Sequels to The Time Machine

Alongside my collection of Sherlock Holmes works, I have a similar if smaller “project” in progress with one of Holmes’ literary contemporaries, The Time Traveler.

I presume that most literate readers will have at least some vague awareness of H.G. Wells’s classic story “The Time Machine.” It has been adapted into film a few times, and I think one or two of the concepts have even taken on a life of their own. (I don’t recall when I first read the original story, but during my adolescence I was probably much more familiar with “Morlocks” as an X-Men concept.) In any event it’s something of an ur-time-travel story, almost consciously so. Its protagonist is, in fact, identified only as “The Time Traveler.”

I highly recommend this story to those who may not have read it. For those who have, and might be interested in various authors’ sequels, I offer a few notes on my readings thus far in this submicrogenre.

As with the original story, I don’t recall exactly when I first encountered Time Machine sequels. Around three or four years ago. Probably at some point I re-read the original, and then looked online for notes, and found the Wikipedia entry… at all events, it has been my main guide to discovering permutations.

Their list now numbers close to 20 sequels or extensions of some sort. I have read six, to date. I own three of these, though less because I’m collecting them than because in some cases purchase has been the only practical means of accessing the text.

I do, however, expect to keep The Time Ships around, at least. This is by far my favorite to date, a fantastic epic by Stephen Baxter. There is a middle act which, to my mind, did sag a bit compared with what’s around it. But the last act is just magnificent. Science fiction at its most ambitious. Full marks.

My next favorite is “The Hertford Manuscript,” by Richard Cowper. His approach is nearly the opposite of Baxter’s in almost every way. The Time Ships is an epic novel of the distant future; “The Hertford Manuscript” is a short story confined to the past. Of the sequels I have read so far, it’s probably the tidiest and most direct answer to “what happened to the Time Traveler” (who departs to an unknown fate at the end of the original story). I also like how it captures the Time Traveler’s interesting position as an increasingly antique figure, who can travel centuries into the past and fit in more easily than he might in our own world, barely 100 years later.

I’m not sure how to rank the rest of my reading, here, as all four are quite different. Both Paul Schullery’s novel The Time Traveler’s Tale, and Hal Colebatch’s Time-Machine Troopers are relatively straightforward sequels, returning the protagonist to 802,701 where he learns more about the Eloi and Morlocks. The details of what he learns differ, of course, though in both cases the Morlocks prove to be more civilized than they first appeared. Schullery goes further in redeveloping their background, but is otherwise a tad sedate; Colebatch’s plot is by contrast so full of novel details as to approach parody.

“On the Surface,” by Robert J. Sawyer, diverges along a different axis. Also featuring a suggestion of parody, it’s a short story from the perspective of the Morlocks, who are gifted with reason and ingenuity while at the same time left as grotesque as in Wells’s original account. The Time Traveler is absent entirely.

Finally, The Return of the Time Machine by Egon Friedell is not only another oddball among these stories but an oddball, in general. I can’t say I particularly loved it, but it’s well worth reading just for the strangeness. Mostly a 2/3 scientific and 1/3 mystical speculation on the mechanics of time travel itself, this is that rare work that seems almost completely unrelated to the rest of the time travel genre. The bizarre film Primer is the only comparable example I can think of at the moment.

That’s it for individual notes, for now… I believe I will come back and consider themes and variations among the whole group another time, perhaps when I get around to finding another example.

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