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The Time Machine

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The Time Machine is a novel by H. G. Wells, later made into two films of the same name.

The Book

Wells had considered the notion of time travel before, in an earlier (but unpublished) story titled The Chronic Argonauts. He had thought of using some of this material in a series of articles in the Pall Mall gazette[?], until the publisher asked him if he could instead do a serial novel[?] on the same theme; Wells readily agreed, and was paid 100 pounds on its publication in 1896.

The novel's protagonist is an amateur scientist simply called the Time Traveller (we never learn his real name, though, tantalizingly, he remarks that he wrote it in the dust in an abandoned museum in the distant future.) Having demonstrated to friends that time is a fourth dimension, and that suitable apparatus can move back and forth in this fourth dimension, he constructs a larger machine capable of carrying himself, and sets off.

Wikipedia contains spoilers. If you prefer not to read spoilers, please skip the following paragraph.

His journey forward in time takes him to an apparently peaceful, pastoral, Daoist future, filled with happy, simple folk who call themselves the Eloi[?]. This appearance turns out to be deceptive. The Traveller soon discovers that the class structure of his own time has in fact persisted, and the human race has diverged into two branches. The wealthy, leisure classes appear to have evolved into the ineffectual, not very bright Eloi he has already seen; but the once-downtrodden working classes have evolved into the bestial Morlocks[?]-- cannibal hominids resembling albino apes, who toil underground maintaining the machinery that keep the Eloi--their flocks--in docile and plentiful. Both species, having adapted to their routines, are of distinctly sub-human intelligence.

After some adventures, the narrator returns to his machine and travels into the far future, seeing the last few living things on a dying Earth, then returns to tell his story to friends, before disappearing forever into time.

The story reflects Wells' political views; he was a committed communist, and the narrator reasons that the state he sees is the outomes of capitalist class structures. The novel may also have influenced the movie Metropolis.)

The Time Machine is in the public domain in the United States, Canada, and Australia, but does not enter the public domain in the European Union until January 1, 2017 (1946 death of author + 70 years + end of calendar year). The text of the novel is available here (http://everything2.com/?node=The+Time+Machine).

Film versions

George Pal (who also made a famous "modernized" version of Wells' The War of the Worlds) filmed The Time Machine 1960. This is more of an adventure film than the book was; also the division of humankind results from mutations induced by a nuclear war during the twentieth century, and the Eloi speak English. The film was remade in 2002, starring Guy Pearce and Jeremy Irons and directed by Wells' great-grandson Simon Wells[?], with an even more revised plot. It garnered dismal reviews and was not very successful.

The earlier film is noted for its then-novel use of stop motion photographic effects to showing the world around the Time Traveller changing at breakneck speed as he travels through in time.

Sequels by other authors

Well's novel has become one of the cornerstones of science-fiction literature. As a result, it has spawned many offspring. Books expanding on Wells' story include:

  • Morlock Night, by K.W. Jeter[?], an odd steampunk novel in which the Morlocks, having studied the Traveller's machine, duplicate it and invade Victorian London
  • The Space Machine, by Christopher Priest[?]: because of the movement of planets, stars and galaxies, for a time machine to stay in one spot on Earth as it travels through time, it must also follow the Earth's trajectory through space. In Priest's book, the hero damages the Time Machine, and arrives on Mars, just before the start of the invasion described in The War of the Worlds. H.G. Wells himself appears as a minor character....
  • The Time Ships, by Stephen Baxter: This sequel was officially authorised by the Wells estate to mark the centenary of the original's publication. In its wide-ranging narrative, the Traveller's desire to return and rescue Weena is thwarted by the fact that he has changed history (by telling his tale to his friends, one of whom published the account). With a Morlock (in the new history, the Morlocks are intelligent and cultured) he travels through the multiverse as increasingly complicated timelines unravel around him, eventually meeting mankind's far future descendants, whose ambition is to travel into the multiverse of multiverses. Like much of Baxter's work, this is definitely hard science fiction; it also includes many nods to the prehistory of Wells's story in the names of characters and chapters.

Just to entangle reality and fiction further, H. G. Wells also appears as a character, aboard his own time machine in 1979 film Time After Time and the 1990s television series the New Adventures of Superman[?].



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