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The Start of Something Special
on September 14, 2010
In any discussion of the history of Science Fiction, H. G. (Herbert George) Wells is sure to be mentioned, and "The Time Machine" is the first of his novels/novellas. Wells may not have invented the genre, but his impact on it would be difficult to overstate. Unlike Verne, Wells was able to go beyond just what could be accomplished by science currently, and the invention of a Time Machine is central to the story Wells is telling. That is not to say that he has nothing to say on current sciences as well, just that he allows stories to take readers far beyond that which Verne would allow.
The history of "The Time Machine" is an unusual one. Wells had used the subject of time travel repeatedly starting in 1888 with his incomplete serial "The Chronic Argonauts". It next took form in a series of articles published in "The National Observer" in 1894, and then finally as a serial novel in "The New Review" in early 1895 when editor W. E. Henley moved from one publication to the other at the end of 1894 and convinced Wells to write it as a serial for his new publication.
The story itself is quite unusual as well. Wells refrains from naming the Time Traveler at all, and the narrator also remains nameless except one reference to a person named Hillyer in the final chapter before the Epilogue, which apparently refers to him. The only major character whose name is repeatedly used is Weena, the childlike woman whom the Time Traveler meets in the year 802,701 A.D. Though Verne would have considered the Time Machine a cheat, i.e. non-scientific, Wells does include other bits and pieces of science in the telling of this tale and there is a point he is making about science as well. He touches on evolution, astrophysics, and sociology in looking at what could happen to a society if life is too much of a utopia, as well as looking at the social divisions in the society of his time and where they may lead.
The story is a quick read, at around 90 pages, and just 12 chapters and the epilogue the reader can easily get through this in a single sitting if they desire. It also, despite its flaws, captures the reader's attention and so one is willing to forgive the flaws in the story-telling.
The Penguin Classics edition of "The Time Machine" also contains an Introduction by Marina Warner, notes on the text by the editor Patrick Parrinder, and textual notes by Steven Mclean. Lastly, though certainly not least, it contains Wells preface to the 1931 edition of "The Time Machine" in which Wells discusses the circumstances in his life when he wrote it, as well as his view that the work will outlive him. Flawed though the story may be, it is a significant work, very readable, and the Penguin Classics edition adds to the experience with the added material.