In H.G. Well's early years, he wrote many short stories. Thirty of them (published between 1894 and 1896, around the time of The Time Machine and The Island of Doctor Moreau) are collected in Thirty Strange Stories (1897). In this and the following years, Wells would write science fiction classics like The Invisible Man, The War of the Worlds , First Men In the Moon, etc.
Although most of these shorts do feature some element of the fantastic (or could be considered a form of early "speculative fiction"), a few stories in the latter half are actually more like domestic fables or exotic adventure tales. In any case, it's very impressive that by the late 19th century Wells had already touched upon many important science fiction tropes to be revisited by dozens of writers in the following century:
- Man-eating plant life ("The Strange Orchid")
- Prehistoric life in the modern day ("Aepyornis Island", "The Sea Raiders")
- Parallel universes ("The Plattner Story")
- Underwater civilizations ("In the Abyss")
- Body switching ("The Story of the Late Mr. Elvesham")
- Bacteriological terrorism ("The Stolen Bacillus")
- Astral projection on a cosmic level ("Under the Knife")
- Airline industry safety violations ("The Argonauts of the Air")
- Possessed houses ("The Red Room")
- Reincarnation as an animal ("A Moth")
Short synopses follow:
The Strange Orchid (1894): An amateur plant collector obtains a strange orchid which tends to knock out its prey with fumes and then proceed to suck out its victims' blood through its long tentacles.
The Argonauts of the Air (1895): An investor desperate to save his reputation as an inventor builds a flying machine. Although the machine soon makes a crash landing, he becomes known as the first aviator.
The Red Room (1896): The narrator visits a haunted room in order to determine whether ghosts exist or not. As candles mysteriously go out, he races around the room trying to relight them. Finally he falls and loses consciousness. When he awakens, he tells the curious house caretakers that a "spirit of Fear" haunts the room.
A Moth (Genus Unknown) (1895): An entomologist named Hapley continually criticizes his colleague Pawley until one day Pawley dies from influenza. Frustrated without a victim, Hapley turns to other studies, but soon discovers a new type of moth in his room. The moth begins to chase him day and night and Hapley is unable to kill it. Eventually Hapley is put into an insane asylum, as no one but he can see this moth (which he believes is a manifestation of Pawley).
The Reconciliation (1895): Two old schoolmates get into a play-fight. However, one of them uses the ear bone of a whale to kill the other in a fit of jealous anger.
A Slip under the Microscope (1896): A student accidentally jiggles a microscope slide during an examination, essentially giving him the answer through a prohibited means ("cheating"). He eventually confesses and is forced to leave the class.
In the Avu Observatory (1894): In Borneo, an astronomer is attacked by a giant bat flying around his observatory, but manages to injure it and drive it away.
The Triumphs of a Taxidermist (1894): While drunk, a taxidermist admits to his friend that he has created faked stuffed specimens of rare animals, and has even created a few stuffed creatures which have never actually existed in the wild. Nonetheless, people are willing to believe these hoaxes.
A Deal in Ostriches (1894): An Indian gentlemen claims that one of five ostriches has swallowed one of his diamonds. This starts off a bidding war on the ostriches. In the end, the diamonds have not yet been recovered from any of the ostriches, and the narrator wonders if the Indian and the ostrich owner had created a rumor just to drive up prices for the ostriches.
The Rajah’s Treasure (1896): When a Rajah dies, many of his subjects struggle to crack his treasure chest. When finally opened, it reveals empty bottles of whiskey. The safe was the only place where he could discard the forbidden bottles...
The Story of Davidson’s Eyes (1895): During an experiment involving electromagnetic poles, a scientist suddenly (and involuntarily) begins to see another landscape through his eyes, but physically remains in his own body. This problem eventually goes away by itself. Later he learns that he had seen a location 8000 miles away.
The Cone (1895): Horrock, the owner of an iron mill, learns hat a man named Raut has been romancing his wife. He brings Raut to the top of a furnace cone (under a pretense of giving him a tour) and then throws him into the burning cone.
The Purple Pileus (1896): A man named Coombes storms out of his home after he feels that his wife has been ruling his life, introducing strange visitors, etc. He comes across some poisonous purple mushrooms (fungus) and recklessly eats them anyways. Afterwards, he is transformed into a drunken, wild state and chases his house guests around. He recovers with no ill effects, but has learned that his wife now respects him. He tells his wife nothing about the fungus and only states that he had wanted to show her how angry he could become.
A Catastrophe (1895): A shopkeeper becomes despondent when he learns that he will not be able to pay his debts that month. However, he gets a letter informing him that his in-laws have died in a freak accident. The inheritance will ironically save his business.
Le Mari Terrible (1895): A man named Bellows flirts with a lady at a party. Her husband comes over and teases that his wife is a "collector". Later, Bellows feels sorry for the lady's rude husband and his strange characterization of her, but is nonetheless looking forward to seeing her again.
The Apple (1896): While traveling to his new school, a young teacher meets a strange man who offers him an apple. The man claims that the apple is from the Garden of Eden, and will give whoever eats it theGift of Knowledge. The young teacher accepts the apple but finds it awkward to carry around so throws it away. Later, he regrets losing what he might have dismissed.
The Sad Story of a Dramatic Critic (1895): An unassuming young man is given the assignment to become a drama critic. After watching and absorbing 3 plays a week, he begins to adopt a flamboyant, "stagey" personality, and wonders if his former personality will be replaced entirely by this new one.
The Jilting of Jane (1894): A serving girl named Jane falls in love with a man named William, However, William soon falls in love with another woman (of a higher social standing). At their wedding, Jane throws a boot at them which hits William in the eye. Eventually Jane gets over her loss.
The Lost Inheritance (1896): A young man named Ted eagerly awaits the death of his annoying, preachy writer uncle, expecting that the man's inheritance will go to him. On his death bed the old man gives Ted his last-written book. After the writer dies, an old will is found giving all of his money to a now-distanced relative, frustrating Ted's plans. Years later, Ted finds a more recent will inside the last book given to him, naming Ted as his inheritor. However by that time all the money had been spent up by the other relative.
Pollock and the Porroh Man (1895): In Africa, an arrogant white man named Pollock angers a native witch-doctor (a Porroh man). After being targeted by the Porroh man, Pollock has the witch-doctor's head cut off by a mercenary. However, the head appears to follow Pollock all the way back to England. Driven to madness, Pollock slits his own throat.
The Sea Raiders (1896): Off the coast of England, tentacled, pig-sized monsters begin appearing fishermen, and eventually cause the death of eleven people. Expeditions to study them end up in disaster. However, the creatures eventually go back to where they came from.
In the Modern Vein (1894): A "romantic" named Aubrey tries to woo a young new mistress but is eventually turned away.
The Treasure in the Forest (1894): Two men attack some Chinese men and steal their treasure map. However, when they find the treasure, it is booby-trapped with poisonous thorns and both men succumb, giving meaning to the Chinese man's final smile.
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