Beginnings after the end
“The Time Machine” by H. G. Wells is probably the most famous of time travel novels, but you may be interested to know that it wasn’t the first – as is often incorrectly assumed. The “Clock that Went Backwards” (Edward Page Mitchell) was published earlier in 1881, and even Wells’ own “The Chronic Argonauts” (published in 1888) predates the “The Time Machine” from 1895. Indeed, some argue that the “The Time Machine” is a sequel to the “Chronic Argonauts” although as yet this is not a commonly accepted consensus.
The open ending in “The Time Machine” lends itself well to a sequel so it’s unsurprising that many fans have chosen to retread Wells’ footsteps, and indeed, go to places as yet untrodden.
As a time travel enthusiast it is with a little shame that I must admit to having read only two such sequels.
Two such sequels
Stephen Baxter’s “The Time Ships” is the “…official authorized sequel” (note American spelling to an English novel.) and I suppose the traditional starting point. As a stand-alone scifi novel it’s pretty good, although it is your typical Baxter complete with Gaijin / Watchers and other ideas taken from his earlier novels and from other scifi authors too numerous to mention. But as a sequel to “The Time Machine” it fails miserably.
How it got to be the authorised sequel I’ve truly no idea, though the cynical part of me can’t help wondering if it had anything to do with his role of “…distinguished Vice-President of the international H. G. Wells Society” a year after publication (reference).
But recently I read (and was much more impressed with) Jaime Batista’s “Epilogue: Time Machine Chronicles”. Although I’ve already reviewed it very positively, this article takes on a different tack – how does it stand against the original, and why is it so much better than the authorised sequel? Sorry. Authorized.
The Time Ships – Stephen Baxter
Perhaps I’ll start with slating Baxter’s contribution to the world of time travel. OK, to be fair, “The Time Ships” is a good time travel novel, but it’s no sequel because there’s no consistency with the original.
Yes, The Time Traveller is the main character, but his characteristics are totally different to Wells’ depiction of him. Whereas Wells portrays him as a thoughtful character, curious and with good motivation, Baxter’s main character is shallow and pretty much a prejudiced twat. We’re invited to think along in “The Time Machine”, to consider The Time Traveller’s thoughts and perhaps even to act on them. Conversely, we read “The Time Ships” to see what happens next.
And what happens next is predictable. Just as in “The Manifold Trilogy” (comprising “Manifold: Time”, “Manifold: Space” and “Manifold: Origin”) and in “Time’s Eye”, there is a third party who watch and monitor from afar. There’s no conclusion to this thread.
Then there’s a mysterious visitor who comes to visit The Time Traveller, except that in time travel there is never any mystery. It’s you from the future. It’s a time travel ontological ‘tool’ which has been used in a gazillion time travel books (e.g the excellent “The Man who Folded Himself” by David Gerrold) and will surely appear in a further gazillion.
And a far-future version of The Time Traveller loses his body and becomes energy, or awareness. Spot the similarity with Arthur C. Clarke’s “2001 Space Odyssey?
Whilst I was reading “The Time Ships” I was really impressed with an incident in the far future where a snooker table was used to demonstrate the nature of time to The Time Traveller and Nebogipfel. But it turns out again, that it’s not so clever – or at least, not clever in that Baxter has taken this idea from Igor Novikov’s self consistency principle which was developed to solve the problem of paradoxes in time travel.
This isn’t a presentation of an idea from modern science, it’s something verging very close to downright plagiarism.
Simply speaking, there’s very little originality in “The Time Ships”.
Hooks from “The Time Ships” extending back to “The Time Machine” are stretched and contrived at best. This ranges from the writing style which sets off fairly similar to Wells’ style, but which gets diluted as we read further into the novel. We’ve already seen that the main character is completely different, but then there’s the Morlock companion he picks up along his travels in time. Nebogipfel.
Seriously! Are we expected not to recognise that name from “The Chronic Argonauts”? It’s not a clever link because Nebogipfel the Morlock is not Dr. Moses Nebogipfel the time traveller.
So in a Wandason huff I’m going to terminate my rant about “The Time Ships”. It’s no sequel, but it is a good novel – although basically it’s the summation of several other story lines and ideas presented from other authors in other books.
Epilogue: Time Machine Chronicles” – Jaime Batista
Now. On the other hand we have “Epilogue: Time Machine Chronicles” written by Jaime Batista.
The thing which strikes me first about “Epilogue” is that it doesn’t start where “The Time Machine” finishes, but a little earlier. This means that there’s a certain overlapping of events and characters which meshes “Epilogue” seamlessly with “The Time Machine”.
So there’s a natural continuity, and I should also add here that the writing style is consistent with Wells’ throughout the entire novel.
Most remarkable though is how Jaime has managed to capture the real essence of The Time Traveller. We read about his thoughts (easy – being first person) but also his introspective musings about the thoughts that he has, and a willingness to admit that sometimes his initial ideas may not be correct.
It’s easy to empathise with him, and as a scientist myself I must admit to finding The Time Traveller somewhat as a role model in that he develops his ideas but remains open to modifying them. Oh yes, and building a time machine!
As well as the character, the general theme of “Epilogue” is truly nailed to a tee.
Whereas Baxter’s Time Traveller flits around seemingly without a purpose, in “Epilogue” there’s not only a clear goal, but also an eagerness to better understand the history of the future. For anyone who’s read “The Time Machine” (which is almost a statement on the then current political / social climate and its projected future) this thirst for understanding should be a pre-requisite for any sequel.
Ah yes, thirst. I read “Epilogue” a little under a year ago, but I remember very clearly a section where The Time Traveller suffered incredible thirst during one leg of his travels. It’s incredibly well written and makes it a very moving section – it must be because I remember it even now. The point is that as well as staying true to Wells’ writing style, Jaime injects his own.
In a way, Jaime – or indeed any sequel writer – faces a problem. How to take on the original ideas and concepts in an original novel and yet take them further. And I think this is done masterfully in “Epilogue”. For instance, there’s the mechanics of the time machine itself. In the original it’s pretty much black box, other than to say that time is a fourth dimension and with a twisting of the dimensions one can travel through time as one can travel through space.
Baxter deals with this by stating that the twisting of the dimensions made the time traveller dizzy. Deep stuff (end sarcasm tag). But Jaime maintains the black box but expands on the original idea:
“The time machine is a mechanical incarnation of a number of theories”
Now isn’t that beautiful?! And there’s more: what happens if a fault develops in a time machine?
As you can tell, I love “Epilogue”, and the climax at the end is one of the most powerful I’ve read! I mentioned in my glowing review of “Epilogue” that it should be on every bookshelf (or ereader) which already holds a copy of “The Time Machine”. Yes. It’s that good, and if it’s not considered time travel blasphemy and I’m allowed to say it – I prefer it to the original.
Note: This post first appeared as a guest post on the discontinued timetravelnexus website around February 2016.