I don’t remember when I first read The Time Machine by H.G. Wells, but it has remained one of my favorite sci-fi novels. I’m sure I decided to read it after watching the 1960 movie based the book. That movie is still a favorite of mine.
Mr. Wells starts his novel with two intriguing chapters. In the first, the Time Traveller describes his theory of how people ignore Time as the fourth dimension. In the second the Time Traveller’s friends gather at his house for supper. When he doesn’t appear, they begin the meal. As they are eating, the Time Traveller bursts in on them, disheveled and limping. with a story of how he left in his time machine that morning and has just returned from the trip.
In the introduction in the version of the book I own. science fiction writer Greg Bear says that the invention of a machine that would allow people to travel through time was a completely new idea imagined by Mr. Wells. Before that, any story concerning time travel used magical means. Not only is this the first book Mr. Wells wrote and established his fame, but Mr. Bear also calls it “the first modern science fiction novel.”
What I learned from The Time Machine is the importance of world-building. Mr. Wells describes what the area that used to be London looks in the year 802, 701. Two settings have always stuck with me. The first are the golden sunsets. The Time Traveller overlooks the seemingly peaceful pastoral scene under the setting sun and likens it to what he thinks is the sunset of humanity. Many times when I’m out on a summer evening, I remember this setting.
The second setting is an abandoned museum. The Time Traveller explores this when he is trying to figure out what has happened to his time machine, which disappeared shortly after he arrived. There’s something poignant about this building designed to showcase wonders and educate people left to ruin. When I visit a museum, like the Field Museum in Chicago, I imagine what it would look like empty, with decades of dust weighing down everything. What would a person of that distant time learn about us?
What are some of you favorite sci-fi or fantasy novels?