The Time Machine: A Necessary Annoyance

The Time Machine is what happens when a writer attempts to establish a new genre without much of a reference point. The ideas are all there and ready to be arranged, but there’s no guideline to determine what the arranged ideas will do and whether they’ll all work.

The eponymous device is given a clunky explanation that doesn’t make sense if you spend more than 30 seconds thinking about what you just read. . The whole scene is Socrates-lite with 1-dimensional characters constructed to be cannon fodder for the chapter of pure exposition. All we know of them is their professions and whatever robotic responses they have to the “scientist’s” theories on physics. Each new voice says something that allows an easy rebuttal (in this case ‘rebuttal’ means geometric word salad from, a manic man who would have trouble make a vinegar and baking soda volcano.

The idea of Victorian intellectuals gathering to listen to themselves talk about things they half understand is based in reality but I’m skeptical about approx. 4-8 people sharing one brain.

HG Wells was a degree wielding biologist who knew his way around a little bit of Darwin. Which explains the Darwinist views of the Narrator. What isn’t explained is why the narrator’s theories make it seem like he skimmed The Origin of Species on the toilet a couple times. He seems to just blend clumsy misunderstood passages from the book together with some Gulliver’s Travels in the same way that one would blend a cheeseburger and a milkshake.

So we have a protagonist who thinks that 800,000 years ahead is a good beta test for time travel and decides to prepare fewer provisions than a suburban family driving to Orlando. It’s important to note that this man is our only source of information on the complexities and details of an Earth far different than the one we know. So when he informs us on the habits of life forms that he believes used to be human (because um…science?) it’s important to remember that we are dealing with a man who decided ivory embellishments were more important than food or fresh water.

Home Depot Aisle 5: Paint, Drywall, and Time Travel Starter Kits
Home Depot Aisle 5: Paint, Drywall, and Time Travel Starter Kits

However, if we can look past all that, we get a pretty interesting social critique that doesn’t come to any easy conclusions. One race has become communal and placid to near atrophy. The audience isn’t sure why this happens, but we’re told that it may be because of too much relaxation and Jimmy Buffett CD’s or something like that. Combine this with the frame story and you get a nice critique of the upper class and the death of necessity.

Then we get a more primal life form that eats the other guys because apparently no one thought that animals or agriculture should exist, and they need caloric fuel to fiddle with things for no discernable reason.

Then Crabs, followed by a blob and a dying sun that somehow doesn’t burn our protagonist to a cinder.


Realistic Dramatization of Earth's Future
Realistic Dramatization of Earth’s Future

So, simple story, social commentary that Jon Swift would find heavy handed, illogical and destructive “genius” protagonist, and a future that makes no sense. One may begin to question why anyone would even own this book. Until they read any book, watch any television show, or catch any movie made about the future in the post-Wells world of art. We’ve added the character development, some plot, and science to the work, but we still used HG’s guide to Sci-fi.

The only reason I feel the need to relentlessly pick on The Time Machine is because praising the ingenuity would be redundant in a world built around the ideas of the book. The idea that technology can go too far, or that it can stop too short wasn’t something people had been writing about and the use of the days technology to great a fantastic tomorrow are revolutionary. The mixture of tradition and modern literature makes for an entirely new experience that is underwhelming because of how successful its offspring have become.

Wells wrote a mediocre book that’s full of extraordinary promises that would later be fulfilled by thousands of other authors.

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