99. ‘The Time Machine’ by HG Wells

I don’t know what I was expecting but this was a wonderfully narrated story, really stretching my imagination and preconceptions of early science fiction. Like ‘War of the Worlds’ this is one of the first of this genre of books, probably before writers even  realised this was a genre. Again I can’t help but think of the actual time machine as a piece of steampunk architecture (see above) which isn’t that far off the mark when you consider the way it’s been described.

From the unique perspective of a narrator who is both reporting on the events around the Time Machine journey and the narration by the Time Traveller, we are whisked (firstly) back to the late 1800’s and the gentle company of newspaper editor, medicine man, and men of notability. From here we hear and understand the subtleties and ‘order’ of society in the late 1800’s from the way the dinner guests interact with each other and how they interact, or rather don’t, with a Time Traveller.

From the disheveled appearance of the Time Traveller (I like the fact we never learn his name, it seems somehow fitting to the story), late for his own dinner party, we immediately know we’re about to join him on his journey in time as he narrates his story – he’s been gone next to no time, in our time-line, but claims to have been in the future for over 10 days! Does his anonymity somehow enhance his experiences, it’s almost as though we’re forced to leave our expectations behind as we travel with him. We don’t know his name or background, therefore whether he’s a philosopher, doctor, teacher, mechanic, reverend, etc. Without these backgrounds and perceptions we won’t know how he’ll react to the future, and therefore how we’ll react to his claims/story.

“Nature never appeals to intelligence until habit and instinct are useless. There is no intelligence where there is no need of change.”

The graphic description of the process of time travel itself is just so familiar and ‘comfortable’ it’s almost a disappointment … thanks to films and special effects in films like Star Wars, Back To The Future, 2001 A Space Odyssey, and a few direct adaptations too. From ‘landing’ in the future, the year 802,701 (although I must have missed how he was so sure of the date) the book takes us on a split journey – both science fiction and essay on human evolution.

As we have come to expect from our own modern science fiction the future is not a simple clear cut case of utopian or dystopian fantasy. The mix between the ‘have’ and ‘have-not’s will forever be a staple diet for authors and screen/script writers, but this must have really turned heads in 1895 when it was published? The graphic description of the way in which humans have evolved, from a society where they were still arguing about Darwin and evolution, into lazy and deformed shadows of their former selves.

“I grieved to think how brief the dream of the human intellect had been. It had committed suicide. It had set itself steadfastly towards comfort and ease, a balanced society with security and permanency as its watchword, it had attained its hopes—to come to this at last.”

Experiences and observations led him to theorise about what had happened, where society and culture had changed or gone wrong, and how the lives of the ‘haves’ and ‘have not’s’ diverged to such an openly hostile existence. We never really know if his theories are correct, or even partly correct, but we are led down many paths where we have the opportunity to agree or challenge his own ideas. 

In his escape from the subterranean ‘have not’s of the future he heads even further into the Earths future, millions of years. In the journey he sees the changes in the scenery and Earth; the sun changes to a giant red star, the Earth loses its vegetation and almost all life. What remains is a toxic atmosphere and strange crab-like creatures (is Wells predicting our own demise in form?) that are attracted to him. Before returning to the 1800’s he observes the dying sun and dying planet, saying “beyond these lifeless sounds the world was silent. Silent? It would be hard to convey the stillness of it. All the sounds of man, the bleating of sheep, the cries of birds, the hum of insects, the stir that makes the background of our lives – all that was over.”

I admit to favouring science fiction as something to read for pleasure, which is why I’ve read both of HG Wells’s books early in this quest, but I hope I won’t be disappointed with raising more ‘flowerery’ books later. I’m not sure what to read next, but might possibly brave Joseph Heller’s ‘Catch 22’.

  • If you’ve read this or any of the books I’ve already reviewed then please leave your comments, thoughts, experiences, etc., I’d be happy to read and respond.

Scores:
Held my interest: 9/10
Captured my imagination: 9/10
Worth reading: 10/10
Overall: 9/10

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