Archive for the ‘H.G. Wells’ Category


The Time Machine and Other Stories by H.G. Wells – wrap up

March 28, 2010

The Time MachineThe Book: The Time Machine and Other Stories by Herbert George (H.G.) Wells.    The edition read was published in 1969 (copyright 1963) by Scholastic Book Services.

The Stories:

“The Time Machine”

“The Empire of the Ants”

“The Country of the Blind”

“The Man Who Could Work Miracles”

The Evaluation: Worth having!  Wells does well with short stories.  Cute ideas, fun stories, don’t go on too  long.  Altogether enjoyable.

The Cover: Relevant only to “The Time Machine.”  From its post:

Oh the cover!  Clearly, it is the Time Traveler in his time machine.  But what is going on?  Why is there a giant spoon behind him?  Why does it appear to have been colored in by a nine year old with access to only five crayons?  The world may never know.  Full points for relevance.  Points off for limited crayon selection.


In the Days of the Comet by H.G. Wells

March 28, 2010

The Book: In the Days of the Comet by H.G. Wells.  Originally published in 1906.  The edition read was published in 1966 by Airmont Publishing Company, Classics Series, CL111.

The Setting: England, early 20th century

The Story: A working class youth, Willie Leadford, resents the world he lives in.  Hates that he lost his job, hates that his girl doesn’t love him anymore, hates the upper class, hates pretty much everything.  Surprisingly unconcerned with the comet rushing toward Earth.  Consumed with his hopelessness, fear, and anger, he resolves to murder the girl and her new lover.  And also to buy a new pair of boots.  He hunts them down in a seaside resort town, while German and British warships fight just miles off the coast.  He pursues them, shooting wildly.  The comet hits earth!  Green mist appears.  Willie passes out.

Willie wakes up.  The world is bright and beautiful.  Willie see just how small and wrongheaded his previous ambitions were.  He wanders off and finds a Very Important Politician in the ditch with a broken ankle.  They talk.  Goodness, there is so much talking in this book.  The politician decides to end all wars, since everyone now understands an apparent universal definition of right and wrong.  Where wrong is war and selfishness and right is a kind of complete and utter socialism (real socialism, not screaming news pundit socialism).  Willie helps get society back on the right path, then attends to his personal relationships.  Apologizes for trying to murder his ex-girlfriend and her lover, but still loves her.  He turns from her, deciding that he must sever ties completely to be happy.

Willie still loves her, she still loves him.  They discover free love.  The end.

The Science: Crap.  I mean, there are two kinda sorta scientific things going on here, but mostly this is social fiction, not science fiction.

  1. The Comet:  The comet is headed toward earth!  It’s kind of odd – has a weird green band on the spectrum, and weighs very little, so no one is over concerned about its hitting the earth.  But when it hits, everyone on earth passes out.  Including those driving cars, swimming, etc.  People die, but no one much cares when they wake up.  According to Willie, the green gases in the comet somehow changed the nitrogen in the atmosphere to a gas that the body processes and makes people very very calm and laid back and big believers in equality.  So… yeah.
  2. The Reader of the Story:  This book is in keeping with Wells’ favorite structure – one character relates the story of another.  In this one, a mysterious and confused young person arrives in a tower where elderly Willie has just completed authoring his memoirs.   “What is this place, and where am I?” he asks.  He has no clue.  And at the end of the book, the Reader is confused and appalled by the whole “four consenting adults living together in a sexy way” thing.  So it suggests that the Reader is either a time traveler from the past or a manifestation of Willie’s dementia (for which we have no other clue).  Not really science, but..  hey, it could be time travel!  Or something.

The Reaction: One of the reviews on reads: “This was one of those books that I got so far into that I felt compelled to finish. I really should have just stopped reading it when I was going to.”  Yeah.  I feel the same way.  The first book was like a prolonged conversation between a couple of ill informed first year political science majors, one of whom was love lorn.  The second and third books were like prolonged conversations between a couple of unimaginative first year philosophy majors.  It was boring.  It was long.  It was, above all, uninteresting (with the exception of a few episodes).  Wells was being preachy.  Like, really really preachy.  Not preachy couched in metaphor or monsters.  Just preachy.  And I wish he wouldn’t.  Finishing the book was an exercise in sticktuitiveness.  Not recommended reading.

The Cover: The cover is kind of a hot mess.  I asked Mr. Husband what he thought the cover meant:  “That a comet would strike the earth, destroying it, forcing people to live underground, and that there was some kind of sinister force behind it.”  Yeah, that might have been an interesting story.  I can kind of see where the illustrator was coming from with each separate element, but taken together?  Very misleading.

Etc: What a way to end my run of H.G. Wells.  His earlier work is clearly his best.  Maybe if I had read his later novels in Wells’ voice

Next Up: A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs.  Ahh…  good solid action fun.


Short Story: The Empire of the Ants by H.G. Wells

March 19, 2010

The Book: “The Empire of the Ants” from The Time Machine and Other Stories by Herbert George (H.G.) Wells.  First published in 1905.  The edition read was published in 1969 (copyright 1963) by Scholastic Book Services.

The Setting: The Amazon River, South America, Earth

The Story: A Creole boat captain and his British engineer are sent upriver to investigate claims of giant ants (2 inches or so) destroying a village.  On they way, they find a boat, with its dead crew, floating in the river, infested with ants.  A crewman goes over, and the ants attack him.  He dies.  They find the village, can see that it’s overrun with ants, and freak out a little. They fire their cannon at it a couple of times and go home.  The engineer swears that some of the ants were using their front legs like arms and wearing some sort of clothes…

The Science: The premise here is that there is a kind of ant that is not only an intelligent social insect, but an insect with greater intelligence and an eye toward empire.  Now, while there are lots of kinds of ants, and there are probably undiscovered species in the Amazonian interior, so far there are no clothes wearing, tactics using giant ants.

There are ants with venom.  There are, according to the internet, really big freaking ants.  And ants have complex social mechanisms.  But so far, no brain ants have evolved.  Le sigh.  But it’s a really neat idea, especially in the world of 1905 when the world of species had been less fully explored and such a thing was closer to the realm of possibility.

The Reaction: I like this one.  The first half of it is a fantastic exercise in the building of suspense.  The ants are an unknown menace that can’t be communicated with.  Sure, the whole “these ants have big heads, wear clothes, and use their forearms like we do” bit is a little hokey, but in the 1905 context it would have been super awesome and as it is, it’s still fairly awesome.

The Cover: See The Time Machine.

Etc: The second Wells book I’ve read where there’s an insect like species with different types of the species doing different jobs – the other being The First Men in the Moon.

Next Up: In the Days of the Comet by H.G. Wells


The Food of the Gods and How it Came to Earth by H.G. Wells

March 18, 2010

The Book: The Food of the Gods and How it Came to Earth by H.G. Wells.  Originally published in1904.  The edition read was published in 1967  by Berkley Highland Books.

The Setting: Britain, mid 19th to early 20th century

The Story: Two scientists invent a substance that makes things grow.  Things start to grow to six or more times their normal size.  Enormous baby chicks prove that it works!  But it gets out of hand and it goes horribly wrong!  18″ wasps!  Rats the size of horses that eat people and horses!  But the scientists and an ass kicking civil engineer wipe out the outbreak, and it’s all good.   But then they feed it to some babies, babies who will grow into adults.  ENORMOUS ADULTS!  And that’s pretty much what happens.  The story continues to trace the effects of the substance over the next 20 odd years.  Conflict ensues as the large and the small just can’t get along.  The story ends on the eve of a war between the Giants and the little people.  THE WORLD WILL NEVER BE THE SAME…

The Science: This book tells the story of Herakelophorbia IV, aka the Food of the Gods, aka Boomfood, from inception to the age of 21.  Boomfood somehow uninhibits the growth process, causing things to grow more and more rapidly than the previous natural order of things.  Everything grows in normal proportions, just really really big.  Moreover, Big things that reproduce have Big babies, so the genetics of the individuals seem to be impacted.  And anything that ingests it becomes dependent on it and will die without continued consumption of the Food throughout the growth period.  Essentially, babies fed it become junkies for the next 18 years.

As far as I know, this couldn’t work.  The human body simply couldn’t sustain that sort of physical strain.  I don’t think.  Individuals over 8 feet tall have massive physical problems, so I can’t imagine that a 40′ human wouldn’t have some kind of, um, growing pains.  But people have always messed with their food supplies on the genetic level.  That’s what domestication is.  And it’s become more explicit now, with growth hormones, genetically modified foods, and targeted breeding.  That’s why grocery store chicken breasts are so unbelievably gigantic.  It’s not a stretch of the imagination to suppose that someone really is working on a way to enlarge food animals, grains, and vegetables to help with the food crisis.  And it’s not out of the realm of possibility that something would go horribly wrong….

The Reaction: Meh.  The structure is sort of weird.  It starts out with a totally normal story arc and then continues with vignettes and episodes 20 years in the future.  At one point the narrator (the unspecified narrator) tells you that one of the two original main characters is leaving the story for good.  And he does!  So the story is fine, the idea is kind of cool, but it’s like Wells kind of hit a wall.  I think there’s a pretty good reason this isn’t one of his better known books.

The Cover: Looking at the cover, I was super excited to read this book.  Giant baby chicks!  A Statue of Liberty impersonator!  Crowds of aimless bystanders!  But alas, there were never even enormous eggs in the book, although there were enormous chicks (though not so enormous as the cover had had me hoping.  And whatever’s going on on the cover never happened in the book.  So, two points for awesome giant baby chicks, no points for accuracy.

Next Up: Short story!  “The Empire of the Ants” by H.G. Wells


Short story: “The Country of the Blind” by H.G. Wells

March 8, 2010

The Book: “The Country of the Blind” from The Time Machine and Other Stories by Herbert George (H.G.) Wells.  First published in 1904 in Strand Magazine.  The edition read was published in 1969 (copyright 1963) by Scholastic Book Services.

The Setting: An isolated mountain valley in the Andes of Ecuador.

The Story: A mountaineer, Nunez, falls off a mountain side into a valley.  And lives!  The valley is inhabited!  Inhabited by people who have met no one from outside the community in 15 generations.  And they’re blind!  For 14 generations, the entire populous has been blind.   Nunez remembers that “in the country of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.”  He sets about trying to take over.  He fails, and gets smacked down.  The people of the valley can hear and smell him; they have the advantage.  Plus, they have no idea they’re missing anything.  They figure Nunez is crazy for using the weird words “sight” and “blind.”   He gives up, becomes a villager, falls in love with a local girl.  He wants to marry her, but her father figures Nunez is too stupid.  The doctor thinks maybe those lumpy things in his eye sockets are the problem and proposes to remove them.  He eventually agrees.  At the last minute, he changes his mind and begins to climb out of the valley.  And then he died.  But he saw how pretty it was as he was dying.

The Science: The people of the valley have lived for fifteen generations after a disease afflicted them so that their children were born blind.  Reasonable enough.  All the genes were somehow affected by this disease, to the point of physically making the eyeballs shrivel in their sockets.  It seems unlikely, but it’s a useful enough premise.  The people become completely isolated by a terrible earthquake, or something.  They develop a way of living, with lined pathways and tactile stimulus.  They work at night and rest during the day.  The develop a system of belief wherein the valley is all that exists and is covered by a smooth stone ceiling.  Weird, but totally plausible.  More a social science, but I give this story a thumbs up for plausibility.

The Reaction: I liked this story.  An anthropologist by training, I was intrigued by the cultural adaptations made by the people of the valley.  I was really put off by the hubris of the main character.  I mean really.  What kind of person shows up somewhere, sees a town, and says “I’ll be having that, thank you very much”?  It seems ridiculous.  And maybe it’s supposed to be a ridiculous lesson in imperialism.   But I liked it.  Short, and fun to read.

The Cover: See The Time Machine

Etc: According to Wikipedia, the story has rewritten in 1939 to have a totally different ending.  One which sounds less good.

Next Up: The Food of the Gods by H.G. Wells


The First Men in the Moon by H.G. Wells

March 7, 2010

The Book: The First Men in the Moon by H.G. Wells.  Originally published in 1901.  The edition read was published in by Ballantine Books (F687) in the early 1960s (no publishing date).

The Setting: Britain, the Earth.  The Moon.

The Story: A failed businessman, Mr. Bedford, plans to write a play to pay off his debts.  An eccentric scientist, Mr. Cavor, distracts him.  The two team up for fun scientific discovery and profit.  Cavor invents a material which neutralizes gravity.  They build a glass sphere/spaceship with cavorite (the anti-grav material) shutters all around it.  They get in and travel to the Moon.  They arrive just as day breaks.  They find a desolate plain, just as expected, but then are astounded to see vegetation sprout before their eyes.  They start jumping around, have a jolly old time, and lose the spaceship.  A terrible rumbling is heard, followed by the appearance of moonmen (Selenites) and mooncows (enormous maggot looking things) in the area.  Terrified by the insect looking Selenites, Bedford and Cavor hide in the undergrowth and try to find their sphere.  No luck.  Starving, they eat some moon mushrooms, proceed to trip balls and get themselves captured.

Waking, they discover themselves chained in a room deep inside the moon.  Freaking out about their situation, they break free from the Selenites.  Bedford leaves carnage in his wake as he leads the escape.  They get to the surface and find it’s nearly nightfall.  They separate to search for the sphere.  Bedford finds it.  When he tries to find Cavor, he discovers a note suggesting that Bedford has been captured or, more probably, killed by the Selenites.  Bedford gets in the sphere and somehow manages to get back to earth despite a total psychotic break en route.

Back on earth, and in Britain even!, he changes his name (to Wells), and writes up his moon experiences and gets it published (thus the book).  But then he finds another scientist who has built some kind of radio receiver and is getting messages!  From the moon!  In English!  And thus we learn the fate of Cavor… more or less.

The Science: Lots of stuff to talk about in this book, but I’ll just address three topics.

  • Cavorite:  A substance which neutralizes the effect of gravity.  I’ll readily admit, I’m still not 100% clear on how this stuff works.  But, apparently, the production of a slab of cavorite neutralizes the effects of gravity for any material atop it.  Thus, when the first slab of the stuff was made, all the atmosphere above it went rushing off into space, causing a gap, followed by a rushing of air to fill the void.  Now, this sounds great if it can be produced for commercial use – and that’s Bedford’s thought exactly.  But when it comes right down to it, I don’t get it.  I went back and reread the bit where Wells explains how the sphere works, and I cannot wrap my brain around it.  It is another interesting example of how pre-heavier than air flight individuals conceived of the possibility of flight.  But the stuff just doesn’t make sense to me.
  • The Selenites: The Selenites are an insect looking, hive type race.  The individuals are bred and molded (quite literally!) so that each Selenite has a distinct purpose in life and wants nothing more than to achieve that purpose and, moreover, finds it amazing that anyone could want something out of life than what they want.  Cavor’s final missives include a lot of amazement (and not a little bit of revulsion) at the diversity of appearance in the species.  Also, they are less dense creatures than humans, as Bedford discovers when he punches clean through one of them.  More amazingly, there seems to be only one other form of animal life on the planet – the mooncow which they herd and butcher for food.
  • Life on the moon: In and on the moon.  Bedford and Cavor arrive on a desolate wasteland, just before daybreak.  As daybreaks, the frozen atmosphere once again becomes a gas and plants begin to sprout from the surface at an amazing speed – literally before their eyes.  That is a pretty neat little adaptation.  It’s sensible, too, although what would be involved in shielding a seed from lunar night would be very extreme indeed.  All other life exists primarily inside the planet.  The interior of the moon is pitted and hollowed, with an ocean at the center.  Since the interior is shielded from the extremes of the surface, most life has developed within.  The Selenites, the mooncows, and some unknown, but terrifying, fish are all the animal life the moon has to offer.  It’s a precarious eco-system.  The real question is, why didn’t anyone see this from earth beforehand?

The Reaction: I didn’t love it.  I felt like the narrative structure was weird.  You have the story arc which ends with Bedford in Italy trying to write that play again, but then you get a kind of second ending with Cavor’s messages from the moon.  Although Cavor’s messages have the interesting effect of calling the reliability of Bedford’s narration into question, which gives the book a whole new twist.  It probably doesn’t help that I wasn’t able to wrap my head around the whole cavorite thing, which was essential to the story.  I appreciate it, but I don’t anticipate turning back to read this book in the future.

The Cover: Two men, presumably Bedford and Cavor, appear to be captured and escorted by four or five Selenites.  I think this is the scene right at or before Chapter the Fourteenth.  One Selenite has a prod that looks rather like a fireplace poker.  Really, I think this is a pretty good literal style cover.  The humans aren’t in quite the right outfits; they were wearing Clint Eastwood style ponchos over their usual British clothes.  And the Selenites look perhaps too normal and not weird enough, but these are quibbles.  This is a perfectly acceptable, if not over exciting cover.

Next Up: Short story!  “The Country of the Blind” by H.G. Wells.


The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells

February 17, 2010

The Book: The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells.  Originally published in 1898.  The edition read was published in 1966, copyright in 1964 , by Berkley Highland Books.

The Setting: England, greater London area, early twentieth century

The Story: A man, a science writer, witnesses the invasion of the earth by the Martians.An enormous cylinder falls to earth near Woking.  People, including the narrator, investigate.   Martians emerge from the tube and kill lots of people.  They build super suits of death and destruction. The narrator narrowly escapes with his life at several points.  The narrator tells how his brother escaped London.  Chaos is everywhere.  The Martians seem to be unbeatable.   The narrator teams up with a stressed-out curate.  They get trapped in a house together near a Martian base.  They spend a lot of time watching Martians.  The Martians drink human blood.  The curate snaps; the narrator knocks him out.  The Martians find them in the house and take the curate.  The narrator hides in some coal.  Days later he emerges and the Martians are gone.  They were all killed by viruses and bacteria.  The narrator and his wife are happily reunited in the end.

The Science: Wells likes to make stuff up.  We know that.  And he made up some darn good stuff, in my opinion.

  • Space travel and Martians:  Wells wrote this book before heavier than air flight was invented.  He imagines the Martians coming to Earth in enormous cylinders shot out of some sort of enormous Martian cannon.  It’s a pretty neat idea, but the physics involved in making something like that work must be mind boggling.  Not to mention the sort of force needed in the cannon.  So I’m not sure that’s a go.  The Martians came across, to me, as a sort of jellyfish shaped creature – all head and tentacles.  The narrator imagines that the Martians are a reasonable evolutionary outcome of man, and the brain grows and the hands are all that continues to be needed.  I can buy that.  I’m not so sure about Martians sustaining themselves directly on blood.  Wells’ premise is that the Martians had no digestive system to process food into blood, which is not precisely how it works.  I’d be curious to see a learned treatise on Wells’ Martian biology.  Seems to me that the exterior form of the Martians is possible, but not the internal structure as described.
  • Heat rays and black smoke:  Killing devices.  The Heat Ray which kills men on contact and heats whole rivers to boiling.  It sounds a lot like a super powered laser – a pretty awesome idea for 1898.  The black smoke is more insidious – a heavy gas which rolls over towns and kills all who breathe it.  It dissipates in water or jets of steam.  The black smoke is almost eerie in its description, given that World War I breaks out less than two decades later and makes real the threat of a weaponized,  deadly gas.
  • Viruses and bacteria:  Ultimately, man doesn’t defeat the Martians – they are wiped out by everyday viruses and bacteria.  I totally buy this.  How many humans succumb to these tiny creatures everyday?  How much more deadly would completely unfamiliar viruses be to an unexposed population?  Very.

The Reaction: This is a great story.  A fantastic adventure with interesting aliens, enough detail to make the threat believable, and a credible ending.  It is, however, another story where Wells doesn’t name his protagonist and spends a sizeable portion of the book having the narrator tell the story of a second person (the brother in this story).  Not necessarily a bad thing, but very much seeming to be a hallmark of Wells.

The Cover: Wait.  What?  What the heck is going on with this cover?  It’s like they grabbed the cover for some other story and stuck it on this book.  Only two things relate to the story:  the color red, and a sense of chaos.  No where in the story did Wells describe the citizens of early twentieth century Britain as wearing tube-heavy space suits and pointy pointy helmets.  It’s a great cover…  but not for this book.  I mean, honestly.  Who gave the go ahead on that?

Etc: My only prior experience with The War of the Worlds prior to reading this book was watching the Tom Cruise movie version.  And I was constantly comparing the two while reading.  I was pleasantly surprised by how well the movie interprets the book.  Except for the child drama, it’s surprisingly faithful.  Certain changes are made to account for our more advanced science, but they’re changes I think Wells would have approved of.

Next Up: The First Men in the Moon by H.G. Wells (who else?)


Short story: “The Man Who Could Work Miracles” by H.G. Wells

February 9, 2010

The Book: “The Man Who Could Work Miracles” from The Time Machine and Other Stories by Herbert George (H.G.) Wells.  First published in 1898.  The edition read was published in 1969 (copyright 1963) by Scholastic Book Services.

The Setting: Earth, unspecified present.

The Story: A skeptic with a silly name, George McWhirter Fotheringay, suddenly discovers that reality obeys his every command.  Hijinks ensue.  Fotheringay turns a cane into a rosebush, sends a policeman to hell and, later, to San Francisco.  Concerned about the policeman’s well being, Fotheringay seeks the advice of the local clergyman.  The clergyman and Fotheringay strike upon the idea of using the miraculous powers for good, ignoring the policeman.  They creep about in the dead of night, reforming drunkards, turning beer to water, and curing the vicar’s wart.  But they need more time to do good!  So the clergyman suggests that Fotheringay stop the earth turning, so that time stops.  But it all goes terribly wrong…

The Science: The science is good!  I know, because I asked the internet.  Not the miracles, mind you.  The “force of will” behind the miracles is not scientifically sound, but the consequences of stopping the earths rotating suddenly is accurate.  Everything on the face of the earth would go flying off, there would be a horrific wind, and, essentially, the earth would get torn apart and everything would die.  A+ on this one, Mr. Wells.

The Reaction: A fun little story.  Like literary popcorn shrimp.  Tasty, but not filling. I really like Fotheringay; he never thought to go mad with his power, and he was very concerned about rectifying his single major abuse of power.  Just the sort of fellow who ought to have the power of miracles, if anyone should.  Although maybe he ought to have a better grasp of physics…

The Cover: See The Time Machine.

Next Up: The War of the Worlds by, you guessed it, H.G. Wells.


The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells

February 7, 2010

The Book: The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells.  Originally published in 1897.  The edition read was published in 1967, copyright in 1963. , by Scholastic Book Services.

The Setting: England in Wells’ present day.

The Story: A mysterious man, swathed in bandages, moody, and demanding, arrives at a rural inn.   He’s a strange fellow, and is eventually discovered to be invisible.  Upon discovering this, the townspeople attempt to apprehend him (because he stole money while invisible, not just because they can’t see him).  He escapes and runs rampant all over town, freaking out the townspeople.  He leaves, terrorizing various people along his journey until, wounded after an altercation, he seeks refuge by breaking into a random house outside town.  As chance would have it, it’s the home of Kemp, a former classmate of the Invisible Man.  The Invisible Man monologues for about 50 pages, recounting how he, Griffin by name, became invisible.  Apparently, it’s important to be an albino for it to work.  Also, being invisible is not all it’s cracked up to be – especially in January.  When you’re naked and didn’t think to make yourself an invisible jacket.  Anyway, Kemp tries to get Griffin arrested, Griffin escapes, and returns the next day, trying to kill Kemp and promising a reign of terror.  Kemp lives, Griffin dies, and in so doing, becomes visible once again.

The Science: The idea here is that any body, human or otherwise, can be changed to match the refractive index of light, which will make it effectively invisible.  To be successful, you must be albino and drink a potion which bleaches the blood of all its color, then stand between a couple of things that vibrate in the right way, and away you go!  Being an albino is important, otherwise, you end up as a pair of floating eyeballs.  And no one wants that.  DO NOT TRY AT HOME.

The Reaction: What an odd little book.  Told partly from a sort of police report accounting, with the author breaking in and referring to himself at least once, the book is partly comedy, partly memoir, partly terror.  And all quite effective.  There’s no real hero of the book, not until maybe the end, and the Invisible Man is a real psychopath, increasingly unsympathetic.  I do wonder how many more extended monologues I’ll encounter from Wells, though.  I liked it!

The Cover: Cover design by Constance Ftera.  You know, I think this is a lovely cover.  It’s sort of poignant.  It’s a cover which makes me want to sympathize with the Invisible Man, something which becomes impossible once he leaves the inn.

Next Up: Short story!  “The Man Who Could Work Miracles” by H.G. Wells.


The Time Machine by H.G. Wells

February 1, 2010

The Book: The Time Machine from The Time Machine and Other Stories by Herbert George (H.G) Wells.  Novella first published in 1895.  The edition read was published in 1969 (copyright 1963) by Scholastic Book Services.

The Time Machine

The Setting: Earth during an unspecified present (one assumes the Victorian era) directly.  Earth in the year 802,701 by proxy.

The Story: The narrator, a weekly dinner guest of the Time Traveler, relates his experiences at two dinners.  More specifically, he relays the tale told by the Time Traveler of his harrowing adventures in the distant future 802,701.  The Time Traveler, in the future, discovers two races upon the earth – the gracile, childlike Eloi and the apelike, subterranean Morlocks.  He makes various theories about their origins and concludes that they represent the human race, with the Eloi evolved from the elite upper classes and the Morlocks evolved from a worker class.  He attempts to confront the Morlocks, who have hidden his time machine, but is foiled by the darkness.  When, eventually, he finds his vehicle, he escapes by the skin of his teeth from the Morlocks into an even more distant future, in the year about 30 million.  There he finds himself on a desolate beach under a red sky and is attacked by scary crab creatures.  Eventually, he gains control of himself and returns home to his dinner party where he eats some mutton and tells his adventures to his guests.

The Science: Science?  Well, I guess there’s evolution.  The story rather relies on belief in the theory of evolution to make it work, so I’m not sure how Pastafarians would receive the story.  As far as time travel goes, all we know is that the machine is rather frail, and there’s some quartz and nickel involved in it.  There’s some discussion of a theory of time travel, which is fine, but the actual mechanics of it are rather left by the wayside.  And the scene at the end, in the very distant indeed future, brought to my mind the evolution sequences in Don Hertzfeldt’s The Meaning of Life.  I think most of the project will be more Wellsian than Vernian – more “and this science-y thing happened” than “and this is the science that made the thing happen.”

The Reaction: I was underwhelmed, but I had a lot of preconceived ideas going into it.  I’m sure I’ve seen at least three different versions of the story on film before ever actually reading the book.  It was a good story – a story of discovery and speculation.  The only facts are what is seen; everything else is speculation.  I believed the tendency of the Time Traveler to constantly make up and revise theories about what he was confronted with, because that’s what I do every day.  For me, the most exciting part of it is at the very end, wherein the narrator witnesses the disappearance of the time machine.  I liked the potential of that moment.  Up until then, everything in the story was certain.  We know the Time Traveler escapes the Morlocks, because he’s telling the story.  But when he leaves again…  we don’t know the future anymore.

The Cover: Oh the cover!  Clearly, it is the Time Traveler in his time machine.  But what is going on?  Why is there a giant spoon behind him?  Why does it appear to have been colored in by a nine year old with access to only five crayons?  The world may never know.  Full points for relevance.  Points off for limited crayon selection.

Next Up: The Invisible Man, also by H.G. Wells