“In a moment I was clutched by several hands, and there was no mistaking that they were trying to haul me back … You can scarce imagine how nauseatingly inhuman they looked – those pale chinless faces and great, lidless, pinkish-grey eyes!”
An English scientist regales his dinner guests with the tale of his travels to the year 802,701, where he discovers that the human race has evolved into two distinct societies. The Eloi, elegant and peaceful, yet lacking spirit, are terrorised by the sinister, light-fearing Morlocks, who live underground, surrounded by industry. And when his time machine mysteriously vanishes, the scientist must descend to the realm of the Morlocks in order to find his only hope of escape …
H. G. Wells is considered a founding father of modern science fiction, coining the term ‘time machine’ and popularising the idea of time travel in literature.
|Bought Copy||Paperback||144||Collins Classics||Classics / Sci-fi||January 26th, 2017 (F/P: May 7th, 1895)|
H.G. Wells is an author I have been meaning to sample for quite some time, even though sci-fi really isn’t my go-to genre. For my lack of passion and knowledge to properly discuss certain scientific elements authors use in this genre, I’ve consciously stayed away. If there was going to be one way I was willing to read this book and talk about it, I knew I needed to enlist my colleague Joz for a buddy read. Joz has recommended some interesting reading over the past couple of years. Because of Joz, I read The Sorrows of Young Werther by Goethe and I LOVED it! We buddy read and reviewed HHhH by Binet a while back, and again- I LOVED it. Both these titles are worth checking out, I assure you!
I admit, I was excited for The Time Machine and I was sure Joz was going to have some strong opinions about it as well. Actually, if I had to bet on who was going to enjoy this book, I’d have put my money on Joz. What I didn’t expect was for us both to be simply ‘meh’ about the whole experience.
I have broken the below into 2 parts. The first part will summarize our thoughts why the book didn’t blow us away. And the second part is a subjective discussion which is by no means an attempt to take away from the book’s significance, the author’s groundbreaking innovative thinking. The book served it’s purpose in my eyes as it opened up a chat in various directions and this made reading the title worthwhile! And it is, hand on heart a case of – It’s not you, it’s me!
*Please be aware, that if you haven’t read the book yet and are planning to do so, SPOILERS ahead!*
Thoughts on the book:
Liz: Right… So, if you were to rate the book on a scale of 1 to 5, what rating would you give it? I think I’m leaning towards a 2, it was OK. I expected more but I also feel like I have to keep in mind that it was written in the 1800s and back then, this title would have been the bomb considering Wells penned the terms ‘time machine’ and ‘time travel’.
Joz: I accept the significance of the work, but to me, this time, it wasn’t entertaining at all. Ok, a 2. It wasn’t bad-bad, it’s just not good. Also, my scale is probably influenced by guys like Goethe.
Liz: I will have to agree with you. I found reading it laboursome in parts. Mainly due to being overly descriptive about not much (?) and for the repetition. That which was meant to be ‘wow’ and exciting, didn’t manage to capture or excite me. And the closer to the end I got, the more I had to force myself just to finish it… Yes, there was adventure, I mean- huge adventure traveling into the future and all, but man, I was constantly expecting for something to happen. The Time Machine has the element of ‘tease’ in it- I constantly thought: Now! Here we go! But what followed felt rather uneventful. That left me a bit deflated.
Joz: Remember when we talked about whom would you like to live in your neighborhood, as in which writer or artist…
Joz: Bring on Huxley, Orwell, R.L. Stevenson, but not Wells. What I was thinking as I was reading, is that Orwell writes a lot about unspectacular basic things, but I always find it interesting. In The Time Machine, this stuff about the hikes in the future, the description of the plants and life in general- it should have been something super interesting, but it wasn’t. 🙂 I think I don’t feel the honest amusement from Wells’ point of view. I don’t believe he finds this interesting. When Orwell writes about how the barber is dressed, it’s interesting to me, because it’s interesting to him.
Liz: Maybe we didn’t enjoy it because we are here in the future with all those advances that Wells couldn’t even dream about with all our own images of future provided to us by modern world… I mean, Wells is considered a ‘prophet’ of certain things and maybe we just started off with the wrong book? Maybe we should have started with The Invisible Man?
Joz: I have a feeling that I wouldn’t enjoy his company as a writer. This is the problem here. I mean when Orwell says people are forced into this political system of his in 1984, I don’t agree with him. I think he’s wrong. But I wish we could have a coffee or talk even for a day. It’s not because of the things I pick on from The Time Machine. I find it…. hmmm. When you get a glass of wine, but more than half of it is water. It’s thin.
Liz: Basically, this book didn’t make your brain work in miraculous ways…
Joz: No. It wasn’t convincing. I understand that Wells invented time travel by a machine. Important. Also, as something published in a newspaper probably weekly or something, I can understand that it worked. But not like that.
Joz: The way it started! I liked it so much actually. This setting. Crazy people gather in the cigar room to show weird shit to each other. It was so promising at the start!
Liz: Yes, the start was really good! It really captured the times, I thought, and before the whole time travel story started, the interaction in between the doctor, the psychologist, the mathematician was cool! All coming at and receiving this new time machine idea from their specific professional point of view.
Joz: Ya. Different people, so interesting. But they didn’t say a thing. Not used at all.
Liz: Missed potential? I never really liked modern time travel stories but I had high hopes for this one written by the Father of all Time Travel!
Joz: I am glad I read it. I don’t regret it, but I wouldn’t read it again.
Liz: Let’s talk about believability. I go first! I found it super unbelievable that as someone who built a time machine went into the future without any preparation- no stuff taken with him- enough matches was one example.
Joz: Well, he didn’t mean to have this adventure. This was just a test ride.
Liz: But even for a test ride?! I just shook my head at that, testing is still testing, like- be prepared man! You don’t go on a test hunt or a test hike without your gear, what’s the point?!
Joz: I think it would be interesting to go 40 or 100 years back into the past, or the same in the future, but what’s the point of going 800 000 years forward?
Liz: Yeah!!! That was a totally random number 😀
Joz: And that the Eloi didn’t speak his language….. Man, people didn’t speak my language 1000 years ago.
Liz: Oh, the Eloi and Morlocks… I don’t want to believe that human evolution this random number into the future would end up in this Eloi-like state, like children, blissful in their simple lives. Or, maybe it will happen… And in the book, in the future there’s no figurative speech?… The story kind of implies that human evolution simply goes backwards, we’re going back into the cave, essentially. It’s disturbing to think about 🙂 But I guess this was Wells warning about human race!
Joz: Nah, here we are. He says near the end: “There is no intelligence where there is no change and no need of change.” And: “Only those animals partake of intelligence that have to meet a huge variety of needs and dangers.”
This is just fake-scientific fluff. I can’t stand this that much.
One more thing about this intelligence thing. I think this is after Darwin, I don’t know what the current understanding was, but: the intelligence of a species as far as I know mostly depends on the brain volume/body size ratio, not on how much it’s challenged or any other thing. For humans it’s pretty much a given advantage. And about how we use it: the advantage of being intelligent is not that we deal with life threatening shit, but our ability to entertain ourselves and challenge ourselves with dreams and art and shit like that. Just the fact that we don’t need to worry about food would not make us less intelligent and wouldn’t lead to decline of mankind in this level. This is playing down men’s intellectual capabilities.
Liz: Interesting! It actually makes sense in the context of the book- Eloi are 4 feet tall hence unintelligent, dancing around and babbling with no figurative speech… Oh! And super excited about pockets! I mean, who would do away with pockets? Pockets are useful!
Liz: Sooo… you wanted to talk about the 4th dimension thing, time being the 4th dimension?
Joz: I don’t know how we came to ignore that time equally affects the first 3 spatial dimensions. Why would we think that the 4th one would be time itself? And it kind of implies that there’s no more than 4, because we couldn’t pull this trick again with the 5th and the 6th.
The way the 2nd dimension extends the 1st one, it allows multiple 1 dimensional things to exist in the same time along the 2nd dimension.
Same goes for the 3rd one, multiple 2 dimensional things in the same time. Like paper sheets over each other.
So, I expect the 4th dimension to allow multiple 3 dimensional spaces to exist in the same time, along a 4th dimension that we can’t perceive.
Liz: But! In a fictional book- should those physical/scientific metrics apply or make sense anyway?
Joz: I don’t know why he felt that he has to give some kind of explanation to all this. It would have been enough for me to say that this is a time machine! Done!
Liz: 😀 haha, but that would have cut a whole chapter out of the book! Where’s the fun in that? That explanation was the foreplay!
Joz: Well, once you try to explain something, you need to follow the rules of the universe as we know, and add something that you call unknown to us, and use this as the reason for your new thing.
If I explain to you where the cinema is, but in my explanation the office is right next to the recycling place, and the doctor is hovering above us, my explanation would be meaningless.
Anyway, I didn’t expect any scientific miracle from the book.
Liz: To be honest, the whole dimensions thing went waaaayyy over my head. The best thing from the whole dimensions-relating aspect I took away, and really liked, was the Psychologist (I think) saying, that you cannot get away from the present moment. There were some other ideas in The Time Machine that I thought were nice ideas. For example- the mental existences being immaterial and without dimensions traveling along time dimension… So, like, memory or nostalgia- you time travel with your thoughts!
But, in sci-fi fiction all goes, kind of.
Joz: Ya, but it was lacking it.
– fake science blah blah: check
– describe 2 plants from the future: check
– hang onto some surprise shit (Elois were eaten): check
– mystery ending: check.
Liz: But do you think there’s potential for a different kind of message from this book? Or, say, moral of the story?
Joz: There’s a drama by a Hungarian guy from the same century. Lucifer takes Adam for a journey into the future to show him the terrible suffering mankind will have to endure. They make multiple stops, some real, some imaginary dystopia. I would have liked something like that in The Time Machine. Multiple ages, to show some kind of progression. Or to try to make a point at least. The only entertaining thought was a very primitive one. According to Wells it’s time travel if you can talk to future creatures. (The consequences of the time traveler’s actions, or the consequences of the knowledge brought back from the future wasn’t even mentioned).
Liz: Consequences as in – the ripple effect? Fair point, the time traveler didn’t really do anything in the book to cause a ripple effect into the past or future other than punch some Morlocks and him feeling nauseated… Actually, that makes me think that a lot of potential was unused. And that would make for a way thicker book…
Joz: I’m also unsure about evolution and changes like intelligence and posture changes of a species in 800 000 years. To me it seems to be too short.
*Joz goes off on fact-finding mission*
Joz: OK, Homo Erectus went extinct 1.9 to 0.4 million years ago. The 800 000 years is about enough for a Homo Erectus -> Homo Sapiens change. Very well. There are a million points to argue here. The development of Homo Sapiens surely didn’t start on the day the last Homo Erectus died. Doesn’t matter.
Liz: 🙂 Oh, I did want to ask: when the time traveler was in whatever crazy future… the constellations had changed- what did you make of that?
Joz: The age of our sun is 4.6 billion years. I think it’s quite a young one. I don’t think much would happen with the stars in this time frame. But the oxygen in the air aspect was interesting, although the time traveler didn’t say what year that was. But again, he was worried for a minute of bumping into something standing at the same place in the future, but it didn’t stop him going crazy far into the future. No wonder he didn’t return from his second journey.
Liz: Ah, you think there was a physical reason for him not returning? I thought he went and found a better place and intelligent humans.
Joz: I think he just bumped into a tree, or had another unspectacular end. 🙂 Or went back to the same place to save his girlfriend, and the Morlocks took his camera, then ate him. 🙂
Liz: Ah! You just blew this plot to smithereens! He could have gone to a point in time before all that happened during his first trip to make things right and save Weena and conquer the nature and be their messiah of sorts. So, he went with a camera and shitloads of matches – to be the bringer of light and fire!
Joz: Ya, he could have. I wouldn’t be interested in that book I’m afraid.
I think we took the book at face value and didn’t try to put a meaning in between the lines to connect with Well’s personal background. Wells is no doubt and with a reason deserving of his title as an innovator in sci-fi fiction and I feel like it’s one of those books that will have to be read anyway, no matter the outcome because the idea is marvelous!
Anyway, I am keeping a scoreboard… and Joz is winning with his book recommendations at the moment, 2:1. From now on, any future books that we happen to buddy read will be based on Joz’s recommendation!
Have you read The Time Machine? Did you like it? Have you read other titles by Wells that should not be missed? Let me know. I have now found out that there is also a movie! Has anyone watched the movie?