Secondary genre: Scifi
Format read: ebook
This classic novel tells the story of an inventor who creates a time machine and then thrusts himself thousands of years into the future.
I picked up this book because it’s usually spoken of in the same breath as some of my favorite Jules Verne novels, and because I was at a Steampunk event at the time.
Alas, my favorite thing about this book is that it is relatively short and I got it for free since it’s a classic.
For starters, I disliked the narration style. None of the “present day” (i.e. Victorian) characters are named, including our narrator. They are identified only as “the Doctor,” “the Scientist”, etc. It follows a common trope popular in Victorian and early 20th century literature (such as the Great Gatsby) in which we have a relatively dull narrator speaking to a more interesting character, and recording their story. In this case, the one actually doing the telling is the otherwise unnamed Inventor. Because the story is told as if the narrator is hearing it from his friend, every paragraph is in quotations, which I found rather annoying.
The other thing which greatly annoyed me is how ill-prepared the Inventor was for his journey. Instead of doing the scientific thing and testing out his machine in small bursts, he hops a couple of days into the future just to make sure the machine works, the immediately floors it and jumps thousands of years into the future, watching as London grows and then crumbles around him.
When he finally stops, London is gone and the human race has “devolved” into a diminutive race of weak, pale people who do nothing but enjoy themselves all day and have child-like innocence.
I don’t want to go into a full summary just because this is a classic and if you haven’t seen a retelling, a movie or show inspired by it, or been forced to read it in school then it’s only a quick google away.
If I listed all the reasons I disliked this book, then I would be here all day, so I’ll try to just pin down the more problematic elements. Here, we’ll start with my favorite line in the whole book: “She seemed to me more human that she was.”
This line refers to Weena, one of the little people he finds in the future, called the Eloi. Weena attaches herself to him, and it’s somewhat confusing as to whether he sees her more as a ward or a casual girlfriend. Both are possible, considering the penchant for Victorian erotica to focus on the “appeal” of pre-pubescent girls. The author, at least, does make it clear that even if she’s mentally about 10, Weena is physically an adult. I think.
The Inventor views the Eloi as being less than human because they lounge around all day, do no work, don’t read or have any kind of education. I’m not really sure how this would work, considering they also have no technology, no agriculture, no economy, no weapons, and don’t even know what fire is when he arrives.
Which brings me to my second pet peeve of the book, which is how absolutely ill-prepared he was for the trip, arriving with only a handkerchief and a box of matches in his pocket. To be fair, he did get stranded when the time machine mysteriously vanishes, but still. You would think a man capable of inventing time travel would think to, I don’t know, pack a lunch or something? At the very least.
This book is the epitome of colonialism and the Victorian view that they were clearly the best and most advanced civilization in the world, and that arrogance is really what grated on me. The Inventor is more interested in judging his new companions than in understanding them. The entire book is based on the idea that late Victorian culture was the peak of civilization, and humankind had nowhere to go from there except down, which feels both arrogant and naive.
Save your time and read some Jules Verne instead.