Title: The Time Machine
Author: H.G. Wells
Genre: Classic Sci-Fi
Date Completed: 12 May 2017
Goodreads Rating: 3 stars
When a Victorian scientist propels himself into the year 802,701 AD, he is initially delighted to find that suffering has been replaced by beauty, contentment and peace. Entranced at first by the Eloi, an elfin species descended from man, he soon realises that this beautiful people are simply remnants of a once-great culture – now weak and childishly afraid of the dark. But they have every reason to be afraid: in deep tunnels beneath their paradise lurks another race descended from humanity – the sinister Morlocks. And when the scientist’s time machine vanishes, it becomes clear he must search these tunnels, if he is ever to return to his own era.
The Time Machine is one of those books that I’ve always wanted to read. I’ve been a lover of science fiction for quite a long time, and my love for the genre began with the twentieth century classics like The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and The Infinity Concerto. Up until now, however, I’d never read anything by H.G. Wells. I was of course familiar with the stories and their plots, The War of the Worlds is one of my favourite musicals. This year, however, I knew I wanted to focus on reading the real classics of sci-fi, the books that began to the genre. So obviously, H.G. Wells was the best place to start.
The Time Machine was Wells’s first novel(la), and this does show. Apparently he always intended to increase its length, but never got around to it. Some of the scenes feel underdeveloped, some of the action is over too quickly, and the entire novella (it’s only around 118 pages) feels like an entire plot has been condensed down. This is partially because, in the classic nineteenth century style, there is a fair bit of rambling about topics that don’t seem central to the plot. I’ve just accepted this as part of the experience of reading a classic, but it can get a bit annoying at times.
Throughout the book, I never felt particularly attached to the protagonist (the Time Traveller). His attitudes towards the Eloi and the Morlocks are definitely reminiscent of nineteenth-century attitudes towards non-European peoples (there is at one point even a comparison between “negroes” and the Eloi). This can read as quite condescending and dismissive, but I think it’s important to remember that at the time of publication (1895) these attitudes were widely accepted in intellectual circles. Perhaps if Wells had been given the opportunity to extend The Time Machine I would have grown more attached to the Time Traveller, but as it was 118 pages is not a lot of time, and I think to modern audiences he is not a particularly sympathetic character.
Despite all of this, I was thoroughly impressed by The Time Machine. It was the first novel to feature time travel, and, like the rest of H.G. Wells’s writing, spawned the sci-fi genre. The central plot of the novella, the conflict between the Eloi and the Morlocks, stands the test of time, If anything, I wanted more on the conflict, and less on the Time Traveller’s own problems. The future of earth and civilisation remain poignant topics, and The Time Machine remains relevant (even if it does feel a bit outdated stylistically). For a book written in the verbose style of nineteenth century literature, it was remarkably easy to read, and I found it only took me about two hours across two days to read it. If you’re a lover of sci-fi, I think H.G. Wells is a must. He is the father of science fiction, after all. The Time Machine is as good a place to start. Now I just have to read The War of the Worlds.