The Time Ships

The start of a series on works related to H. G. Wells.

Tomorrow, assuming I complete the second draft by then, you’ll get a review of something and completely unrelated to Wells.

I have not yet read Baxter’s new sequel to Wells’ The Massacre of Mankind.

Raw Feed (1996): The Time Ships, Stephen Baxter, 1995.Time Ships

I liked this book but not so much for its nifty ideas as its explicit and implicit comments on H.G. Wells’ sf.

To be sure there is a very broad vista of adventure here as the Time Traveler returns from the world of the Eloi and Morlocks of Wells’ The Time Machine and then goes into an alternate version of that future back then to an alternate version of his past into an alternate version of Europe circa 1938 then back to the Paleocene then in to the far future back to the beginning of time and back to the Time Traveler’s world then a final return to The Time Machine world. Along the way a lot of philosophical and speculative science ideas are introduced but, for my mind (perhaps unfairly since most sf authors steal their ideas from science), their impact is blunted by being introduced to them before: the multiple world interpretation of quantum mechanics which allows time travel into the past and creation of seeming paradoxes, the idea of machine intelligence and its evolution, the Morlock Dyson sphere. The multiple world quantum interpretation and circular nature of the Time Traveler’s epic journey reminded me of George Zebrowski’s Stranger Suns and Poul Anderson’s “Flight to Forever” respectively.

I did find some startling new notions: the creation of life from scratch via a logical progression in nanotechnology, the purpose of sentient life is to acquire knowledge (perhaps beyond the universe), the idea of Kurt Godel that – as no system of logic can be free of unprovable statements – no ultimate meaning of a timeline must be sought outside in the Multiplicity. Perhaps Baxter’s Watcher is the mind that observes the Multiplicity.

However, I liked Baxter’s comments on and homage to Wells’ work from the description of the journalist (the Writer of The Time Machine) to the brief allusion to the red weed of The War of the Worlds, the huge tanks a la “The Land Ironclads” to the aerial wars of The War in the Air and The Shape of Things to Come. I liked Baxter maintaining, in their physical separation on the Dyson Sphere, the distance between Eloi and Morlock. I liked the Time Traveler deciding that, despite his epic journey and being reconstituted from the dead by ant-like machine intelligences, deciding his actions in the Multiplicity have meaning, to revel in the physicality of his existence, and to find ultimate happiness and satisfaction in friendship and his love of Weena (whose death in The Time Machine he reverses). His actions have quite a lot of meaning, but he decides that all human lives have meaning. He also embarks on a course of attempting to alter the Eloi-Morlock relationship.

But the part of the novel I liked best was the grim, domed-over London locked in a war out of The Shape of Things to Come since 1914. Here Baxter seems to criticize the rationalistic utopian notions (the phrase “the dangerous, murderous and utopic drive in all our hearts” by Michael Novak comes to mind) of socialist Wells. In this world, Wells, aka the Writer, speaks of the “Uplands of the Future”, of the cleansing of man’s soul, is a propagandist for the war.

The Uplands of the future is a totalitarian theory of democracy’s failure, a future of “re-nucleation” where the industrial age has rendered the family obsolete (somewhat in line with the Time Traveler’s speculation in The Time Machine that women, due to industrialization, became physically more like men and are divorced from child rearing), opposition outlawed, everything planned by government, no private property, planning of all resources including humans, euthanasia, and racial hygiene.

The Time Traveler – unlike Wells — is horrified by the “New World Order”. In Wells’ view, people should not have to be asked what they want. They should be told what they ought to want and what they want. Wells, here, comes off as an example of the scientist/writer with a totalitarian streak.

Other fictional characters of Wells’ as well as real historical figures put in appearances. Orwell (another favorite figure of recursive sf – at least lately) puts in a cameo as a Home Guard. I also liked Nebgropifel as the wise Morlock.


More reviews of science fiction are indexed by title and author/editor.

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