A science fiction novel by H.G. Wells in which a man goes into the future to the year 802,701 and finds that mankind has evolved into two distinct groups - the Eloi, who are tall, thin, and live above ground in relative bliss, and the Morlocks, who are short, blind, and live deep within the earth in general misery. The entire novel is a Marxist criticism of capitalism (the whole "rich get richer" spiel), and it contains some great observations about man's triumph over Nature and the powers and pitfalls of science. It leads one to think that Wells wrote this using the Communist Manifesto and Darwin's Origin Of Species as reference materials.

Luckily the book is now in public domain, and it isn't very long, making it an ideal candidate for E2 assimilation.

Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12
Epilogue

Also a movie made in 1960, starring Rod Taylor and Yvette Mimeux. It was produced by George Pal.

The best part of the movie, I thought, was the time machine itself. A pseudo-Victorian affaire of tooled leather, crystal, and a marvelous parasol-like thing behind the seat that whirled when the machine worked.

Some years later, it was remade as a made for television movie. And the time machine had been reduced to a computer screen and a keyboard.

Where's the romance? Where's the artistry?

Where's something that looks like something?

Is the computer age, the age of everything looking the same?

Plot Summary

H.G. Wells' novel opens with the Time Traveller explaining his plans to travel in time to a group of his Victorian peers (most only named by an occupational label.) The next scene is a dinner party a week later with the narrator and a few of the Time Traveller's previous guests. The Time Traveller enters the room in terrible shape. After he has cleaned up and has eaten, he begins to tell them of his trip in time.

The narratorial voice switches to that of the Traveller himself, and he tells them that he went to the year 802701 A.D. The England of the distant future is a beautiful place, almost a Utopia, but civilization is in majestic ruin. He first encounters the Eloi, a race of pretty, vacuous beings descended from humans. All other animals are apparently extinct, and the vegetarian Eloi have every need mysteriously provided for. Then, he discovers that someone has taken his time machine and he is frantic until he realizes that it has been locked in the bronze base of a nearby statue. He gives up on trying to free his machine, and later saves a drowning Eloi named Weena.

Weena tags along with the Traveller, and he soon discovers the existence of the Morlocks, a race of subterranean creatures descended from the human working class that maintain the underground machines that support the Eloi. He goes off exploring in the countryside with Weena in tow, and in the process of going through a ruined museum he lets the time get away from him and the Morlocks come out to attack after dark. He gets away from them, but inadvertently starts a forest fire and Weena is killed in the chaos.

The Traveller makes it back to the statue and finds that the doors are open. He goes inside to get his machine, and the Morlocks try to trap him. The Traveller manages to escape and goes far into the future to a time where the place he once lived is a beach with monstrous crabs. He travels on to an era near the end of the world, a time of darkness and cold. Then, he returns to his own time.

The only one who seems to believe his story is the narrator. The narrator goes into the lab to talk to the Time Traveller, but he and his machine are gone.

Review

The Time Machine is a social doom prophecy. The future is presented as a place where the privileged have finally gotten a world where they can lead utterly carefree lives of leisure. Unfortunately, the centuries of soft living have turned the rich into weak and stupid creatures. Meanwhile, the working class has speciated into subterranean horrors that finally seek revenge on their former masters. This is to serve as an extrapolation of what Wells surely saw as a widening gulf between the rich and poor in Victorian England. Wells exaggerated the difference between the Morlocks and Eloi to warn the well-to-do and the British government that the social injustices of the day would prove ruinous if not corrected. Also, Wells warns everybody that the attainment of our ideal world, one with no pressure or work, would probably be fatal to the human race.

The Time Machine seems to compare favorably with mainstream literature of its day. When compared with more modern novels, science fiction or otherwise, parts of it seem a bit quaint and stuffy. Still, Wells was a good writer and the novel has a sense of wonder; it's a fine adventure tale.

On the surface, the circumstances and science sound good, but they don't hold up well if you know much about science. I accept the idea of the time machine, since that particular fantasy is central to the story, but there are a few other details that bothered me.

First, the Time Traveller describes the land as being devoid of fungi. The primary decomposers in an ecosystem are fungi; without them, you can't have a gorgeous landscape. I guess Wells just didn't want stinkhorns on his world.

Also, the Eloi are described as being disease-free. Perhaps science could get rid of parasites and viruses. But you can't kill off the bacteria; otherwise, the whole ecosystem goes down. No decomposition, no nitrogen fixation, no plants ... no Eloi. Since there must be bacteria, eventually you'll have disease, since bacteria mutate quickly and will occupy any ecological niche that they can get started in.

The behavior of the Morlocks rang a little false with me. They're intelligent enough to run the machines and lay a trap. Why didn't they use weapons while trying to hunt the Time Traveller down? Even chimpanzees use primitive tools. I suppose Wells kept the Morlocks unarmed so that the hero could get away; a party of armed Morlocks could have easily brained him.

Also, I didn't completely believe the development of the Morlock society. I don't think a working class, no matter how subjugated, could be kept down for so long. It only takes one extremely able person to get a revolution going, and in the time frame the novel spans I'm sure that the workers would have already rebelled successfully.

I think Wells was accurate in showing the evolutionary changes that could occur in several hundred thousand years' time. The physical changes to the Eloi were pretty good; I have read other predictions that humans will get more androgynous and possibly smaller if automation progresses at its current pace.

However, I doubt the extent of their mental deterioration. I think that they would have had games and sports, and that would have almost guaranteed that at least some of the Eloi would not have been so small and weak. Humans love games; even in places where there is no literacy and no ambition, you have stickball and basketball and poker. The Eloi still had language, why not at least some balls to throw around?

My criticisms aside, I thought the novel has held up very well. Some of Wells' scientific reasoning was off, but the knowledge of the day was limited. The story is good and fast-paced, and the descriptions are engaging. The novel lacks the literary ammunition of other works of the same period, but it paved the way for a whole lot of really excellent science fiction stories and novels.

Also the title of the latest album by Alan Parsons, of Alan Parsons Project fame. Published in 1999, this album offers more of the style fans have come to love about his music: Carefully composed and arranged tracks, performed by an excellent cast of musical talent such as Ian Bairnson and other regulars.

It should be noted that there are 3 different versions of this album:

  • The Japanese Version, published first, and containing the bonus track Beginnings, an instrumental piece with words spoken by Alan himself. This track is only available on this release of the album and closes it.
  • The British/Dutch version, that includes another bonus track: Inspired by the mentioning of his name in Mike Meyers' Austin Powers II: The spy who shagged me, a remix of the title track was created featuring the voice of Dr. Evil, the Dr. Evil Edit. This release may have been available in some other European nations as well, but wasn't in some such as Germany.
  • Finally, there is the US version, which was also released in the rest of the world including parts of Europe, such as Germany. This release includes no bonus tracks whatsoever.

H. G. Wells, together with as Jules Verne, basically created the Science Fiction genre. All authors afterwards from Ray Bradbury to Gene Roddenberry (of Star Trek fame) owe him a great debt. What can be easily misunderstood is that this genre is full of nonsensical, fantastic events and personages that have no real bearing on our everyday lives. H. G. Wells, along with any other important writer of the genre that you can name, all explore the dialectic that we all experience. This is, of course, our fear and our growing alliance on technological advancement versus our joy and pride at the very same.

Delving just under the surface of the novel, we see what it obvious, that very dialectic of technology played out over an evolutionary scale. The joy of technology coming to a zenith in a civilization where all is provided; there is no more hunger, no more poverty, just a tranquil society of passive, peaceful people. This joy becomes somewhat shaded when the Time Traveler quickly learns that because of this seemingly effortless existence, man has become intelligence-free, their language obsolete and devolved into something “excessively simple – almost exclusively composed of concrete substantives and verbs” (Wells 41). Interestingly enough, while many scholars look at this work as a scathing rebuke of Capitalism, it doesn’t seem to do its job well. From the moment he meets the Eloi, the Time Traveler has a condescending distaste for them, treating them as children. He does recognize their way of life as an idea of his time, however:

“…I realized that there were no small houses to be seen. Apprently the single house, and possible even the household, had vanished….’Communism,” said I to myself” (Wells 30).

This shaded joy becomes steadily darker and darker as the Time Traveler begins to find out that there are two sets of evolutions. Technology has set the species against itself and the simple Eloi have become fodder for the Morlocks, a society of what has become of the lower classes and labourers of his time. It appears to the Time Traveler that these lower class beings have the skills to provide for the simple Eloi but have need of them as their primary food source. This may have taken place as the result of a long distant revolution (perhaps it began with the Russian Revolution). This question then presents itself, when do the oppressed become the oppressors? At what point does the pendulum swing too far in the opposite direction? Finally, whose fault is it when this eventually happens? These questions Wells does not attempt to answer, although many other authors have, George Orwell and Ayn Rand to name only two.

We know that Wells was interested in the capitalist-communism conflict, because he traveled to Russia to meet Lenin in 1914 and 1920 and once again to meet Stalin in 1934, the same year that he traveled to the U.S. to meet with President Roosevelt (Mac Adam xii). If he was trying to further the aims of Communism, it would seem he hasn’t done a very good job of it with The Time Machine. However, the book does give us a well-shaped morality play about the dialectic of progress, specifically the progress of the industrial revolution and the fear that it could have an effect on our actual or perceived evolution as a species. From an evolutionary standpoint, one can look at the novel both literally and figuratively and still be frightened by the possibilities it lays before one.


Sources: The Time Machine - H. G. Wells, introduction by William MacAdam.

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