The Time Traveller had finally finished work on his time machine, and it rocketed him into the future. When the machine stops, in the year 802,701 AD, he finds himself in a paradisiacal world of small humanoid creatures called Eloi.
“Face this world. Learn its ways, watch it, be careful of too hasty guesses at its meaning. In the end you will find clues to it all.”
He is initially delighted to find that suffering has been replaced by beauty, contentment and peace. Entranced at first by the Eloi, an elfin species descended from man, he soon realises that this beautiful people are simply remnants of a once-great culture now weak and childishly afraid of the dark. They have every reason to be afraid: in deep tunnels beneath their paradise lurks another race descended from humanity the sinister Morlocks. And when the scientist’s time machine vanishes, it becomes clear he must search these tunnels, if he is ever to return to his own era.
Why I liked this book
H.G. Wells presents a future for humanity that is a far cry from the superglossed one that transhumanists and other enhancement enthusiasts keep dangling in front of our noses. What awaits us in his vision is not an “engineered Paradise” (David Pearce), nor “lives wonderful beyond imagination” (Nick Bostrom), even though at first glance it looks like a paradise and it was actually meant to be one. It’s a dystopia that started out as a eutopia, and that still disguises itself as one. But Wells shows us that every paradise has a dark side, that there’s always a price to pay, and that what seems to be progress may well prove to be humanity’s downfall. It is quite likely that as a species we will develop further, and it’s even possible that we are able to steer that development in the direction that appears most desirable to us. But that doesn’t mean that we will like what we will get. We tend to think of the posthuman as something that is better than a mere human, more advanced, an improved human. But the posthuman may just as well turn out to be in some important respect less than human.
Wells’s time traveller travels further and further into the future until eventually even those shrunken versions of our present selves have vanished. Wells allows us a glimpse at a time when we’ll all be gone for good, and there will be nothing left. It will be as if we had never existed, the world an empty, desolate place. It’s a truly chilling prospect, masterly set on scene by Wells:
“The darkness grew apace; a cold wind began to blow in freshening gusts from the east, and the showering white flakes in the air increased in number. From the edge of the sea came a ripple and whisper. Beyond these lifeless sounds the world was silent. Silent? It would be hard to convey the stillness of it. All the sounds of man, the bleating of sheep, the cries of birds, the hum of insects, the stir that makes the background of our lives – all that was over. As the darkness thickened, the eddying flakes grew more abundant, dancing before my eyes; and the cold of the air more intense. At last, one by one, swiftly, one after the other, the white peaks of the distant hills vanished into blackness. The breeze rose to a moaning wind. I saw the black central shadow of the eclipse sweeping towards me. In another moment the pale stars alone were visible. All else was rayless obscurity. The sky was absolutely black.”
Herbert George Wells was born into a decidedly middle-class family on September 21, 1866, in the London borough of Bromley. His father was a tradesman and his mother a Lady’s maid. Central to the experiences of his youth was an acute awareness of class structure that was emphasized by the position of his family in the class-conscious English society of the time.
After a basic education he became a pupil-teacher at the Midhurst Grammar School and secured a scholarship that allowed him to study with T.H. Huxley, the champion of Darwinism in England. After completing his studies with Huxley, Wells worked in a number of professions including journalism until 1895 when The Time Machine was published.
From that point on, Wells became a full-time writer. The Island of Dr. Moreau was published in the following year and War of the Worlds two years later. Wells produced a significant corpus of journalistic, philosophical, and political writing as well as fiction.
Two works in particular, The Discovery of the Future (1902) and Mankind in the Making (1903) caught the attention of George Bernard Shaw and Wells was invited to join the Fabian Society.
In 1920 Wells wrote an immensely popular historical work, The Outline of History. As evidenced by his involvement in the establishment of the League of Nations, Wells was continually involved with questions of social reform. During the Second World War he created the first draft of what would become the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. He died in London on August 13, 1946.