I don’t normally love science fiction. I was always more of a fantasy girl, and having read all that sort of stuff for a large part of my life, I think I’ve outgrown it at this point. Still, I do love “classic” literature, and I enjoy Victorian works, so H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine seemed like a shoo-in. Wells is often called “the father of science fiction,” and after reading this short novel, it’s easy to see why.
The Time Machine tells the story of a gentleman inventor who purports to have built the titular device. The story is partially narrated by a peer of “the Time Traveller” (we never learn his name), who is understandably skeptical of his friend’s accomplishment, until he and other members of their circle encounter the Time Traveller in a state of difficulty, and with a remarkable tale to tell.
It is that tale which comprises the bulk of the story, and which shows off Wells’ imaginative creation of a future Earth.The Time Traveller describes a human society far in the future that is exemplified by a divided race: the Eloi are beautiful, gentle, and stupid; spending their days frolicking outdoors. The Morlocks are shriveled, ugly, and monstrous. They live underground and seem to keep things running by mysterious means. As the Time Traveller delves deeper into the mysteries of this new society, his impressions of the order and function of the different races alters several times until he realizes the horrible truth, and escapes back to his own time.
The amazing (and creepy) thing about good science fiction is how it manages to depict a future that is believable, and Wells is a very good writer. The Time Traveller’s theories about how human society has gotten to the point at which he encounters it is, sadly, a cautionary tale for our present day. Consider the division of American society: celebrities are beautiful and often inane, and seem to spend all their time at the beach, while the rest of us hunch over computer screens in order to eke out a living. It’s easy to see us moving toward Wells’ future in another few generations. Even more disturbing are the Time Traveller’s descriptions of a further future in which the human race has seemingly become extinct. Some of Wells’ images are still with me, even though I read the book a month or so ago. That’s good writing.
Truly, if you haven’t read this classic, you absolutely should. I know it’s “old,” but it’s reasonably short and much easier to read than some of Wells’ Victorian counterparts. Even if you’re not a big sci-fi person, The Time Traveller is worthwhile for its beautiful and imaginative descriptions of a possible “future.” And, you know, if you should choose to take Wells’ warning to heart as well, that might not be a bad thing.