Monday, July 27, 2009

Dystopia Challenge Review #13: The Time Machine, H. G. Wells

The bulk of this story takes place at a dinner party at which the protagonist, the Time Traveller (TT), relates for his guests the last eight days of his life which have been spent in the year 802,701. It is told to the reader several years after the fact by someone who was at the party.

In the future TT has found that humankind has reached a seemingly golden age in which there is no war, disease or famine. Without grit and hardship humans have evolved into small-statured beings who frolic and giggle and do very little else. Technology has conquered nature. But there's something below ground, something that makes the sweet, carefree Eloi squeak and shudder with dread.

Not long after TT "lands" in the future he makes confident inferences about what he sees, based on very little. After theorising for several lengthy paragraphs he cheerfully tells his listeners that, after all, he is wrong. He does this, rather irritatingly, over and over again, revealing more about the assumptions and values of the 1890s than anything else.

The Time Machine is an enjoyable and charmingly flawed read. A mere ninety pages in length, those ninety pages are rather dense, all description and very little dialogue, and I found myself having to read it in short bursts as I easily became distracted. But there is humour to it, and I enjoyed TT's self-deprecating style. It is also quite chilling in the end, making grave predictions about class and industrialised societies. The science of time travel was fleshed out just enough (for me at least) to allow the reader to suspend their disbelief and enjoy the story.

I've heard this book being referred to as the first dystopian novel. Published in 1895, it seems to have been penned early enough to be considered so. Overall I found it to be worthy of the appellation.

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