Book Review: The Time Machine

I’ve been on a science fiction kick lately and decided it was finally time to go back to how it all began—The Time Machine. This short novel by H.G. Wells was published in 1895 and popularized the concept of time travel. While I think our idea of time travel has changed a bit since then, it is definitely easy to see science fiction’s roots in this work.

I really enjoyed the beginning of the book and Wells’ explanation of time being a dimension, like physical planes. I thought it was a sophisticated and convincing argument for being able to travel through time, as you would through physical space. At the same time, I wish there was more explanation about the consequences of such travel—could you change the past? Determine the future? Grow older while living the same day over and over again?

Wells didn’t really bother with these technicalities of time travel—instead, he focused on a vision of very distant future (year 802701 to be specific). His vision is very unsettling. The human race has divided into two separate races: the child-like, frivolous Eloi, and the monstrous, laboring Morlocks. It’s social classes taken to their utmost extreme. The Eloi do nothing but pick flowers and dance all day, while the Morlocks live underground and make their clothing. While the Time Traveller seems to prefer the Eloi, both visions of humanity were terrifying to me.

The Time Traveller’s assumption was that humans had conquered nature and technology, and there was no longer any conflict, so the upper classes (Eloi) did not have to use intellect or strength to solve problems. At the same time, the working classes were forced underground to do the dirty work so that the Eloi could live in “utopia.”

However, the problem with this reasoning is that the Eloi are not living in utopia. They live in fear of the Morlocks, who feed on them, and are terribly childish and naïve. If, as the Time Traveller argues, intellect is a response to danger, it would seem that the Eloi would gradually get smarter and respond to the threat of the Morlocks, building weapons and technology as we have been doing for thousands of years. I think the story would have been more convincing if it depicted humanity as a cycle of gradual enlightenment and then ignorance and so on.

I think it would be hard for Wells’ vision of the future to exist these days. Most science fiction novels nowadays predict the future as one where technology has conquered us. It’s hard to think of a future where we will be content without the internet—such a world does not seem like a utopia! I am curious to learn more about what Wells meant by conquering technology. Perhaps his definition of technology was much different than ours.

Overall, I enjoyed The Time Machine and thought the writing was very engaging and intelligent. I wish there was a little more explanation of the technicalities of time travel (there are always so many loopholes with that subject), but I think Wells’ depiction of the future was thought-provoking, even over a hundred years after he wrote it.

My rating: 4 stars

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