I grieved to think how brief the dream of the human intellect had been. It had committed suicide. It had set itself steadfastly towards comfort and ease, a balanced society with security and permanency as its watchword, it had attained its hopes—to come to this at last.
The Time Machine, by H.G. Wells
Why are we so attracted to science fiction? Maybe it’s a testament to the imagination of the writer. In addition to crafting the fictional characters and plots that all novels consist of, science fiction writers must also fabricate new worlds, lifestyles, and technologies. And unlike fantasy, well-written science fiction usually retains just enough of our current world and current lifestyles to scare us, a tiny bit.
Margaret Atwood was once quoted rejecting the “science fiction” label for Oryx and Crake, instead dubbing it “speculative fiction”. “Science fiction has monsters and spaceships; speculative fiction could really happen,” she famously told The Guardian. Science or speculative, I love this type of fiction, especially those written years ago. It’s fascinating to see what authors predicted decades if not centuries ago, and how many of their predictions came true.
The Time Machine was first published in 1895, more than a century ago. While our society hasn’t transformed into the world of the Eloi and the Morlocks visited by the Time Traveller, the musings of the Time Traveller are still relatable. And, of course, the novella explores the idea that transgressing human boundaries in the pursuit of too much knowledge is ultimately harmful.
The Time Machine follows in the tradition of older science fiction works, namely Frankenstein and Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, in that it is a layered narrative. The unnamed narrator is a guest and friend of the unnamed Time Traveller, who narrates the majority of the story. This allows the reader to see the Time Traveller’s story through another pair of eyes. It also distances the reader from the actual science of it all. Maybe if the work was actually narrated by the Time Traveller, the reader would see more clearly into the Time Traveler’s mind, the scientific workings of his Time Machine, and his motivations for time travel.
But instead, we’re distanced from the Time Traveller, who is clearly a likeable character, yet not instantly relatable. What I took away from the story was its cautionary element: cautioning not only against the divided society of the Eloi and Morlocks, but also of the Time Traveller’s relentless pursuit of knowledge. The Time Traveler reaches untested realms of human achievement, but doesn’t really gain from it in any way…again, much like Victor Frankenstein and Dr. Jekyll.
YES OR NO?: I would say YES. The Time Machine is a quick, entertaining read, although I found the portion prior to the Time Traveller’s adventures a bit boring. Although far-fetched, it also provides some food for thought around advancements in technology and the future of the human race.