Book Review: The Time Machine

The Time Machine (1895) is a science fiction novella by H.G. Wells and is about, oddly enough, a Time Machine.

The novella has a frame narrative and an embedded narrative; the Time Traveller (yes, that is the only name he’s given) hosts a dinner party, inviting a variety of guests to tell them about his journeys through time. The embedded narrative then begins, as the Time Traveller retells what has happened to him.

The opening frame narrative was quite dull, as the dinner guests discuss space, time, mathematics, and psychology. This was not the gripping and dramatic opening I had been hoping for.

Once the Time Traveller arrives and begins to tell his story though, things liven up. He’s eccentric and clever, which I suppose is now the blueprint for other fictional time travellers like Doctor Who.

The Time Traveller travels to Earth, A.D. 802,701, where he meets the Eloi, a species of adults that have child-like language and small attention spans because they have achieved and acquired everything possible, so there is no need for work or intelligence. This is an interesting social commentary: is it better to have everything in life but be forever bored, or to have work and goals to achieve within your lifetime?

There is a second species on Earth too – the Morlocks – who are underworld, carnivorous creatures who prey on the vulnerable Eloi in the dark. The scenes with the Morlocks were a little scary, in a similar way to the vicious Martian attacks upon mankind in Wells’ later novel War of the Worlds. These two opposing species prompt lots of interesting questions and were obvious symbols of good versus bad, upper-class versus lower-class, and so on.

The Time Machine is an incredibly creative work of fiction and good fun to read. Like War of the Worlds, H.G. Wells has provided a social commentary on the society at the time, which is in some ways still applicable today. However, I didn’t find this book quite as engaging as War of the Worlds, which was slightly disappointing, given how many praise it for being one of the first proper works of science fiction.

In many ways, The Time Machine is a science fiction story because of its focus on time, space, physics and aliens. However, it’s also incredibly similar to utopian or dystopian novels such as Thomas More’s Utopia (1516) and Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels (1726). It’s funny how so many novels supposedly predict the future, whilst only commenting on the present.

– Judith

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