Review – Selected Short Stories by H.G. Wells

h. g. wells  short storiesTitle: Selected Short Stories (including The Time Machine)

Author: H. G. Wells

Published: 1958 (first pub. 1927)

Publisher: Penguin Books

Genre: Short Stories/Science-Fiction

Source: My bookshelf

My Rating: 5/5

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(Sorry, unsure which American version has the same stories in)

I have wanted to read The Time Machine by H. G. Wells for quite some time so when I saw it on my shelf at my parents I had to pick it up. The book I have is actually a selection of Wells’ short stories, all of which are science-fiction.

To be honest I wasn’t overly impressed by The Time Machine, though I have a feeling that was largely due to having seen a film adaptation of it a few years ago.  However, all the other stories in the book blew me away. I have never been particularly drawn to science-fiction; it’s not that I won’t read it, simply that I’ll usually choose something else. After read this collection by Wells, I am now desperate to get my hands on anything science-fiction that can give me the same feelings of awe and inspiration.

Not only are his stories incredibly well thought out, they are also impeccably written. It isn’t often I find books that make me want to write because of the beauty of the language, so needless to say I will be looking into reading more of Wells’ work. One thing I found interesting was that in almost every story the narrator was someone retelling a story told to him by the protagonist. I am fairly certain trying this now would be shot down, but for the kind of stories Wells tells it works incredibly well and suspends the disbelief so it’s hard to remember it is just a story and not something that actually happened.

Admittedly sometimes the descriptions are a little long-winded, and occasionally pulls the reader out of the story, which is what happens with The Time Machine, however, the stories are usually worth getting through that. One thing I really loved about the stories is that many (all?) of them don’t have a purpose – they are not written for moral influence, in fact often they seem to have no point at all beyond simply telling a story. Usually this can work against a book, but as these are short stories it was actually pleasant to read without concerning ourselves with the ‘point’ of a book. It does make you wonder what kind of mind H. G. Wells had to come up with such incredible stories, especially given the time they were written, and I would give almost anything to have seen inside that mind, but at least we have many stories which undoubtedly cover a large range of ideas and concepts.

I hate that it took me so long to try H. G. Wells as he is one of the most inspiring and imaginative storytellers I’ve ever read. Yes, I will be reading everything else he’s written, and yes, I recommend his work to everyone. It may seem strange for me to say I recommend his work based on one collection of short stories, but the writing and imagination shown in them is so consistent I have a hard time believing he could have written something unenjoyable. Therefore I feel it’s safe to say H. G. Wells has earned his place as one of my favourite authors.

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Review: Zendegi by Greg Egan

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What’s It About?

In 2012 Martin Seymour is a journalist sent to Iran to cover the parliamentary elections.  While this turns into the predictable non-event he expected, shortly after he becomes caught up in an event that will change everything.  Nasim Golestani is an Iranian scientist living in the U.S.A.  When her mother is offered a job in Iran, she chooses to return to her home country in the hopes that she can avenge her father’s execution and become important in the quickly changing political climate.

Fifteen years later, Martin is living in Iran after marrying and creating a family there.  Nasim is now in charge of Zendegi, a virtual world that is used by millions, and pondering the ‘what if’ in her career choice to move to Iran.  While she is envious of her former colleagues, Nasim soon realises that she has the expertise and knowledge to change the face of technology by creating more ‘human’ and lifelike proxies.

When tragedy strikes Martin turns to Nasim in the hopes that she can use advance her technology to create a solution to change his son’s future life.  It now becomes a question of whether this technology is really alive and conscious, which creates more ethical questions than either of them are ready to answer.

My Thoughts:

This book was written in 2009, which is important to point out as the first part is set in a ‘futuristic’ 2012.  It may be because I don’t really have any knowledge of Iranian politics, but this didn’t phase me in the least.  Greg Egan doesn’t create a far-fetched fantasy and so I found his world to be completely believable (although perhaps a little optimistic) and never felt that the 2012 he depicted couldn’t have happened.  Of course, those who understand politics may completely disagree with me on that, though I believe Egan has kept it vague enough that it is still plausible, without lacking the detail that can keep you grounded while reading.

The majority of this book takes place in 2015.  Again, I didn’t feel that it was an impossibly spun fantasy.  Everything relating to the technology, I have no doubt, is well within our grasp and will likely be used fairly soon (though I admit I don’t know too much about technology either).  Egan once again keeps us grounded by focusing on the details of Iranian culture, rather than on any significant changes that aren’t important.  For me, this meant that I was much more engrossed in the story he is telling, than whether or not the science is real.

I personally found it a little difficult to truly relate to any of the characters.  This may be because they were, for the most part, eclipsed by the understanding of the culture it is set in, rather than the people.  While they obviously had motivations and inward thoughts, I felt, for the most part, that in a sense they were simply crutches to move the story forward and question all the right ethical points brought up by the idea of when does a computer become conscious.  However, I don’t feel this is a huge issue in this novel as they aren’t complete cardboard cut-outs either.

As I’ve already mentioned, the novel does bring up some interesting ethical questions about where the line is between machine and a living conscious being, and what this means in terms of ‘rights’.  Despite that being something that I noticed after reading, it didn’t take over the story until the very end.

I was quite disappointed, and a little confused, by the ending as not only did it seem to end a little abruptly, I felt the characters changed who they were so much to fit the ‘ethical’ answers that it was unrealistic and made me wish the book had ended on the question rather than a complex character response that doesn’t fit.

I would recommend this to anyone who is new to science fiction (as I am), as it is a good way to expand your reading without feeling too far out of your comfort zone.  I can’t really compare this book to any I’ve previously read as this is a whole new genre for me.  I expect that those who read a lot of science fiction would probably appreciate this book, though if you are looking for technical detail and explanations you won’t find it in this book.

Overall Rating: 4/5

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