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H. G. Wells – The Time Machine

August 29, 2011

106. The Time Machine by H. G. Wells (1895)

Length: 122 pages
Genre: Classic Science Fiction

Started: 27 July 2011
Finished: 20 August 2011

Where did it come from? / Why do I have it? Free copy from Atria Books, bundled with the ARC of The Map of Time. (Also a free Kindle download.)
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 16 May 2011.

Time traveling’s well
and good until you get stuck
in the far future.

Summary: His Victorian colleagues don’t believe he’s constructed a time machine, but the Time Traveller returns with a tale to tell, of his journey to the year 802,701. There (Then?) he found that humankind had evolved into two distinct races: the childlike Eloi, who live a life of leisure, free of worry, sickness, or care; and the Morlocks, who are more mechanically inclined but dwell exclusively underground. The Morlocks steal his time machine immediately after he arrives, and in his attempts to get it back, he discovers that the life of the Eloi is not as idyllic as it might seem.

Review: As much as I love the genre of science fiction as a whole, The Time Machine is one of my first forays into its origins. I was already fairly well-versed in its plot from having read the fantastic The Map of Time earlier this summer, but I was surprised to find that the main point of the book was not the technology or its consequences, but rather a statement of Wells’s beliefs about the effects of class division on the human condition. Of course, the social politics are wrapped up in a fantastical adventure story, but they’re not buried particularly deep. I also didn’t find the message to be particularly complex, or even particularly plausible.

But, setting aside the underlying theme, Wells certainly manages to tell a good story. His vision of the Eloi’s world is fascinating, and I spent a lot of time thinking about how things got from here to there. (I particularly loved the scene in the ruined museum.) Once the protagonist leaves the time of the Eloi, he goes even farther into the future, and Wells’s vision of a desolate Earth under a dying sun is nightmarishly vivid. It’s a very short book – barely long enough to qualify as a novella, really – and part of me wishes it were longer, with a more complex plot. The prose, while not as dense as I was expecting, did take some getting used to, but overall it was definitely worth the read. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: It probably should be read by every sci-fi fan, particularly those interested in time travel stories, as a basis of where the genre started; it’s quick enough and with an interesting enough story to win over even the more ardent avoiders of the classics.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Other Reviews: Yup! Lots and lots at the Book Blog Search Engine.

First Line: See the first vocab item below. :)

Vocab: (see the whole list)

  • p. 3: “The Time Traveller (for so it will be convenient to speak of him) was expounding a recondite matter to us” – dealing with very profound, difficult, or abstruse subject matter.
  • p. 65: “I had no convenient cicerone in the pattern of the Utopian books.” – a person who conducts sightseers; guide.
  • p. 71: “The place, by the by, was very stuffy and oppressive, and the faint halitus of freshly shed blood was in the air.” – breath; exhalation; vapor.
  • p. 91: “And here, yielding to an irresistible impulse, I wrote my name upon the nose of a steatite monster from South America that particularly took my fancy.” – soapstone.

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23 Comments leave one →
  1. August 29, 2011 7:41 am

    I have wanted to read this book for some time, but never got around to it. Your review has revived my need to buy this book!

    • September 8, 2011 9:30 am

      Spangle – Or get it for free, if you’ve got an e-reader!

      • September 30, 2011 1:28 am

        Or there is Dover books. Last I looked, Time Machine was a dollar.

  2. August 29, 2011 8:40 am

    Have you read H. G. Well’s other classic The Invisible Man? It’s just as good — in my opinion — I love these old classic texts! (of course, Jules Verne’s sci-fi works are worth reading as well)

    • September 8, 2011 9:31 am

      Boaz – I haven’t, although I’d certainly like to! I haven’t read a lot of classics, sci-fi or otherwise, but I’m working to remedy that.

  3. August 29, 2011 9:32 am

    I am getting ready to read The Map of Time; what a great idea to combine it with a reread of The Time Machine! I remember it (or the movie?) being a favorite when I was young.

    • September 8, 2011 9:32 am

      rhapsody – The Map of Time summarizes the relevant points of The Time Machine really well; enough so that I felt completely up-to-speed having never read the original. But reading them in the other order would definitely be fun, too!

  4. August 29, 2011 10:09 am

    I read this in high school and remember wishing the teacher would talk more about the sci-fi aspect and less about the consequences of society’s choices. I read it again in college and will admit to appreciating my high school teacher’s thoughts then. When I finished A Map Time in May I felt like picking this one up again. It’s a been a while and I always like to go back to books I loved to see if I still feel the same about them.

    • August 29, 2011 10:17 am

      “The consequences of society’s choices” is a MAJOR aspect of all sci-fi — science fiction isn’t just projected science but ALSO the consequences of society’s choices in relation TO science (among other things)…. so, you’re high school teacher was spot on. hehe

    • September 8, 2011 9:34 am

      Amy – I can totally understand wanting to talk about the sci-fi aspects of it, and the theory of time travel, etc… (and how the Time Traveller was very lucky that in 800,000 years, a tree never grew in the one spot where his time machine was. :)

      • Bill Woods permalink
        September 9, 2011 7:03 pm

        Oh, trees could have grown on that spot; they just lived and died in centuries when ‘the Time Traveller’ didn’t try to stop. The Time Machine is available from Gutenberg:

        By the way, have you read Connie Willis’s time travel stories? You’d probably like the short story “Fire Watch” (found in various anthologies) and To Say Nothing of the Dog.

  5. August 29, 2011 11:19 am

    I’m not an hard core reader of sci-fiction but I love time travelling stories, so I think I’ll read this one.

    • September 8, 2011 9:35 am

      carolina – I love time travel stories as well, so it was interesting to see their source!

  6. August 29, 2011 1:59 pm

    My son has read this book so many times, his copy is just about worn out.

    • September 8, 2011 9:35 am

      Kathy – That’s great! I love when you can physically tell how much a book is loved.

  7. August 29, 2011 4:27 pm

    I read The Invisible Man by Wells earlier in the year, but I haven’t read this one by him. It is my next planned read by him, but I am not sure when I will get to it…

    • September 8, 2011 9:36 am

      Kailana – The Invisible Man is on my list… not my “immediately” list, but definitely my “someday” list.

  8. August 29, 2011 5:55 pm

    I’ve just started this on my phone, which means it’s my “I am stuck in this line for two minutes” reading and so I’m only up to the Time Traveller coming to dinner — I’m glad to see that it’s about to get more exciting!

    • September 8, 2011 9:37 am

      Alison – I also read this in tiny little chunks on my kindle (which is mostly “stuck in line” reading, for sure.), which is why it took me a month to get through such a short little book.

  9. August 29, 2011 6:12 pm

    Um, I watched the movie before? But the movie has very little similarities with this book…

    • September 8, 2011 9:37 am

      Sharry – I haven’t seen any of the movie adaptations, but I’m definitely curious!

  10. September 12, 2011 5:35 pm

    Great review. I do love this book but it’s been ages.

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