Thursday, January 27, 2011

H. G. Wells Classic Collection a True Classic

H. G. Wells Classic Collection
Illustrator: Les Edwards
Publisher: Gollancz, an imprint of Orion

Review by D. E. Helbling

I had just finished listening to an audio book version of H. G. Wells’ War of the Worlds when this book showed up on Ann’s to-be-reviewed list. I jumped at a chance to review it. So, just days later, here it was in my hands, easily the prettiest book I'd handled recently. But what was I going to say about it? Was I qualified to review a book with content from H. G. Wells? Only if I dared to be, I decided.

So I sat down and started reading The Time Machine again, letting my mind fill in the details and taking me into the story world in a way that does not always happen with an audio book or, for that matter, a printed book. Some hours later, I was still reading and it was still as magical as when I had first read it as a boy of twelve. I decided that on the basis of this experience alone, I was quite qualified to say "Yes H. G. Wells wrote 'good stuff'". This stuff is still worth reading, stories and prose that hold up over one hundred years later.

Not changed were Wells’ notoriously long paragraphs, which took me aback for the first few pages. The book's faithful rendition of the original content would not change this. This is really the only issue I have with Well’s style. For me, the prose holds up in terms of readability, pacing, and story arc. And I love the characters. Ever the scientifically minded observer, the first person narrator of most of Wells’ works is a character who is at once accessible, personable, and sympathetic. His portrayal of the other characters, especially those overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of circumstance, is a big part of several of his tales, and is especially engaging to me. A key example: the “Man on Putney Hill”, in The War of the Worlds. I also appreciate how these stories embrace the plight of everyday people of "common station" with the same consideration, admiration, or disdain as he shows of the more elite members of his story world societies.

As for the book itself, the illustrations by Les Edwards were wonderfully retro. While one could argue that H. G. Wells’ works, along with those of Jules Verne, might constitute the Original Steampunk, it was refreshing to read a retro technology fiction work that was not splattered with illustrations of goggle-wearing stereotypes. My favorite image was one from the end of Book One of The War of the Worlds, showing a ship approaching one of the Martian tripods. The utter bleakness of the situation was wonderfully captured by the drawing.

Other features of the book include a brief biography of H. G. Wells, along with some quotes about H. G. from the likes of Brian W. Aldiss, Stephen Baxter, and, among others. On the following page is a long list of Wells’ novels and short stories.

My only real criticism of this book is the quote from Stephen Baxter on the back of the book. This is a book design issue, and really just a philosophical nit pick. Stephen says wonderful things about H. G. Wells’ work … his statements are not the issue. Stephen is himself a fine author and, as a member of the H. G. Wells Society, he is a suitably appropriate choice of person to say great things about Wells. Stephen, if you are reading this, please take no offense. It’s just that having words about H. G. Wells from any contemporary science fiction writer actually embossed into the hardcover, even the back, seems, well ... irreverent. The book and its contents do not, in my humble opinion, require validation from a modern day expert to stand up. Even if that validation was required, there are already several of these quotes printed inside. I suggest that this is a kind of marketing blurb, and as such it belongs instead on the dust jacket (assuming there may be one in a store copy of the book), or else relegated to only the interior of the book.

If one waits long enough, what was old is new again. If it is good enough, it helps us feel new again, too, when we are fortunate enough to rediscover it. This book did that for me, for a few brief hours. And will likely do so again in the weeks to come, as I have yet to get to The Island of Doctor Moreau, The First Men in the Moon, and The Invisible Man. I have never read these last two before, so am looking forward to it.

Would I buy this book? Absolutely. I will also be looking forward to other works from the publisher, including a new rendition of H. G. Wells’ The Food of the Gods, coming out later this year.


ACEtone Studio said...

The Island of Doctor Morrow? - I think you need to check how that last name is correctly spelled! Ouch!

D. E. Helbling said...

Right you are. Thanks.