The 1960 Rod Taylor film, of the same name, was in steady rotation when I was a kid. I don’t think I’ve seen it in 25 years, though, so I only have the vaguest memories of it. In my mind, the Morlocks looked like Blanka from Super Street Fighter II, and the access points to their underground layer looked remarkably like the concrete sewer risers in my hometown. When I was 10, the city began work on a large system of culverts just outside my neighborhood. I always imagined that exploring them would reveal the Morlocks to me.
I explored them incessantly.
There’s something remarkable about The Time Machine. Written in 1895, the world of H.G. Wells was one of perpetual growth with the expectation that the wonder of invention was on an upward swing that would never cease. This optimism and interest in the direction of humanity’s evolution gave rise not only to this book, but to the larger genre of science fiction. The difference in time between this review and the Cuban Missile Crisis, for instance, is roughly the same amount of time between this book and the inability of mankind to travel faster than the speed of a horse – which had been the upper limit of human modality for thousands of years. That’s a monumental change, and an incredibly short period of time. I know people who remember the Cuban Missile Crisis. Similarly, the Darwinian theory of evolution, the geologic time scale and arguments of the age of the earth, Thomas Edison’s work on the light bulb, the telephone…….the world was changing at a faster pace than at any other point in human history. The worlds of either generation book-ending H.G. Wells were remarkably different from one another, making The Time Machine a kind of nexus point in human history.
I think this book could only have been written at this time. An earlier era wouldn’t have had the developments of the mid- to late-19th century to build on, and a later era would’ve grown jaded by all the wonder that preceded it. Philip K. Dick’s exploration of the future was much more bleak, but had far less wonder, and our explorations of the future, today, are almost exclusively dystopian. None of which negates the import of Wells’ The Time Machine, for it, too, depicts not only the twilight of human civilization (now riven by Capitalism so completely that capital and labor have diverged evolutionarily), but also the end of the world and death of the sun. But this is all in service to his commentary on contemporary society – not as a masturbatory exploration of mankind’s failure to live up to its ideals.
The Time Machine, fundamentally, is about the majesty of innovation and the wonder of all that lays before us, but it is also a warning that what we do today can have drastic effects on those who follow us. It is both a product of its time, and an effort to reach out to us, in Wells future, in the hopes that we continue to better ourselves.
It’s just too bad that, in my mind, the Morlocks look like the 16-bit green monster from a childhood video game.