Thursday, 21 May 2009

The Machine

While time travel appeared in stories before H.G. Wells, it is Wells who introduced the idea of the Time Machine. By making time travel a mechanical process relying on the ideas of a scientist he brought the idea into the sci-fi genre he was busily making his own. Wells' story uses the time travel plot device in order to explore evolutionary theory - the upper and lower class trends of the day are extrapolated into the distant future in which humanity has diverged into two distinct species, the childlike Eloi and the more animal, although possibly more intelligent Morlocks. Wells didn't introduce any ideas about changing the future or time travel paradoxes - change was of course offered to Scrooge by Dickens while the paradoxes are a more recent time travel theme.

The classic 1960 film starred Rod Taylor and was directed by George Pal. More recently, Simon Wells, great grandson of H.G., directed a re-make with Guy Pearce and Samantha Mumba. This was disappointing in some ways but introduced a version of the time travel paradox - the traveller is only driven to complete his invention following the death of his girlfriend, and tries repeatedly to save her life - each time, she is killed in some other, quite different but equally unexpected way. Eventually he stops trying and instead sets off for the future, where he is finally given a sad explanation for the paradox.

There's also an official, Wells-estate-sanctioned sequel written by Stephen Baxter, The Time Ships. In this book time travel has consequences: the traveller has returned from the future and shared his experiences and this has changed the future. Baxter's story uses the time travel device to explore a range of imaginative scenarios including a First World War that has persisted for decades, and a future where the Morlocks developed very differently from Wells' description - all the while developing Wells' ideas about class and evolution.

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