|Cloggie: science fiction: Gutenberg Reviews 1: The Time Machine|
The Time Machine
First published 1895
approximately 54 pages
H. G. Wells, was arguably the premier writer of science fiction of the late 19th century and early 20th century, creating in a few short years a body of classic science fiction stories whose times are still in use today. _The Time Machine_ was the first of his great "scientific romances" and also the first modern time travel story. Unlike earlier stories, the time travel is real, not just a dream and achieved by machine, not by sleeping late or accidental cryogenics.
As such, before the real story goes well under way we get an infodump of the theory of timetravel, compleat with demonstration by sending a working scale model of the time machine into the future (or the past).
As is often the case with Victorian novels, especially fantastic novels, the story is told second hand, in this case by one of the time traveler's (whose name is never mentioned) acquaintances, who was present when the time traveler told his tale.
Despite the overwhelming familiarity of the story and subgenre, _The Time Machine_ still managed to grip me. I read this in about the space of an hour and liked it very much. This is very much a classic story which has aged well: it's a story you want to read, not just want to have read. Especially the end of the story, with its portrayal of Earth dying is moving.
(The plot line is at this point probably familiar enough to dispense with much spoiler protection, though you still may want to skip the rest of this review.)
A week after the time traveler gave his demonstration, the narrator once again visits him for dinner, together with a few others. When the timetraveler isn't in time for dinner, they shrug and joke that he's gone off to visit the future, which he of course in fact has done. He arrives at the dinner table at around eight, in a dreadful state: clothes torn, some small wounds in his face and limping. After having eaten and refreshed himself, he tells his tale.
He had finished his timemachine only that morning and decided to take a test drive, which took him to the year 802,701 A.D. At first he's terrified of what he will find in this strange world of garden like landscapes, punctuated by grandiose, elegant, yet neglected buildings.
But when the inhabitants of that far away year show themselves, they turn out to be gentle, kind and beautiful creatures, childlike both in stature and mind.
He theorises that they, the Eloi as they call themselves are the endresult of what happens after mankind has solved all its ancient problems. They live in a world free of hunger, disease, war and all suffering: they don' need to be strong or intelligent anymore; they can quietly enjoy themselves and degenerate into decadence.
Therefore he feels secure and at ease in this far future world, until he discovers somebody has stolen his timemachine. In a wild frenzy he spends most of the night searching for it, threatening various Eloi, but to no avail. He discovers the timemachine is inside the mysterious sphinx like building in front of which he arrived, but he has no means to enter the building.
Instead, he decides to further explore, to find more clues about how to get his timemachine back. He makes a friend, Weena, when he rescues her from drowning. The other Eloi don't particularly seem to care whether she drowns or not. From her he learns that the Eloi existence isn't totally deprived from fear just yet, as he earlier thought. She's frightened of shadows and darkness and also seems fearful of the big wells which dot the landscape here and there.
In a series of odd incidents he gradually learns there's some other race of beings, a race confined to darkness. When he persues one of the beings he learns they live under ground and those wells are ventilation shafts. Apparently those Morlocks, as the Eloi call them are the descendants of the working class, forced underground by the aristocracy, the Eloi. Now they've turned on their former masters and hunt them for meat.
The timetraveler undertakes an expedition to a green mosaic building which turns out to be a museum, but on the way back is ambushed by the Morlocks, who kill Weena. He barely manages to escape with his life when the forest catches fire and returns to the sphinx, which to his great surprise is open, with the timemachine inside.
He jumps on it and before the Morlocks could grab him, flees further in the future, ending up in a time millions of years hence, when the Earth has stopped rotating and has one face turned permanently to the sun. He arrives on a beach, where the only life is a legion of monstrous crabs.
Again he jumps further into the future, finally ending in an era in which the sun is slowly extinguishing itself, the air is bitterly cold and the ocean almost frozen, the only life was "a round thing, the size of a football <..> and tentacles trailed down from it".
He returns home, over the enormous span of years just in time for the weekly dinner party and there ends his story, his only evidence two crushed flowers Weena gave to him.
The next day, when the narrator visits him, he again goes on a time expedition, this time properly outfitted. He tells the narrator to wait for him, he'll be right back, but the narrator fears he'll have to wait forever. At the time of writing, he has been gone for three years.
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Webpage created 16-09-2001, last updated 15-01-2002