Feb 4, 2009

The Time Machine by H.G. Wells

As I walked I was watching for every impression that could possibly help to explain the condition of ruinous splendour in which I found the world - for ruinous it was. A little way up the hill, for instance, was a great heap of granite, bound together by masses of aluminium, a vast labyrinth of precipitous walls and crumpled heaps, amidst which were thick heaps of very beautiful pagoda-like plants - nettles possibly - but wonderfully tinted with brown about the leaves, and incapable of stinging. It was evidently the derelict remains of some vast structure, to what end built I could not determine. It was here that I was destined, at a later date, to have a very strange experience - the first intimation of a still stranger discovery - but of that I will speak in its proper place.
The Time Machine is the story of an unnamed inventor who tells his friends about his adventures travelling in time. Using a time machine of his own making, he travels to the year 802,701, and the world he encounters is completely unlike the one he left behind. I don’t want to give too much away, but London has become a wild garden, and the earth is apparently solely inhabited be a humanoid species, the Eloi.

This was my first time reading Wells’ longer fiction, and, like his short stories, The Time Machine is absolutely gripping. It was first published in 1895, but the writing itself feels very modern. Of course, in other ways it’s very noticeably a late Victorian story. The conception of science, for example, is clearly a Victorian one. And the book deals with themes that were shaking up society at the time, namely evolution and class issues. (I thought it was so interesting that Wells was Thomas Huxley’s student!)

Social class is very much at the heart of this story, but I can’t really explain how without giving too much away. I thought it was interesting how both the class issues Wells brings up and the ones he does not bring up play an important role in the story. *spoilers warning* For example, which of the two species is the most dehumanized? And what does that tells us? *spoilers over*

Another very nineteenth century thing was the fact that The Time Machine is really an adventure-in-an-exotic-place kind of story, but instead of in space, the protagonist travels in time. I’m really not complaining; I like stories of that kind. But of course, that old contrast between “barbarians” and the “civilized gentleman” was very much there.

I guess it’s not a spoiler to say that after the main story, set in 802,701, the Time Traveller travels even further into the future. I think those bits, unsettling though they were, were my absolute favourites.

I also really liked the way the story was framed. The narrator is not the Time Traveller himself, but one of his friends, who also remains unnamed. The Time Traveller tells his tale after dinner one evening and then… well, I won’t tell you what happens, but it’s similar to what I wrote about M.R. James’ ghost stories. The knowledge of the world’s strangeness, of unexplored possibilities, remains. Nothing concrete is discovered, but we get a glimpse.

As you can probably tell by now, I really enjoyed The Time Machine, and I look forward to reading more Wells. The War of the Worlds will probably be my next. Are you a Wells fan? And if so, which one’s your favourite?

You can read The Time Machine online here. You can also read a chapter that was removed from the book here.

Other Blog Reviews:
Becky’s Book Reviews
It's All About Me
Melissa's Bookshelf
Rat's Reading
Once Upon a Bookshelf
Age 30+... A Lifetime of Books
Reading Comes from Writing

(Let me know if I missed yours.)


  1. great review! I am reading War of the Worlds by the same author, and enjoying it.

  2. Hi, you have a nice blog

  3. I've always enjoyed his novels, but I don't think I've read any of his short stories... maybe something about an egg? A gem/futirstic sci-fi macguffin shaped like an egg? Any particular stories you'd recommend?

  4. My son is an H. G. Wells fan - I think he's read all of his books and The Time Machine is probably one of his favorites.

  5. Being a Huxley fan(atic), I don't know how I haven't read any Wells. Apparently, the two go together very well.

    Yet another to my TBR list!

  6. I loved this book! This is one of my favorite science fiction books...glad you enjoyed it too Nymeth :D

  7. I am a BIG Wells fan. I discovered him in the fall of 2007, I believe. There for about two months, my blog became Wells-focused. I couldn't get enough :) Time Machine and War of the Worlds are probably my two favs. But as I said, I read everything I could get my hands on of his science fiction. Oddly enough, I haven't read his short stories yet.

  8. When I was a child, a close friend owned some of those redacted-for-young-adults versions of the classics. One of them happened to be The Time Machine. Every time I went over to his place, I worked that book. It siezed my imagination. Must have read it four or five times.

  9. I have yet to find a Wells book that I like. I tried reading The Sleeper Awakes but only got about 50 pages into it before giving up, and then I had to read War of the Worlds in December and hated every minute of it. My 8-year-old son likes Wells, and he thought War of the Worlds was boring, too, so maybe sometime I ought to give one of the ones he liked a try. He said WotW was much different from the other books, including The Time Machine.

  10. Come see what you've won from the Japanese literature challenge~ ;)

  11. I haven't read any Wells but your review almost convinced I should! ;)

  12. This is another one of those books that I want to read, but haven't got to yet! There are a lot of those...

  13. Now that's truly strange...

    I can't remember if I've read this book or not. I usually have some sort of idea...

    But, I can say I totally love the old movie they made of it. So, maybe that's why I'm not sure if I've read the book or just seen the movie.


  14. just wondered if you have seen the movies of any of his books ?? (the older movies ..not tom cruise's war of the worlds)

  15. wow, your review sounded so interesting that i went to the online version and read chapter 1 immediately. I'll deifnitely continue! Thanks!

  16. This one is definitely going on my TBR list. I don't know why I've never read it before. Since my recent attachment to Jules Verne, I've been reminded that I really do love these "older" authors. Plus I'm a fan of all the radio and tv adaptations of Wells's books, so I'm sure to enjoy the originals!

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  18. cool! I'd love to read it :D
    and it's also on the Guardian must read sci-fi list!

  19. This is another book that I keep postponing reading. Great review, Nymeth!

  20. I always thought for sure I wouldn't like Wells. I can't even tell you why but anyway, I finally read one if his books with the Slaves of Golconda reading group and was just amazed. We discussed The Island of Dr. Moreau. It was a bit horrifying and just made you think a lot about humanity. I definitely need to read more by him.

  21. This sounds fantastic. I've only read one Wells book- The Invisible Man- and I'd love to read more. That quote you shared has a wonderful flavor of writing, that I would savor.

  22. Now I really don't want to wait to read this!!! You really made me remember all the things I loved so much when I read my first Wells last year with The War of the Worlds. I so love his writing...like you said it feels so contemporary and yet you can tell it's not. Plus he writes these fun sci-fi stories that have such deeper issues within them.
    I learned that he was Huxley's student when I read the intro in The War of the Worlds. A fact that very much impressed Rich. I think he's actually planning on reading War of the Worlds soon. But right now, Annie and I have him reading Coraline...his first Gaiman!

  23. I read War of the Worlds and really liked it. The Time Machine sounds good. I may have to look into reading it eventually Great review as usual Nymeth.

  24. Wonderful review! I've never read any H.G. Wells, but I've seen several of his books as movies (War of the Worlds, Time Machine) and loved them.

  25. Naida, glad to hear you're enjoying it.

    Zawan: Thank you!

    Rob: I can't remember an egg, but it's been a while. I should get that new edition of his stories with a Neil Gaiman introduction and re-read them. My absolute favourite Wells short story is The Country of the Blind. It's longish, but so worth it.

    bermudaonion: It does seem to be one of the best loved books among Wells fans.

    saveophelia: I hope you enjoy Wells when you get to him :)

    Chris: I can see why it's one of your favourites. Thanks for encouraging me to read it!

    Becky: I remember your Wells phase - you made me want to read him too! I'm tempted to try and get War of the Worlds before the end of the sci-fi experience.

    Loren Eaton: I can see why. I know I'd have become obsessed with this book as a kid. But I still loved it now.

    Amanda: Sorry to hear War of the Worlds didn't work for you! I found both this and the short stories very readable.

    Bellezza: You made my day :D Thanks again!

    Kim: Almost, eh? :P

    Kailana: lol, there are a lot of those indeed!

    CJ: That happens, especially if a story becomes such a big part of popular culture, and that definitely seems to be the case with this one!

    Deslily: I haven't, no. But I want to now. The book is very "visual" and I think it'd make a great movie. Plus since it's so short there's no need to cut anything out :P

  26. Joanna, I'm glad you enjoyed the first chapter! I look forward to your thoughts on the whole thing.

    Heather: I really want to re-read Verne! I read him as a kid and then never again. And I think I'd appreciate his stuff even more now.

    Valentina: It is! So that makes...23 for me, or something :P

    Alice: the good news is that it's a really quick read! I hope you enjoy it when you get to it.

    Iliana: It's funny how we form pre-conceived ideas about authors we haven't read that turn out to be completely wrong, isn't it? That's happened to me a couple of times too.I've heard that The Island of Dr. Moreau has some disturbing bits, but it still sounds like something I'd really enjoy.

    Jeanne: I want to read The Invisible Man too. I was particularly curious about the character after reading The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

    Debi: it's true, from the short stories and now this I can tell that he always deals with important themes. But that doesn't mean the stories are any less fun to read, like you said. How cool that Rich is reading Coraline! Is it in preparation for the movie by any chance?

    Dar: Thank you! You're all making me want to drop everything and read War of the Worlds right away :P

    Terri B: Then you'd probably enjoy the books too :)

  27. I've never even considered reading HG Wells before, but after that review, I'll think again! Thanks!

  28. I've had this book on my TBR list for so long now! I've only read one of Well's books before - The Invisible Man - but definitely like the way he wrote. Your review has definitely made me more curious about this book. It may be bumped up on my list. Thanks! :)

    (Also, I sent you your interview questions, and want to make sure that you've received them. If you haven't, let me know and I'll send them again.)

  29. One of the first sci fi stories I ever read and I really think it stands the test of time. My favourite Wells is The War of the Worlds though. Penguin must have just republished some sci fi and horror classics because the Bram Stoker I'm reading at the moment has the same basic cover design as your Time Machine. Good for Penguin!

  30. Great review. I have read some of Wells stories but not this one. It sounds like much more than what I had expected, so I will have to get around to reading it.

  31. Mariel: Somehow I had never thought of reading him either until an English teacher used one of his stories in class ages ago. I was immediately hooked!

    Court: His writing is great, isn't it? It has that Victorian flavour, but it doesn't make you struggle at all. Also, as I told you already by now, loved your questions :D

    cath: Penguin has been coming up with some great editions lately!

    Joanne, I hope you enjoy it. Wells surpassed my expectations too.

  32. This sounds like a fun book. I haven't read anything by H.G. Wells before, but you've convinced me that I should. Thanks for the great review, Nymeth.

  33. He published quite a lot in his lifetime didn't he? Unfortunately I don't think I've had the pleasure of reading anything by him.

  34. Maybe I'll pick this one up for the classics challenge. It's sitting on my shelf but I didn't really care for War of the Worlds, so I've been putting it off a bit. This sounds like it might be a little more compelling, though.


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