Edward Morgan Forster (January 1st, 1879 - June 7th, 1970) is best known for novels like "A Room with a View", "Howards End", and "A Passage to India". For a different side of Forster, one can look at his shorter works, and "Selected Stories" contains the short fiction of Forster's which was published in his lifetime. It differs greatly from his novels, as most of the stories contain fantasy elements, and one could easily stand as a foundation of science fiction. At the same time, these works are rather uneven. The earlier ones in general tend to be better and more direct, the later ones are more abstract and more difficult for the reader to follow.
All in all there are twelve works included in this collection, all of which would be considered either short stories or novelettes. Forster pulls from Greek mythology in a number of these stories. He also uses Christian theology as he pursues a secular humanist agenda for some of them. Only one of the stories appears to be completely devoid of some kind of fantasy or futuristic element. The stories included are:
"The Story of a Panic" - a novelette which was first published in March of 1904 in the "Independent Review". Inspired by a recent vacation in Italy, Forster sets the scene in Rovello. The story is narrated by Mr. Tytler, who is relating incidents which took place eight years in the past. In the story, Mr. Tytler and a party of tourists, including Eustace, a moody boy of fourteen go on a picnic in a secluded valley. There they encounter the spirit of Pan in the wind and flee in terror leaving Eustace behind. Eustace is invigorated by the experience and starts to behave in a manner which the adults try to prevent.
"The Other Side of the Hedge" - a short story which was first published in November of 1904 in the "Independent Review". This story is a bit heavy handed in its message about people being too consumed with trying to meet their goals. The story is about a man who progresses along the road with his pedometer until he becomes too tired to continue, and then he is lured by a light to try to make his way through the hedge which runs along the side of the road.
"The Celestial Omnibus" - a short story which was first published in January of 1908 in the Albany Review. In this story a young boy has discovered a wondrous omnibus which takes him to a land where the great characters of literature are alive. Adults don't believe in its existence, but he does manage to get Mr. Bons, a pompous adult who tries to correct the boy's literary references along the way. The story is a harsh comment on those who ruin the enjoyment of experiencing great literature for the first time, by trying to limit one's imagination.
"Other Kingdom" - a novelette first published in July of 1901 in the "English Review". This is a story which borrows greatly from Greek mythology, and in particular the story of Daphne. In this case the setting is England, and the Other Kingdom Copse which Harcourt Worters gives to Evelyn Beaumont as an engagement gift. But Harcourt has certain demands for what should be done with the woods, and becomes jealous of his ward, Jack Ford, for whom Evelyn appears to be developing feelings.
"The Curate's Friend" - a short story published in "Pall Mall Magazine" in October of 1907. Forster again goes to Greek mythology in this story where a clergyman, Harry, discovers a faun living in Wiltshire. The faun is invisible to the clergyman's secular friends, who mistake Harry's conversations with the faun for clowning around. The faun causes Harry some distress by allowing Emily, whom Harry has feelings for, to fall for another.
"The Road from Colonus" - a short story which was first published in the "Independent Review" in June of 1904. Forster once again goes to Greek mythology for the story of Oedipus, though in this case the man who would be Oedipus, Mr. Lucas is forced from Colonus. Some have suggested that this story is a veiled reference to Lord Byron's death.
"The Machine Stops" - a novelette which was first published in November of 1909 in "The Oxford and Cambridge Review". It is the one science fiction story in this collection, and what a story it is. One can only assume that writers like Huxley and Orwell referred to it in part for its dystopian future, where machines, or in particular "the machine" has taken over the lives of men. Some would say that Forster has predicted the internet as well in this wonderful piece.
"The Point of It" - a short story which was first published in November of 1911 in the "English Review". This is one of Forster's stories which has moved away from a more direct story line. The key characters of the story are Harold and Michael, who some have suggested are T. E. Lawrence and Forster. Harold's life is one of purpose and action, while Michael, after pushing Harold perhaps to his death, is respectable, but not particularly exciting.
"Mr. Andrews" - a short story which was first published in 1911. In this story Forster's secular humanism is apparent in the story of a Christian, Mr. Andrews, who meets a Muslim on his way to heaven. He fears that the Muslim will not be allowed to enter, and so he asks not if he (Mr. Andrews) may enter, but rather if his friend may. The Muslim does likewise, and both are allowed in, but neither finds what they expect, and they realize that heaven should be more than what they expected.
"Co-Ordination" - a short story which was first published in 1912. A confusing story in which the efforts at a school are directed towards teaching about Napoleon. From history to music he is the focus. In the music area the students are learning to play Beethoven's Eroica Symphony. At the same time, Beethoven and Napoleon become aware of the efforts of the students and teachers, and attempt to reward them. Forster appears to be making a comment about this type of planned teaching among other things.
"The Story of the Siren" - a short story which was first published in 1920. Forster returns to mythology and the Siren for an unusual story about a man who tells a tale of his brother seeing the Siren and how it changed his life. This story deals with the repressive force of Christianity, and is set against pagan ideas of the peasants.
"The Eternal Moment" - a novelette which was first published in June of 1905 in "The Independent Review". One can only believe that this story was put at the end of the collection because unlike the rest of the stories there is no element of fantasy in it. It is the story of a woman who returns to the scene of her best moment in life, only to find that it has changed, both the area as well as the significant people who were there. The moment is eternal though, because it will forever be with her.
Due to the uneven nature of the stories, I cannot give this collection more than three stars. However, stories like "The Machine Stops", and "The Road from Colonus" are well worth reading, and a few of the others are decent as well.