Does The Time Machine count as a whole book? Or is it just a novella? I’m not sure, but either way I’m including it on my list as a full entry.
I listened to a Librivox recording of this classic in the time travel genre, and I think my difficulty was coming to it too late.
‘I had made myself the most complicated and the most hopeless trap that ever a man devised’
When a Victorian scientist propels himself in the year 802,701 AD, he is initially delighted to find that suffering has been replaced by beauty, contentment and peace. Entranced at first by the Eloi, an elfin species descended from man, he soon realises that this beautiful people are simply remnants of a once-great culture – now weak and childishly afraid of the dark. They have every reason to be afraid: in deep tunnels beneath their paradise lurks another race descended from humanity – the sinister Morlocks. And when the scientist’s time machine vanishes, it becomes clear he must search these tunnels if he is ever to return to his own era.
The Time Machine is the first and greatest modern portrayal of time travel.
I read this (well, listened to it) over the course of two days on my commute, and while I had no actual objections to anything in it, I think it suffered by virtue of being so groundbreaking.
HG Wells’ The Time Machine is credited with the popularisation of the idea of a time machine, a vessel which can travel through time, and so it stands as a classic for that reason. The idea that time, the fourth dimension, can be freely navigated by man if one only has the correct vehicle to do so, was so outlandish that the very notion of it was enough to make this book incredible.
Published first in 1895, I’m sure it was fantastical and ridiculous to think that such a thing could exist, and such fancy was part of what made this book so exciting.
But I’ve come to this book in 2018, when time travel has been a bastion of fantasy and science fiction for more than a century, and the idea of a book where the main plot point is the ability to travel in time is, well, passé.
The nameless main character, the scientist who travels through time, has no actual personality of his own, merely being an observer of the new civilization he finds around himself when he travels eight hundred thousand years into the future. And so, although there is a plot, and some sort of progression, the narrative thrust of the book is, well, lacking.
The (also) nameless narrator, who sets up the framing device of the story by being a witness to the scientist telling his tale, increases the feeling of detachment from the story, meaning that it has little to no excitement, or emotion in it at all.
I can see why this is a classic. Certainly, in the late Victorian era, it must have been astounding. But, much like when I read Dracula, the passage of time since the publication of the book and the popularisation of the genre that it pioneered lessens the impact of the original.
For that reason, I didn’t really enjoy The Time Machine, although I am glad that I read it. In terms of its impact, of course it’s huge. But in terms of how much I liked it, well, it was mediocre at best.