The Time Machine, by H G Wells

Anthony G Williams

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I surely must have read this at some point in my youth, but I can't recall it. All I can remember is watching the 1960 film version and that memory only involves Yvette Mimieux in a starring role, which gives a clear idea of adolescent priorities. So it was with some interest that I read this prior to discussing it with the Classic SF group.

H G Wells (1866-1946) was of course one of the pioneers of modern science fiction, writing such classic works as The War of the Worlds (invasion from Mars), The War in the Air (foreseeing aerial warfare – in 1908), The Invisible Man, The First Men in the Moon and The Shape of Things to Come. He also forecast – and named – the atomic bomb in 1914, in The World Set Free.

The Time Machine was Wells' first novel, published in 1895, and made his reputation. It is narrated by an unnamed guest at a Victorian dinner party given by a man identified only as the Time Traveller, and consists of the Time Traveller's account to his guests of a journey to the future from which he had just returned.

The story was controversial on publication because its principal theme was that mankind would evolve. Since resistance on the part of fundamentalist religious groups to the idea of evolution in general, and human evolution in particular, still exists even today, their condemnation is not surprising. What must have been even worse to many people is that Wells showed a humanity which had devolved into two degenerate races: the small and beautiful but unintelligent Eloi, who lived an apparently idyllic existence on the surface of a garden-like world, and the hideous and evil subterranean Morlocks. The novel, or more precisely novella since it is only 80 pages long, principally deals with the Time Traveller's stay with the Eloi and his encounters with the Morlocks.

A particularly interesting suggestion in the story, also obviously prompted by Darwin's theories, was that the decline of humanity had occurred because civilisation had become too successful; the upper classes lived such idyllic lives that the evolutionary pressures which had sparked the development of intelligence had disappeared. The lower classes, slaving away in the darkness, had similarly become adapted to their environment. In the world of the Eloi and the Morlocks, the ruins of an obviously glorious past (still in our future) were still scattered across the landscape.

Leaving the world of the Eloi behind, the Time Traveller rushes into the far future. He stops only when the sun has become a vast, dim and stationary red ball in the sky. All is silent, with just a few creatures scavenging a living in the thin air of a cold and almost dead world. For me, these brief images carry more evocative power than the rest of the story.

The themes of The Time Machine are as relevant today as they were then; the style of the story-telling has changed a lot, but the ideas still resonate. The impact which they had on a Victorian world largely unexposed to science fiction can be imagined. About the only anachronism is the short timescale, which only reflects the lack of knowledge when the story was written. The Eloi and the Morlocks are said to live just over 800,000 years in the future, the end of the world in only 30 million years. Compared with modern works there is also a total lack of characterisation, but that doesn't really matter here – this was a novel of ideas.

H G Wells is one of the few novelists whose work reached beyond its powerful influence on the genre, extending to a genuine impact on ideas in wider society. He also did more than write fiction; for the latter part of his life he became what would be known today as a futurist, concentrating on writing forward-looking works such as The New World Order and The Future of Man. Much of his later fiction also departed from SF, focusing more on society as in The History of Mr Polly, which I recall having to study in school.

The Everyman edition of The Time Machine which I have contains a lot of related material, including a chronology of Wells' life, a 23-page introduction to the story, comments on the text (plus an additional section which was omitted from the published novel) and the varied critical assessments of the work. Useful additions which add to the appreciation of one of the most famous SF novels ever written.

(An extract from my SFF blog)
 

AE35Unit

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A good and succint review there. I've not read it myself(the only Wells I've read is the story The Land Ironclads).
In the 1960s film there's a scene featuring information disks which when spun give up the information. Do these also feature in the book? When I re watched the film a few years ago I couldn't help thinking how the idea in that scene echoed the Compact Disk and CD ROM of today!
 

Anthony G Williams

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A good and succint review there. I've not read it myself(the only Wells I've read is the story The Land Ironclads).
In the 1960s film there's a scene featuring information disks which when spun give up the information. Do these also feature in the book? When I re watched the film a few years ago I couldn't help thinking how the idea in that scene echoed the Compact Disk and CD ROM of today!
No, I don't recall anything about information disks - I'm sure I would have noticed that!
 

j d worthington

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I'm afraid I don't recall that, either.... Granted, it's been some time since I last watched it (I've got it in one of my boxes in storage), but I'd think I'd remember that. Are you sure you're not confusing this with something else? (I can't say the remake of a few years ago, as I simply could not get past the first 40 minutes of that one, and I tried; oh, how I tried. But when it came to a choice between actually forcing myself to go any further and therefore launching my DVD player through the window, or remaining ignorant of how they handled the rest of it, I opted for the latter. I also kept thinking Wells would climb out of his grave to exact vengeance for this travesty!:rolleyes:)
 

Connavar

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I read this classic piece of SF not many months ago and my memory about it is pretty fresh no information disks. Just another movie add.
The themes and ,ideas of The Time Machine was so well written that it was very easy to forget the older storytelling style.
This review makes me remember i havent read my copy of The Invisible Man yet.
 

j d worthington

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Connavar -- I was referring to the movie above. I've seen the 1960 film at least 3-4 times, and I don't recall that being in there... though, as I said, it has been some years now since I saw it last, so I could possibly be forgetting....
 

j d worthington

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Well, Anthony, seems as if our memories have failed us here (mine with much less excuse than yours, as I last saw the film about 10 or 12 years ago); yes, there were "talking rings" which, when spun, gave out information. You can find reference to it here:

The Time Machine
 

AE35Unit

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I'm afraid I don't recall that, either.... Granted, it's been some time since I last watched it (I've got it in one of my boxes in storage), but I'd think I'd remember that. Are you sure you're not confusing this with something else? (I can't say the remake of a few years ago, as I simply could not get past the first 40 minutes of that one, and I tried; oh, how I tried. But when it came to a choice between actually forcing myself to go any further and therefore launching my DVD player through the window, or remaining ignorant of how they handled the rest of it, I opted for the latter. I also kept thinking Wells would climb out of his grave to exact vengeance for this travesty!:rolleyes:)

I'll have to watch it again next time its on TV. I'm sure its in there! Hang on it wouldn't be in Logan's Run would it? They are a bit similar once the two escape to the outside.
 

j d worthington

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In my later post, I noted that I'd found a reference to that being in the 1960 film, so it would appear my memory was faulty on this one....
 

AE35Unit

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Ah so the talking rings ARE in The Time Machine! Its been too long since I watched that film. I have fond memories of seeing it as a kid and being mesmerized by the sight of Rod Taylor sat in the time chair and seeing the background dissolve and change around him. That fascinated a young AE! I was truly hooked on SF after that!
 

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