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.
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