Wednesday 5 May 2021

Book review: H G Wells anthology

Containing The War of the Worlds as well as The First Men in the Moon and When the Sleeper Awakes, and some other shorter pieces but not The Time Machine.

They aren't great. His style is rather dull; the men-in-the-moon I found interminable; and the holes in his proposed tech are so gaping as to be not worth poking. Perhaps unfairly, the ideas don't seem very interesting; he has through no fault of his own been overtaken by both events and other authors. The frame-stories of Victorian gentlemen become tedious after a while.

When the Sleeper Awakes is perhaps the best, after WotW. Man falls asleep for 203 years and when he wakes up compound interest and blah has implausibly made him the nominal ruler of the world; but really of course he isn't; he frees himself from the White Council, and then from Ostrog, and then dies before the cycle can continue another round. It is a lot better than it could be but still... not very good.

The Time Machine

TTM isn't in the book, but I read it after on Kindle, since Gutenberg has it. I remember it from childhood as a film, quite a good one. The book though has all the flaws of the other works. So, the Time Traveller returns - to a dinner party, of course - and tells his tale. And says "well I don't suppose you believe me". And no-one says "well if you really do have a time machine, go forward a week and tell me the result of the 2:30 at Epsom" or how stocks are going to change. No-one says "go into the past and tell me...". So, clearly, no-one does believe him. And in some way it seems even Wells doesn't believe himself; he can't be bothered to invent whatever excuses people are now used to making for why you can't do that; or perhaps, it being a new idea, he didn't think the obvious excuses would work. Come to that, his excuses for why "time travel" renders the traveller invisible and (he doesn't even provide an excuse for this latter) invulnerable don't wash. Really, the story isn't about time travel, that is just necessary to get his narrator in place, it is about future-earth: how humans and the planet might evolve over long periods of time. Similarly, his traveller is pathetically badly prepared for the trip; and makes no attempt to retrieve anything from the future or find anything out.

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