Reviews of The Time Machine (1895) and related work

The Time Machine (1895Text)

H. G. Wells (writer).

Read in 2022.

A tired man tells the story of how he saw the future of humankind in the year 802,701 CE.

As Wells himself said in 1931, this is essentially a juvenile work. Instead of a full-bodied thought experiment, the titular time machine and the journey on it are just extensions of the flimsy framing device. The machine and the larger concept of time travel, both invented here, are primarily kludges to put a heroic stand-in for the late-Victorian reader in the fantasy world that Wells wanted to write a cautionary tale about. The tail end of the journey, though an interesting effort in the Dying Earth subgenre, is also flimsy. The tail end of the framing device itself, wherein most of the listeners disbelieve the story as a “gaudy lie”, seems like a pointless affectation.

The narrative is clearly dominated by the visit to 802,701 CE: The traveller’s failed ratiocinations about it and then the truth. Even those parts don’t make a lot of sense, but there is a deeply symbolic layer to the socialist class metaphor. Rather than splitting humanity into good and evil as lesser writers have done, Wells clearly believed, as the time traveller says before he realizes the truth, that we “are kept keen on the grindstone of pain and necessity”. As a result, the childlike Eloi and the Morlocks are both deeply flawed from a long period of cornucopian stability. Crucially, though he loves an Eloi, the time traveller himself is more aligned with the keener, Eloi-eating lower class: The masculine monster within Wells.

There is a lovely vintage quality to the whole thing. As always, Wells achieves both clarity and simplicity in ways that are charming rather than insulting to the science of his time. The descriptions of the time machine and the landscape of the future are superficial but evocative, as witnessed by the many adaptations. Time machines, and time travel, would soon be a dime a dozen.

References here: The Island of Doctor Moreau (1896), The House on the Borderland (1908), “Don’t Laugh” (1975), “Pump Six” (2008), Story of Science Fiction (2018).

text fiction

The Time Machine (1960Moving picture, 103 minutes)

Seen in 2013.

Surprisingly faithful to the novel, but far less epic and more romantic, in a clean and dull way.

References here: “The Imagination of Disaster” (1965), Story of Science Fiction (2018).

moving picture adaptation fiction

The Time Machine (2002Moving picture, 96 minutes)

Plenty of bullshit, but underrated.

References here: Story of Science Fiction (2018).

moving picture adaptation fiction