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The Time Machine by H. G. Wells

The Time Machine (1895)

by H. G. Wells

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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Showing 1-5 of 214 (next | show all)
It's been a long time since I read this; it might be the only one of Wells's 1890s scientific romances I didn't have cause to reread at some point during graduate school. But here I am at last, and I'm glad I did. It's depressingly easy, sometimes, to forget how brilliant H.G. Wells was during the 1890s. Not only does he invent the genre we now calls "science fiction" by looking at the stories around him (time travel narrative, utopian narrative, future-war narrative) and figuring out how they work and then outdoing them all,* and not only does he have a better grasp on what science actually is than all his contemporaries, but he's just a really good writer. Like, there's some seriously gripping stuff when the Time Traveller fights the Morlocks, and Wells's eye for detail is great. That final sequence, with the Time Traveller on the beach of the dying Earth under a dying son, is a haunting image that I have remembered since reading this book in childhood.

One thing that struck me this time out was the scale of it all, and how inconceivable it really is. The Time Traveller ends up in the year 802,701 A.D. We currently think that homo sapiens evolved around 200,000 years ago; in 1895, things were a little less certain, and some thought the species might go back to the Pliocene (which ended 2.5 million years ago) or even the Miocene (which ended over 5 million years ago). Still, the gap between the Time Traveller's native period and the future era he travels to is longer than recorded history-- and yet he's constantly trying to figure out how this future world descends from his contemporary society. That's ridiculous, but I'm pretty sure it's the Time Traveller's mistake, not Wells's. One mustn't overlook that this is a very mediated story (the narrator is telling us a tale that the Time Traveller told him, so our access to what actually happened is pretty distant). The Time Traveller is constantly projecting narratives onto events that turn out to be false, though he always thinks that this one that he's currently operating under, this one is right... up until it's proved wrong. He has little self-awareness; no matter how long he's among the Eloi, for example, he seems to keep expecting Weena to act like a human of his home era. Anyway, it's patently absurd to find an answer for the biological divisions of the year 802,701 in the class divisions of 1895; he wouldn't look for an answer to the problems of the Victorian era in the events of 798,912 B.C, and yet he does the opposite.

He can't help it: we like to impose our narrative on history, and many of our narratives are nationalistic. (And we see in The War of the Worlds and The War in the Air evidence of Wells's obsession with the dangers of nationalistic narratives.) I was reminded of "England, Long and Long Ago," a piece on geological history from an 1860 issue of All the Year Round. As you can tell from the title, it makes this history of geology a history of England, even though the time of the iguanodon was 125 million years ago, long before "England" has any meaningful existence. We impose our narratives on history, and nowhere is this more obvious than in the museum; there's an 1862 issue of All the Year Round that shows how the narrative of "England, Long and Long Ago" has been concretized in the form of "Owen's Museum." Of course, Wells shows how pointless this all is: when the Time Traveller goes to visit the museum to discover the story of the future, there's nothing for him there to discover. The museum is useless as a record of history, because 800,000 years is more than any human being or human institution can cope with. But the Time Traveller doesn't see this for what it is, and keeps trying to impose a familiar Victorian narrative on events that don't allow for it. But the fact that the span of evolutionary history wrecked this museum makes me think that Wells saw what his protagonist did not.

This, of course, raises the issue of what else Wells saw that the Time Traveller did not. I mentioned earlier that the narrator is always expecting the Eloi in the general and Weena in particular to act more human than they actually do. The touch of the Eloi he finds attractive; the touch of the Morlocks he finds repulsive. He sees the Morlocks as brutes and monsters, but it is the Eloi who do not tend their children, leaving them to fend for themselves. The Eloi are beautiful... but they have little else that convinces you of their humanity. Meanwhile, the Morlocks are cunning and possess intelligence and curiosity. But what if he's just projecting a narrative onto events again: the Eloi are beautiful and therefore good, while the Morlocks are hideous and therefore bad. Because of the influence of the George Pál film, no doubt, I always imagine that at the novel's end, the Time Traveller has returned to the future to help the Eloi make a go at it... But reading it this time, I started to wonder: What if he was backing the wrong side?

* Of course, Wells has to explain how his take is better than others'; the narrator specifically states that he has no guide in the future world, unlike in all those other utopian books you read.
1 vote Stevil2001 | Apr 15, 2016 |
Good solid time travel. Maybe the original serious science fiction time travel novel. ( )
  ndpmcIntosh | Mar 21, 2016 |
The book's protagonist is an English scientist and gentleman inventor, identified by a narrator simply as the Time Traveller. The narrator recounts the Traveller's lecture to his weekly dinner guests that time is simply a fourth dimension, and his demonstration of a tabletop model machine for travelling through it. He reveals that he has built a machine capable of carrying a person, and returns at dinner the following week to recount a remarkable tale, becoming the new narrator:

The Time Traveller tests his device with a journey that takes him to the year A.D. 802,701, where he meets the Eloi, a society of small, elegant, androgynous, and childlike people. They live in small communities within large and futuristic yet slowly deteriorating buildings, doing no work and eating a frugivorous diet. His efforts to communicate with them are hampered by their lack of curiosity or discipline, and he concludes that they are a peaceful communist society, the result of humanity conquering nature with technology, and subsequently evolving to adapt to an environment in which strength and intellect are no longer advantageous to survival.

Returning to the site where he arrived, the Time Traveller finds his time machine missing, and eventually figures out that it has been dragged by some unknown party into a nearby structure with heavy doors, locked from the inside. Later in the dark, he is approached menacingly by the Morlocks, pale, apelike people who live in darkness underground, where he discovers the machinery and industry that makes the above-ground paradise possible. He alters his theory, speculating that the human race has evolved into two species: the leisured classes have become the ineffectual Eloi, and the downtrodden working classes have become the brutish light-fearing Morlocks. Deducing that the Morlocks have taken his time machine, he explores the Morlock tunnels, learning that they feed on the Eloi. His revised analysis is that their relationship is not one of lords and servants but of livestock and ranchers, and with no real challenges facing either species. They have both lost the intelligence and character of Man at its peak.

Meanwhile, he saves an Eloi named Weena from drowning, and they develop an innocently affectionate relationship over the course of several days. He takes Weena with him on an expedition to a distant structure that turns out to be the remains of a museum, where he finds a fresh supply of matches and fashions a crude weapon against Morlocks, whom he fears he must fight to get back his machine. But the long and tiring journey back to Weena's home is too much for them, they are overcome by Morlocks in the night, and Weena is injured. The Traveller escapes only when a small fire he had left behind them to distract the Morlocks catches up to them as a forest fire; Weena is lost to the fire.

The Morlocks use the time machine as bait to ensnare the Traveller, not understanding that he will use it to escape. He travels further ahead to roughly 30 million years from his own time. There he sees some of the last living things on a dying Earth, menacing reddish crab-like creatures slowly wandering the blood-red beaches of a world covered in simple vegetation. He continues to make short jumps through time, seeing Earth's rotation gradually cease and the sun grow dimmer, and the world falling silent and freezing as the last degenerate living things die out.

Overwhelmed, he returns to his laboratory, at just three hours after he originally left. Interrupting dinner, he relates his adventures to his disbelieving visitors, producing as evidence two strange flowers Weena had put in his pocket. The original narrator takes over and relates that he returned to the Time Traveller's house the next day, finding him in final preparations for another journey. The Traveller promises to return in half an hour, but three years later, the narrator despairs of ever learning what became of him.

  bostonwendym | Mar 3, 2016 |
I read this book many decades ago, when I was young. The uncanny world that Wells creates, both in his living room, and later into the future, are real possibilities, even today. One need only look so far as Wells' other works to realize that the possibility of a Time Machine are something we should not take for granted, but rather heed his warnings for the future. ( )
  Ermina | Feb 25, 2016 |
Classic science fiction from one of the “fathers” of the genre (along with Jules Verne and Hugo Gernsback). At a dinner party in 1895 London, the host introduces the idea of a fourth dimension of time, and demonstrates a small model of a machine he has constructed to travel through time. His guests, who are learned men, are incredulous and suspect some sort of legerdemain. But he insists it was not a trick, and further claims to have built a full-size machine that will allow a man to travel through time. He then invites them, plus a few additional gentlemen, to a future dinner where he promises to explain further. However their host is not in the house when they assemble the next week, though he has left instructions to begin without him. When he finally does appear, he is disheveled and clearly distressed and exhausted. After he has cleaned himself and eaten some, he tells them of his travels through time and what he has witnessed as the future of the Earth and her inhabitants.

This is a gripping story and very well told. Wells imagines a future that is very different from the society of 1895 London, and from any of today’s civilizations. As the Time Traveler (he is never given any other name in the story) recounts his adventures he explains his evolving theories of what has happened. Darwin’s theories of evolution had been well established and accepted in learned circles by the time Wells was writing this book. His Time Traveler had expected to find an age of glorious invention, demonstrating man’s growing intelligence, but has to alter his assumptions of how man will evolve based on what he observes.

What I find most fascinating is the decline of intelligence that Wells imagines. The Time Traveler supposes that as men developed industry and societal structure, they came to a point where there was no need to struggles to achieve all their needs. As necessity is the mother of invention, they slowly lost their inventiveness, their curiosity, their desire to improve or change their environment. I am reminded of a statement of Ray Bradbury’s where he laments the influence of mass media on today’s society; in effect, he feels that we are choosing to abandon curiosity and intelligence in favor of mindless entertainment. A society that does not read is no better off than a society that cannot read.

I listened to the audio book narrated by Scott Brick. Brick’s performance of the audio book hits just the right tone. He strikes the right balance between an objective scientist reporting the results of his experimentation, and the fright, delight, anxiety of the Traveler as he relives the experiences. ( )
  BookConcierge | Feb 19, 2016 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Wells, H. G.primary authorall editionsconfirmed
Aldiss, Brian W.Afterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Arvan, JohnCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bear Canyon CreativeCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Cosham, RalphNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Crofts, ThomasEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
De Michele, RossanaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Jones, GwynethIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kennedy, Paul E.Cover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lee, AlanCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mayes, BernardNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
McLean, StevenNotessecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mugnaini, JosephIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Oliva , RenatoContributorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Parrinder, PatrickEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Prebble, SimonNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Priestley, J. B.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Roberts, JimNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Warner, MarinaIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Zimmerman, WalterNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

Is contained in

The Time Machine / The Invisible Man by H. G. Wells

The Time Machine / The War of the Worlds / The Island of Doctor Moreau by H. G. Wells

The War of the Worlds / The Time Machine by H. G. Wells

The Time Machine; The Island of Dr. Moreau; The Invisible Man; The First Men in the Moon; The Food of the Gods; In the Days of the Comet; The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells

The treasury of science fiction classics by Harold W. Kuebler

The Time Machine / The Man Who Could Work Miracles by H. G. Wells

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The Time Traveller (for so it will be convenient to speak of him) was expounding a recondite matter to us.
It is a law of nature we overlook, that intellectual versatility is the compensation for change, danger, and trouble.
Strength is the outcome of need; security sets a premium on feebleness.
Nature never appeals to intelligence until habit and instinct are useless. There is no intelligence where there is no change and no need of change. Only those animals partake of intelligence that have to meet a huge variety of needs and dangers.
I grieved to think how brief the dream of the human intellect had been. It had committed suicide. It had set itself steadfastly towards comfort and ease, a balanced society with security and permanency as its watchword, it had attained its hopes—to come to this at last. Once, life and property must have reached almost absolute safety. The rich had been assured of his wealth and comfort, the toiler assured of his life and work. No doubt in that perfect world there had been no unemployed problem, no social question left unsolved. And a great quiet had followed.
He, I know—for the question had been discussed among us long before the Time Machine was made—thought but cheerlessly of the Advancement of Mankind, and saw in the growing pile of civilisation only a foolish heaping that must inevitably fall back upon and destroy its makers in the end. If that is so, it remains for us to live as though it were not so.
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This book is in public domain in the USA and the e-book is available free online ...

 When a Victorian scientist propels himself into the year a.d. 802,701, 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 realizes that these 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.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0451528557, Mass Market Paperback)

“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 the 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.


(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:11:17 -0400)

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The first and greatest portrayal of time travel is printed with a newly established text, a full biographical essay on Wells, a list of further reading, and detailed notes.

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4 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

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