While The Time Machine’s plot is pretty quick moving and interesting, and the world that Wells creates is intriguing, the book as a whole suffers from one of the same problems that I think most H.G. Wells novels suffer from. The characters are anonymous to the point of being uninteresting.
“The time traveler” himself doesn’t even get a name, let alone much of a backstory. The narrator of the frame story refers to other characters as “Mr. ____” or “the editor” and provides no other personality traits. There’s a mysterious character who appears the night that the time traveler returns and tells his tale, but it’s never revealed who he is or why he’s important.
This is an attribute of a lot of science fiction, especially written in this era. But I find it very difficult to understand a character’s motivations when the author provides no information about how they have come to the world--what they’ve seen before and how they might interpret the situations before them. The author develops a robust environment, but crucial details of it get lost when the reader can’t understand the main character’s train of thought.
Also, and again like Wells’s other works I’ve read, the characters have an intolerably English-white-male-centric view of the world. From the little I know about Wells as a person, I understand that he was quite progressive for his time. But his nameless, featureless characters who travel to exotic and fantastic worlds with entirely different species and culture can only interpret things from the most basic, stereotypical, privileged viewpoint imaginable.
All that said, The Time Machine contains some really interesting ideas. Even if the time traveler’s motivations aren’t always decipherable, his actions are entertaining, his descriptions are vivid, and his fear feels real. The reader is drawn into the mystery of the futuristic world he encounters and saddened to realize the horrible truth behind it.
But for my taste, unique concepts and plotlines aren’t enough to sustain a novel.
Friend and writer Lia Eastep sent me these questions for sort-of a blog self-interview. You should check out her site to see her responses, but here are mine.
1) What am I working on?
Predominately, I’m working on a novel, my first. The story involves some characters who are ghosts, others who can freely interact with the ghosts, and others who don’t believe in ghosts at all but who think they’ve stumbled on a way to produce truly clean energy. I’m about 2/3 through the first draft, although I’ve already rewritten most of the middle part, so maybe it’s more like draft 1.5?
In addition to the novel, I’m working on the next series of my online comic, The Outbreak. One series, “Monster at the Institute,” is already online and freely available, and the next one, “The Hunter,” is being drawn by Michael Neno now. Hopefully, I’ll have that one ready to go by the end of August. I’m working on additional stories and scripts for The Outbreak as well.
2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?
The Outbreak uses a unique presentation platform, Prezi. As far as I know, mine is the first comic to use Prezi in this way. When I started this project, I knew wanted to have an online comic (for ease of production and cost reasons), and I didn’t understand why so many online comics look like they’re intended to be print comics that are then scanned and slapped up on a website. At best, this requires reader software that allows you to zoom in on the panels in order, like the Comixology and Dark Horse apps allow. But often, you’re basically just looking at a portrait-oriented PDF on your landscape-oriented monitor, zooming in to see the art and text better. I’d used Prezi at work before, and I really liked the way it directs viewers through a large canvas, pointing you to exactly what you need to see at the zoom level you need to see it. This seemed like a good way to push viewers through my born-digital comic without requiring too much re-learning from readers or custom programming from me. And I really like the way it has turned out. (BTW, all “Monster at the Institute” issues are now available on the public Prezi site, in addition to my website, for free!)
As for the novel, I’ve tried really hard to balance character development, plot, and larger themes. So many books I read rely on one of those three significantly more than others, and the work as a whole suffers for it. Hopefully, it works!
3) Why do I write what I do?
I write things I’d want to read. I know that sounds obvious, but I spent a long time trying to write things that I thought other people would want to read. That’s actually very difficult and involves a lot of self-doubt. Eventually, it dawned on me that I’m a reader (and I certainly read more of my own words than anyone else does), so it only made sense to write the kind of stuff I’d actually enjoy. Even though I’m not as far along in the novel as I’d like to be, I would never have made it this far—or produced The Outbreak—without learning to trust my own judgment on what makes an entertaining and compelling story. And if that makes me my own biggest fan, well, so be it. That’s better than disliking what takes so much time and effort to do!
4) How does my writing process work?
I have to treat writing like a job, otherwise it’s too easy for me to push it off for “easier” work with a more immediate payoff. I have to set aside some time—like right now!—and have some kind of goal. Occasionally, my goals are product focused, like finishing a blog post or a comic script. I actually keep a to-do list of these smaller projects so I know exactly where to dive in. But more often, and especially when working on my novel, my goals are time focused. For example, I’ll decided to write until 4pm; when my lazy, instant-gratification-monkey brain wants to knock off by 3, I have to make myself keep going until quittin’ time, even if I don’t think the writing is as good. Half of the battle is just getting the first draft down on paper—I can always go back and edit later (and, oh trust me, I will)!
If ever there was a religion or belief system that I really wanted to believe was real, it’s Spiritualism. When your loved ones die, they stick around and help you out. If not your loved ones, then spiritual beings from another dimension or something can help you. They leave you presents and help you get parking spaces.
In this book, the author travels to Lily Dale, New York, several times and gets to know the mediums and other residents who live and work there. She participates in the touristy activities--getting readings, going to group meetings–but she also goes behind the scenes and gets to know the characters in the town. She starts the book as a skeptic, and she basically ends as a skeptic too. But in between, she questions both her pre-conceived ideas and what she learns from the mediums.
The author presents the characters as real people that you could imagine knowing, or maybe you do know. And you really want them to be right. They even admit to faking experiences some times to play to their paying crowd, and you still want them to be right. Because what happy and magical lives they lead! What confidence they have in themselves and their own lives! How wonderful life would be if this was all true!
As I mentioned, the author stays a skeptic, but she comes away with more questions than answers. I found this refreshing. The mediums seem to live in a grey zone between the cold hard facts of reality and the magical world of “well, maybe.” And it’s not hurting anyone--in fact, a case could be made for this kind of thinking improving a lot of lives, I think--so why not go for it? If you get a good parking spot, you acknowledge and appreciate it and thank some spiritual being for picking it out for you. And if you don’t get the good parking spot, you shrug and determine that your spiritual guide wanted you to walk farther that day for some reason that’s not yet clear to you. What’s the downside of this, especially in terms of mental and emotional health?
Probably, there are some, and the author certainly struggles with the idea that people should just do what they want to do all the time, knowing that the universe will keep everything on track. But by the end of the book, even if you don’t believe, you’re left wanting to.
About a year ago, I told you about a Kickstarter for the full edition of Amiculus, a long-form print comic about the last child emperor of Rome and the fall of the empire. That campaign shot a little higher than it could achieve. But Travis Horseman, the author and father of this work, has regrouped and is back with a scaled down Kickstarter campaign.
The new plan is to offer all the fantastic art (by Giancarlo Caracuzzo), compelling plot, and subtle character interaction of the first one but to only print the first third of the book. The current campaign for Amiculus is less than a week away from its Kickstarter deadline and just over 2/3 funded. It’s still within reach for this project, so do you think you could help out?
If you’re not convinced yet, let me tell you a bit more about this. I read the manuscript, before Travis had connected with Giancarlo, and was completely sucked in by it. The script opens with a battle scene, the Barbarians losing Rome to the Eastern Roman army of Byzantium. The victory has the new Roman victors in a nostalgic (and strategic) state of mind; they send the historian Procopius to find out what happened all those years ago when the boy emperor Romulus ceded the empire to the Barbarians so that they can ensure it never happens again.
Procopius arrives at an island monastery off the cost of Neapolis, the last known whereabouts of Romulus. He speaks to the old monks there and is shown a book that contains the full story of the empire’s fall in Romulus’s own words.
As Procopius reads, he’s pulled into a world of political deceit, manipulation, murder, ghosts, and betrayal. As the empire loses one city after another, tales spread of a cloaked figure that appears to help the Barbarians, appearing suddenly during the battle exactly where he is needed and disappearing just as quickly when his work is done. He’s known only as Amiculus, although no one seems to know who he is, where he comes from, or what his motivation is. As the story continues, the Barbarians close in on the last refuge of the child emperor Romulus, his father General Orestes, the Senate, and the remains of their army…
After reading the full script, I was incredibly excited to see this comic become a reality. And then Travis showed me the artwork that Giancarlo was working on, and I’m just that much more excited. You can see a bit of it here (if you’re local to Columbus, you can view Giancarlo’s finished work in the preview edition of Amiculus, which Travis funded himself, at Laughing Ogre).
Amiculus is not going to be one of those indie comics, drawn in marker and photocopied at Kinkos. I have a very soft spot in my heart for those comics, but Amiculus is a professional-grade book. Full color, glossy pages, proper binding, and industry professional artist, colorer, and letterer.
I once saw Ken Eppstein break down the cost of producing a print comic and then compare that to how many comics you have to sell at a reasonable price to break even—it was more than 2,000 copies! Bare bones, affordable price, even with personal relationships with printers and creators… still more than 2,000 copies just to break even. (It probably doesn’t need to be said, but this is why I do an online comic!)
So, if you can, please support the Amiculus Kickstarter (within the next week!) and help this comic come to life. It’s too much for one person to support on their own—it takes a community. Be part of the community! And you’ll get some really cool rewards if you do!
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