Recommendation: You’ve heard of this classic before and, honestly, I don’t have much to say that hasn’t been said before. It’s very good, was ahead of its time, and makes me wish the novella hadn’t gone extinct.
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The Time Machine is a fantastic novel that displays H.G. Wells’ incredible imagination. I’d seen the (rather terrible) movie before so I actually had a bad impression heading into this one, but I downloaded the free e-book and my flight was delayed so, I figured, what the hell, I’ll read the little sucker. It’s probably outdated and won’t really speak to me, but reading is always better than staring at a hundred people slowly boil over as their plane refuses to exist.
For the most part, my impression was dead wrong. Written more than 100 years ago, Wells’ metaphors are still powerful. The writing is strong but, as with most sci-fi, it’s the plot that acts as the main draw. You probably know the tale, but, in case you don’t, The Time Machine tells the story of an inventor who develops a machine that forgoes physical movement in favor of fourth-dimensional movement through time. At a dinner party the inventor demonstrates his machine, but is largely met with incredulity. A week later, the inventor hosts another dinner party and regales his guests with a story of travelling 800,000 years into the future where he discovers that the human race has evolved (devolved?) into two separate societies. When one group steals his machine, the inventor has to find his way back to it in order to return to his own time.
Now, consider for a moment that when Wells wrote this novella the automobile was still in preschool and Einstein hadn’t begun to develop his theories of relativity. So, for Wells to jump out with the idea that movement in time could occur just like movement in space is pretty serious. To then extrapolate the social stratification of his own time into a segmented future world is not only impressive, but straight out cool. It’s really unfair to judge this novella by any part of that movie I saw, because it operates on a higher level of complexity and a darker sense of atmosphere. Gone from the tale is the fluffy love story and the frustratingly powerful super-villain, replaced instead with a naturally motivated scientific mind and a societal conflict developed through years of differing behaviors. Much more realistic, much more fun.
This book also made me wish that everybody gave novellas more of a chance. They have the same sort of difficulties in the US as short story collections, but there really should be a place for a story that cuts out the excess. The Time Machine brings you right into the midst of its premise, develops a quick narrative and then leaves you to ponder about its implications. Considering that, as a nation, the speed of our lives is always quickening and the breaks we have are ever-shorter, the novella is actually a fitting solution and should be given greater consideration.