Some great stories begin with friends arguing beside a fire in the wintertime:
Ale’s Friend: But how can you write science fiction if you’re not a scientist?
Ale: Does science fiction require us to be scientists?
Friend: Surely the best science fiction is written by scientists.
Ale: Perhaps, perhaps.
My friend Jasmine has been recommending The Time Machine for a long time, calling it a gem that she often revisits. It was a cold and still night in DC, so I decided to take a gander and drift into another world before my dreams visited me.
The Father of Science Fiction, the Grandpa of All Things Good, the Soothsayer- what has H. G. Wells not been called. When I first started reading The Time Machine, which seems more like a novella than a novel, I was surprised by its simplicity and- wait for it- timelessness.
In reading it, I expected clunky, fantastical images, so you can imagine how surprised I was to find an ordinary yet provocative first scene- a couple of friends chatting about four dimensions- a conversation I, too, have had with friends in NYC.
The synopsis is simple: the Time Traveler expounds upon his new invention- the time machine. Then, he proceeds to recount his adventures in some distant future where humanity has been reduced to a lackadaisical state of frolicking and muttering incomprehensible sounds. The Time traveler calls them the Eloi. While it seems like a paradise, the emergence of the Morlocks from the bowels of the earth suggests that there is more to the story than the Time Traveler imagined. Cue in a missing Time Machine and then the final recuperation before the Time Traveler returns to his home.
Throughout his voyages, the Time Traveler speculates on what causes the Eloi to devolve into listless beings and the Morlocks cannibalistic savages. The story focuses less on the mechanics of the time machine and more on fundamental human questions of the future: who are we, where are we going, what will we be.
Therein lies the essence of science fiction- the speculation of things to come, the seeds of which are in our present day. I am amazed at how ageless the novel seems… we owe many things to Wells (and I’m not talking about movies starring Tom Cruise). I’m talking about that sense of wonder at possibilities of the future, or futurity, as Wells likes to call it, but more importantly- what those possibilities mean to the human condition. To think that in 1895 such a novel was written makes me think that H.G. Wells was a time traveler and visited us in our lonely 21st century, where technology is already mutating us towards the Eloi.
Perhaps science fiction requires a mind to be a little deranged, a little prophetic. To answer my dear friend I mentioned at the beginning of this post- it requires less of a scientist and more of a visionary in tune with the social problems of humanity across the ages to write such a novel like The Time Machine.