Friday, 18 July 2014

Review: 'The Time Machine' by H.G. Wells

I put this novel on my 100 Classics List for The Classics Club because The War of the Worlds is one of my favourite books. I loved the way Wells criticised his own society through the use of sci-fi and I guess I wanted to know whether The War of the Worlds was a one-time hit or whether Wells consistently wrote that way. And I can now definitively say the answer is the second.
“I’ve had a most amazing time....”
So begins the Time Traveller’s astonishing firsthand account of his journey 800,000 years beyond his own era—and the story that launched H.G. Wells’s successful career and earned him his reputation as the father of science fiction. With a speculative leap that still fires the imagination, Wells sends his brave explorer to face a future burdened with our greatest hopes...and our darkest fears. A pull of the Time Machine’s lever propels him to the age of a slowly dying Earth.  There he discovers two bizarre races—the ethereal Eloi and the subterranean Morlocks—who not only symbolize the duality of human nature, but offer a terrifying portrait of the men of tomorrow as well.  Published in 1895, this masterpiece of invention captivated readers on the threshold of a new century. Thanks to Wells’s expert storytelling and provocative insight,The Time Machine will continue to enthrall readers for generations to come.
Science Fiction, similarly to Fantasy, always demands of its readers to suspend disbelief for the first few chapters until they're engrossed enough in the story to understand how it departs from reality and why. Wells manages to do so very cleverly through his framework. The story is told to us through the eyes of the narrator who remains unnamed (something Wells does quite frequently) and has been invited to a dinner party by the character only known as the Time Traveler. He is a scientist and inventor who has gathered around him men of science, medicine and the media, all of which are told his story. What this set up allows for is that the narrator doesn't have to cast any moral judgement on the story of the Time Traveler. His stories about the Eloi and the Morlocks and everything else are told from his perspective, with his thoughts, and the reader is invited to simply listen. Wells is hereby able to include some genuine social criticism into his novel without having to hide it behind numerous layers of exposition, although naturally it was done through metaphor.

Time travel is a tricky subject for a novel because not a lot of authors manage to include it successfully. The way to explain it best is to look at, for example, Hermione and Harry in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Their time travelling is part of the story from the very beginning. When they go back in time towards the end and throw a stone at Harry, then in the middle of the book Harry had been hit with a mystery stone. By including time travel in this way, J.K. Rowling avoids going into the idea of different dimensions etc. which hardly ever are explained successfully. Similarly, Wells doesn't complicate time travel by making his Time Traveler go far into the future. No chance of accidentally killing yourself in the future and no need to explain how someone turning up in a time machine didn't cause a sensation in the 1800s. If time travel is handled in such a way, with a healthy dose of cynicism, then it becomes an amazing vehicle for the author to talk about society. Wells major argument seems to be that society never changes, that no matter how far ahead we go, there will always be a power imbalance. I don't want to say any more about it because the beauty really lies in working it out for yourself.

I really enjoy reading Wells' writing style. He doesn't treat his readers as idiots but also doesn't include too many scientific terms to alienate them. Something I also found in The War of the Worlds is that he treats his "alien" characters with a lot of humanity. Most of their actions have a reason and the narrator picks up on similarities between him and them. As a consequence, the narrative becomes a lot more interesting. In case of The Time Machine this was even more fascinating because these characters were, in some ways, humans despite looking quite different. Without resorting to Sensationalism, Wells very adequately sets up the different characters and people in his book, giving each of them human qualities.

I give this book...

5 Universes.

Although only being a novella, Wells absolutely excels in this story. You don't want to put it down and it hurts when you have to because you want to know about what happens next. As science fiction and time travelling go, this is one of the best novellas to combine both. I recommend this largely to Science Fiction fans but I do think it can be enjoyable for everyone with an open mind to time travel. Although devoid of romance, largely, it's engrossing and won't let you go. It will definitely give you something to think about after finishing it.

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