Since he’s relevant to an upcoming review, I thought I’d drag out the results of reading almost all of his fantasy and science fiction.
Thus, the first installment on a classic author.
Raw Feed (1996): The Time Machine, H. G. Wells, 1895.
I hadn’t read this novel in 22 years.
I got a lot more out of it this time, particularly the sense of modernity both in Wells’ scientific notions and his literary concerns.
Technically, I was struck by how Wells gets to literarily have his cake and eat it too when the Time Traveler postulates explanations – which then turn out to be wrong – for the world of the Morlocks and Eloi – and then gives what is the presumably correct explanation.
Wells was, of course, fascinated by Darwinian theory (and lectured on it) and its implications for human society. Many of his speculations in this novel are very reminiscent of the supposedly new field of evolutionary psychology (which obviously uses ideas at least 100 years old).
Two in particular stood out.
First, the idea that intelligence is not necessarily a survival trait.
Second, that certain traits – like physical courage, jealousy, and love of battle – could be remnants of survival traits that may be hindrances to civilization. Indeed, ambition, intelligence, physical and intellectual prowess could be anti-survival traits in the subjugated world of “perfect comfort and security” the Time Traveler wrongly theorizes led up to the Morlock-Eloi world.
Wells, the advocate of women’s rights and free love, also has the Time Traveler throw out the proposition that, when technology lessens the necessity of physical strength, the traditional family for child rearing becomes unnecessary, and, indeed, the sexes become less physically differentiated.
The actual origin of the Morlock-ELoi world is a bitter irony that owes something to Marx and Disraeli’s “Two Nations”. Communism is specifically mentioned by the Time Traveler as the Eloi’s mode of living.
The irony is two-fold.
First, the supposedly classless society that is the result of the final dialectic of Marxist history is never met. Man has evolved into two very definite (culturally and biologically) classes.
Second, though the classless society is never built, the “balanced civilisation” is the result of a both a triumph over nature and Eloi over Morlock with both getting what they want – Eloi Capitalist get perfect security; Morlock Labourer (the Marxist terms are employed by the Time Traveler) gets job security; Eloi Haves get lesiure; Morlock Have Nots are controlled by the infrastructure they live in.
The balanced civilization degenerates, though. The aristocratically descended Eloi become sheep-like, creatures of two word sentences, and, in a sort of twist on Johnathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal”, literally food for the Morlock underclass.
The book is pessimistic, a gloomy meditation on the insignificance of humanity and the futility of existence. The Time Traveler travels far ahead to view a dying sun and cold Earth. The narrator concludes – after hearing from the Time Traveler “how brief the dream of the human intellect had been” and of the end of civilization – that it “remains for us to live as though it were not so”. (Sort of a secular version of Pascal’s Wager.)
In the heart of vapid Weena, “gratitude and a mutual tenderness still lived on” after mind and strength died. Such an emotional and romantic ending seems odd coming from scientist and rationalist Wells. We expect no paens to emotion.