Dark Futures Book 1: The Time Machine

Welcome to the World of Tommorrow!

Well, some of them, anyway. Dark Futures is a 20-book exploration of the fears of our futures, a odd sub-genre of Science Fiction that draws in on the society of the time and projects it forward, into uncomfortable visions of the world to be. The idea is the same across many books, the results, very different.

So today we start way back at the dawn of the genre, and head way forward, to the end of humanity.


I’ve always loved H G Wells. I should say that out front, to excuse some of the fawning I may be doing later. Last year, reading Fantasy, I talked about Tolkien and Howard grandfathering the genre, and with SF its Wells and Verne, the formers’ more clinical analogies and the latters’ grandstanding sense of adventure creating the paths that so many writers would follow down. Wells looks to the future in several of his books, and at first I thought about using Things to Come to open up the reading list, but The Time Machine is earlier, and essays some similar themes, albeit with a different approach. Also, we’ll visit what we now call “Post Humanity” a couple of times over the year, but many not as much as we could, so getting another example in couldn’t hurt.

The plot of The Time Machine is pretty straightforward. Framed by a narrator recounting his friendship with a man he calls only “The Time Traveller”, most of the story is the Traveller’s recounting (to the narrator, and others) his first journey in his Time Machine, to the year 802,701, where humanity has devolved into two species; the decadent, simple minded Eloi and the subterranean, cannibalistic Morlocks. Most of the text is exploratory; the Time Traveller explores the world, meets people, postulates theories. There are a couple of action heavy chapters but on the whole it’s a thoughtful work rather than an adventure one.

In fact, Wells puts forward not one vision of humanity’s future but three. At each stage of his exploration the Traveller “understands” how Man has come to this pass in different ways, each revised as he uncovers more information, and each more terrible than the last. And whilst variations on a theme, any of them are interesting in their own right, even from 110 years later, and all of them have been explored by later writers in fuller form.

It’s not to say that The Time Machine isn’t dated, not that it is without it’s stylistic quirks. It’s all oddly bloodless for all the fighting with Morlocks and death of the one named Eloi and the descriptions of being scared, which perhaps have faded over time. The central ideas don’t seem as overly shocking as I suspect they were in the 1890s and all the descriptions of time travel and the “4th dimension” feel very much of the “Clockwork Universe” view of the time.

As an interesting aside the Traveller is described as a man who whilst very clever has an underlying whimsy that makes him hard to take overly seriously, something that makes him underestimated, or suspected of some sort of ulterior trickery by those around him. Sounded a lot like another famous Time Traveller…

But in the end The Time Machine is a work of contemplation in many ways; a vision of a time and place, a vision of an end, that whilst certainly reflective of late 19th century social concerns is sufficiently broad that it still faintly resonates into the present. For me the strongest mental image that remains isn’t the vast industrial hell of the Morlocks, or the pastoral ennui of the Eloi. Its the Palace of Green Porcelain, that vast, desolate museum containing more information lost to time that the Travellers own people would ever know, slowly crumbling away into the long, slow, last evening of Humanity.


Next time: “Everybody Belongs to Everybody Else”. Its Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.

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