Perfection, utopia, would be our undoing.
First Published: 1895
Date Reviewed: 21st January 2015
Gathering together various types of people, the time traveller tells them of his plans for a time machine and later his experiences of the year 802701.
The Time Machine was the first science fiction book to feature a machine for time travel. It’s short without seeming so, brimming with messages, and, almost shockingly, impossible to read without taking the author into account. It’s also a very, very, good book.
Told in the same way as More’s Utopia, The Time Machine is the report of a person who was at both gatherings and who provides the details and dialogues from those evenings. This means that you get both a first-hand account and the benefit of various opinions (even if they may not actually be benefits in the literal sense). You do not witness the time traveller’s adventures for yourself, however the story is engrossing all the same as Wells spares no details.
The messages at the heart of the story are about the future of humanity (the moral, emotional, sympathetic kind) and humanity as a society. Also studied is the eradication of the world’s woes, intelligence, and any sort of work. Wells, a socialist, looks at an extreme version of communism and speaks of the shocking consequences, but later draws back a little. It is interesting to note how the time traveller’s perceptions change the longer he spends in the future and how easily he fears a secondary people perhaps, simply, because he just happened to meet the others first. It’s ironic to watch how a man so bent on moving into the future suddenly realises he should have stayed in his own time – it begs the question of whether time travel should remain a fantasy.
There are no aliens in the book, no wars or fights for survival. The book is rather unique except for the very end of the journey. It’s the case that you may have read a lot of futuristic science fiction, but you won’t have come across anything quite like this.
Of special note is the conversation leading up to the time travel discussion during which Wells looks at philosophy, physics, mathematics. Questions are asked, interesting answers as well as supposedly true (I’m no scientist) answers provided, and even if your takeaway will be the future, the physics makes interesting reading.
There is fun to be had in the conversation. The Medical Man says ‘our ancestors had no great tolerance for anachronisms’ which he might as well have extended to the present day. Someone points out that investments could be made in the past and the rewards reaped in the present. And there is the fine point made that we already travel in time when we remember past events from our lives.
The Time Machine delves into the future only to long for the past. It portrays a possibility that is as relevant to consider today as it was in the year the book was written, and it looks at the way misunderstandings can occur, even between people who do not exist. It is an excellent work that provides much food for thought and much to study and all this for only a couple of hours of your time – you could visit and return from 802701 in less.
January 28, 2015, 3:52 pm
I am pleased to hear you enjoyed this. I have it on my Classics Club list and I am looking forward to reading it.
January 28, 2015, 4:03 pm
I haven’t read anything by H.G. Wells before. This sounds like something I might like. I do want to read his War of the Worlds at some point.
February 16, 2015, 12:08 pm
Jessica: It’s an excellent choice. Short, granted, so it’s a quick one to strike off, but you end it with plenty to think about.
Literary Feline: My guess would be that you’d like it :) I hadn’t read anything by Wells either and would say it’s a good place to start because you get all the politics and messages but in a short space of time.