” a critically acclaimed...

(The entire section is 34,535 words.)