Have you ever thought about what you’d do if you got ahold of a time machine? Sure you have, or you, honestly, wouldn’t be here, would you? You’d be off doing something productive, like reading accounts of last night’s sporting events, or making money by buying stocks or something. Instead you’re here, with me, enriching your life at the cost of your work time. How many of you are ducking out of work, or reading in class, or something? So. You’ve considered what you’d do with a time machine. What was it? What would you do? I never did come up with a satisfactory answer. All the possibilities are paralyzing. I’m pretty sure going back to check out dinosaurs, that was one I definitely wanted to try. But then, I could get eaten. That would suck. Uh, transition: H. G. Wells’ The Time Machine.
OK, so that wasn’t the best transition ever. Maybe I’ll go back and fix it.
Maybe you’ll get that joke, maybe not. Moving on.
The Time Machine is an odd duck. I think it’s the first time travel story; it’s at least the earliest I ever read. And of course it’s influential. I think the summer I read it for the first time I put it down and picked up The Accidental Time Machine by Haldeman – full of Wells references, and why not? Loads of movies have been made of Wells’ short novel – and it is short. If you haven’t read it yet, get on that. You can read the damn thing for free, and it’ll take an afternoon.
So what happens in The Time Machine? Well, the narrator gathers together some of his friends and acquaintances to show them something neat in his drawing room after dinner. These are all Victorian men, swanning around in their waistcoats and their cravats, pickling themselves with brandy after eating entirely too much. So the narrator gets them all in one room, settles them into seats, and hauls out this ridiculous-looking contraption. It’s a time machine, he tells them. Then he demonstrates it by putting a watch in it and sending it forward – thus making that the way we test time machines all the way up to Doc Brown’s Seiko. Once his friends have accepted his story – there being no way at all to fake a watch’s timing – the narrator proceeds to tell them what happened to him.
So, let’s all get on the same page before we move on here. The narrator invented a time machine. He made something that would let him go whenever he wanted in time. It made time a place, which he can bike around in, and with no Professor Oak to bitch at him if he wanders into the Stock Exchange or a hospital or the fucking Triassic. And what he does is haul all his friends around for dinner, tell them he wants to show them something, but even then just sits on his hands until after dinner. Now, look, I’ve read time travel stories, and other conceptual breakthrough stories, and I figure at this point I’m not gonna go running into the streets telling everyone I invented a time machine if that somehow happens as I’m on the Nth day of writing about Arthur Machen. But I probably wouldn’t just tell my friends about it after dinner. Probably not. I mean, maybe I would bring in a science professor from nearby, or ask the nearest journalist to look at this thing I put together in my garage (I would have to build a garage first, probably around the time machine, that would be easier).
We should move on, shouldn’t we? All right. So the narrator goes into the future, meets this bubbly, spit-flecked moon child of a critter from a race he determines is the Eloi. The Eloi are all flower children with no real language who manage to stand about three or four feet tall. They live wonderful lives of prancing around in fields, weaving flowers together, and eating whatever the hell falls off the nearest tree. It is paradise, apparently. Let’s keep in mind our narrator felt revealing the most important discovery in the history of ever chose to tell his friends over a sumptuous dinner, and then compare that with his exclamations over how wonderful the Eloi are. They don’t build anything, do anything, think anything, anything anything. They’re just hanging out, forever. They’re stoners, really. Stoners inherit the earth, it seems.
Except you know this bit, I know you do. After checking out a museum full of artifacts, like guns and things, the narrator meets the Morlocks. This is why the Eloi were scared shitless of nighttime, he thinks to himself. Oh, OK, I get it. The Morlocks are tall, crazed cannibals. Sort of. They eat the Eloi, but honestly at this point they seem nearly like different species, so I’m not sure this counts as eating another person. But maybe they would eat a wounded Morlock too, who knows. They’re awful and dangerous and live underground, probably getting their inspiration from the preceding Morlocks in the 70s X-Men comics, except with fewer sweet-ass knife fights.
The narrator has to fight them to rescue his stoner-Eloi friend, the Morlocks steal the time machine, and the narrator figures out what the fucking smokestacks are that have been around the whole time, and which he didn’t bother wondering about before. The Morlocks keep machinery running down below. The social commentary comes thick and fast here, with the Morlocks being literally the descendants of the working classes, pushed farther and farther underground until they evolved separately from the upper classes, who became the shiftless, useless, supposedly beautiful Eloi.
The narrator gets his shit together, gets his time machine, and zooms off into the farther future, hoping to see some good come of the state he’d just left. Except he goes a little too far and basically sees a world with nothing but giant slugs all over it. And then he goes further on and sees the planet dying.
Then he comes home and tells his friends about it over dinner. Yeah, that catches us up with the narrative now. End of novel.
It’s sorta ridiculous. You need to read it. It’s good, I swear, go, do it. Hell, you can get if for free over here, what are you waiting for?