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August 14th, 2019

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The Time Machine, by H.G. Wells

Second paragraph of third chapter:
‘I drew a breath, set my teeth, gripped the starting lever with both hands, and went off with a thud. The laboratory got hazy and went dark. Mrs. Watchett came in and walked, apparently without seeing me, towards the garden door. I suppose it took her a minute or so to traverse the place, but to me she seemed to shoot across the room like a rocket. I pressed the lever over to its extreme position. The night came like the turning out of a lamp, and in another moment came to-morrow. The laboratory grew faint and hazy, then fainter and ever fainter. To-morrow night came black, then day again, night again, day again, faster and faster still. An eddying murmur filled my ears, and a strange, dumb confusedness descended on my mind.[’]
Nest on my list of SF award winners was Stephen Baxter's The Time Ships, but I thought I might as well go back and re-read the original book to which this is a sequel. I first became familiar with the story from TV showings of the 1960 movie:
The book is very short, and it's actually a bit unpolished - it was Wells' first published fiction, so it's written with passion and energy, but not a lot of reflection. It's a bit weird, for instance, that some of the Time Traveller's friends are identified by name - Filby, Blank, Dash, Chose - and others by profession - the Provincial Mayor, the Psychologist, the Very Young Man, the Medical Man, the Journalist, the Editor of a well-known daily paper - actually two of the latter are Dash and Chose, and the editor may be Blank, but "Blank" and "Dash" are essentially the same as "_____________" which is all we are given of the Time Traveller's own name. (Wells does something similar in The War of the Worlds.)

But then we get into the voyage through time part of the story, and this is simply splendid - both the future of the year 802,701 with Eloi vs Morlocks, and the far future of the dying Earth millions of years away. (It's a shame that a big chunk of Chapter XI was excised for book publication - it makes the far future section even more powerful.) The Edenic life of the Eloi, contrasted with the demonic Morlocks, is a very powerful dichotomy, especially when set against the Time Traveller's communication difficulties; though it's more than a little creepy that the Time Traveller decides that the Eloi are basically the evolved middle and upper classes and the Morlocks the degenerated proletariat. It's also fairly clear what's going on with Weena, and that's also more than a little creepy (in real life, Wells was living with his 22-year-old girlfriend who he would marry later that year after the divorce from his first wife came through).

However, sometimes the function of literature is to raise questions rather than answer them, and The Time Machine certainly does that. It's a pretty powerful debut, and it remains Wells' top novel (as measured by LibraryThing and Goodreads). You can get it here. Now for Stephen Baxter's sequel...

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