Title: The Time Machine
Author: HG Wells
Genre: Science Fiction
Setting: Late 19th Century Britain & way ahead in the future
An inventor builds a Time Machine and travels into the future and gets a glimpse of what has become of the intelligent life on Earth.
We do not learn of any character names except Weena, who becomes the time traveler’s companion in the future. Even in the text, when a character addresses another by name, that part is left blank. Almost as if all names have been redacted from the text.
Had read the book at a much younger age, and did not get the many nuances the story has. It isn’t just a tale of an inventor building a Time Machine, finding things different from what he imagined, landing in trouble and managing to get back to his own time after a great adventure. It is also a tale of how even species can diverge if the differences between the haves and the have-nots keeps on rising. The increasing gap here leads to evolution of two radically different species, one of whom even feeds on the other.
Is evolution circular? A question which crops up while reading the book. The human species hasn’t evolved into a super-human one rather it has effectively moved backwards. There are simple-minded, child-like fun-loving “eloi”, who sustain on fruits and are fascinated by a flame and seemingly have no care in the world. And then there are the savage “Morlocks” who eat the eloi, stay in the dark undergrounds and are scared of fire. Ability to live as a community, agriculture, domesticating animals, building industries and machines – all seem to have been lost alongwith the intellectual capacity to read and write and store knowledge which can be passed on from one generation to other.
All this happens even while the Earth is still inhabitable. As the time traveler proceeds further into the future, there are changes in the solar system leading to climate changes, which drastically alter the life. This bit is quite understandable because life exists on Earth in its current form because of conditions which are just right.
Through the time traveler, we also learn how not to depend just on our biases. Every new information he gets, he tries to formulate a theory based on his 19th century understanding. And thus ends up being wrong multiple times. Although he does keep evolving his thought process with passing time. It is quite fascinating to see how new information is processed by our biased brains. We try to immediately bucket new things with what we already know rather than wait for all information.
The Time Traveler goes into the future and burns down a forest with fire that he has created in order to keep the morlocks at bay. A whole forest destroyed, large scale destruction of species, some species friended and “domesticated” as companions – isn’t that exactly what humans have done during our time on Earth? Go to a new place and drastically change its ecological balance. Since there aren’t many such places left in the present, our narrator has gone into the future and done the same in a matter of days!
The ending is written with an air of mystery, when there is actually none. If the Time Machine is still working, the narrator should not have to wait for his Time Travelling friend for three years to tell his story. The Time Traveler can choose the exact moment of his return.
Fun Fact – The term “time machine” was coined by HG Wells in this book. And it is now the universally accepted term for such a device! Time Machines and Time Travelers may not exist (from what we know now) but Wells certainly was a man ahead of his time!
Previously on BookMarks: Exponential Organizations
Also by HG Wells – The War of the Worlds