Man Who Could Work Miracles, The by Wells, H.G., 1898

Man Who Could Work Miracles, The by Wells, H.G. - Book cover from Amazon.co.uk

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Written during the early phase of Wells' career this 1898 novella relies on an interesting mix of religious awe and hard physics. Its the story of George Fotheringay, a religious skeptic who gets into an argument with a contemporary in a pub one evening over the reality of miracles. Surprisingly, Fotheringay discovers that he can perform them. He eventually figures out that he can by power of will alone alter reality in any way he wishes. He creates a stir in the pub, and is later confronted by a police officer, whom he accidentally sends to Hell with the power of his mind alone. Later in a fit of guilt he plucked the man from Hell and left im in San Francisco. Fotheringay goes to a lay clergyman, Maydig, and demonstrates his powers, imploring the man to tell him if its divine intervention or satanic curse. Maydig convinces Fotheringay that this is the work of God, and the two devise a plan to fix the problems of the world. They start by fixing Maydig's alcoholic housekeeper, and move on to bigger and bigger social problems. Fotheringay at one point decides to stop all the Earth while he works out a particularly difficult problem, but makes the error of failing to stop the momentum of the atmosphere and everything on the Earth. As the Earth stops its rotation, everything on the surface is flung, and all of man's works and most of mankind is killed in the transition.

For the most part I get that Wells was a scientific realist, especially when he was writing genre stories. Even if he was out in left field with his larger concepts he worked to ground them in something understandable; something realistic. Hard SF authors that came after him usually did a much better job than Wells in this regard, but as a pioneer Wells accomplished this spectacularly. Wells also had a great awakening of social consciousness at some point, and learned early how to combine these two elements to great effect. This story, like so many others of Wells, seems to me to be a cry out to the dangers of scientific exploration and accomplishment without development of enough wisdom to use that technology safely. However, instead of being a Luddite he preached that carefulness and caution with new ideas and concepts were the ways to be happiness. The novella also explores the notions of good and evil and concludes that evil is in the use of ability, and while it also may be inherent in the person, evil does not necessarily come with change.

Wells wrote quite a bit of genre fiction before moving on to more politically and socially oriented fiction and non-fiction. His SF catalog is quite heavy though, and has many many gems in it other than The Time Machine, The War of the Worlds, The Invisible Man, The Island of Dr. Moreau and The First Men in the Moon. This particular story has been collected in The Stolen Bacillus and Other Incidents as well as another anthology called The Country of the Blind and Other Stories. Its definately worth a look. Wells also turned this story into a successful British produced movie of the same name that appears virtually identical to the book. The movie was produced 38 years later in 1936, and in addition to the above, tackles the coming war as well. Three stars out of five.

Copyright 2007, Gregory Tidwell

Reviewed by GTT · Rating Rating of 3 star(s)

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