Yet, initially The
Time Machine (1895) by HG Wells propels an enthusiastic approach to this
technological progress in the opening of the novel. The time traveller begins
by explaining to his dinner guests the underlying scientific principles that
make his invention, the time machine possible. He explains, ‘It is simply this.
That Space, as our mathematicians have it, is spoken of as having three
dimensions, which one may call Length, Breadth and Thickness’1. This
immersion into mathematical concepts and scientific language offers the readers
hope and a sense of intelligence, creativity and ambition that fuel
technological development. Furthermore, the Eloi of the future have living
conditions that are so idyllic that they do not struggle to meet their basic
needs. At first the time traveller interprets this as a realisation of
technological utopia, where utopia is the product of the Renaissance, ‘a period
when the ancient world was considered the peak of mankind’s intellectual
Free from worry or deprivation. However, in contrast the Eloi of the future
also lack language, technology and even physical strength. They are presented
as a lazy species, illustrated in their behaviour, ‘They spent all their time
in playing gently, in bathing in the river, in making love in a half playful
fashion, in eating fruit and sleeping’3. Wells doesn’t
imagine that the Victorian technological boom would continue indefinitely into
the future, or a world imperiled by a technology related disaster. Instead he
imagines something more complex. The technological progress could create living
conditions so idyllic that human progress and intelligence disappear and so
disastrous that humans could resort to cannibalism.
Thomson noted that ‘Within a finite period of time past, the earth must have
been, and within a finite period of time to come the earth must again be, unfit
for the habitation of man as at present constituted’4. The
apocalypse genre of literature refers to fiction that is a subgenre of science
fiction, in which the earth’s technological civilisation is collapsing, with
‘tropes we all recognise such as utopian social speculation and futuristic
This can be seen in the novel as it hints at the sun losing its heat due to scientific
naturalism, ‘the darkling sky… the sun, red and very large, halted motionless
upon the horizon, a vast dome glowing with a dull heat’6. This
is a key aspect of apocalypse fiction. With scientists at the time developing
ideas about entropy and degeneration the sun running out of heat became a
legitimate fear for people which is indicative of Fredric Jameson’s theory that
‘science fiction thus enables a unique ‘method’ for apprehending the present as
This is because the apocalypse genre has multiple mock futures that serve the
function of transforming our own present into the past of something yet to
come. Wells is alluding to the idea that if the environment is bad the people
who survived it such as the Eloi in the novel, will also start to decline, referring
to the idea that humans are actually reverting. This notion is supported by Maudsley,
noting, ‘survival of the fittest does not mean survival of the best’8. This
is further illustrated in the text when the time traveller witness’s darkness, ‘I saw
the black central shadow of the eclipse sweeping towards me. In another moment,
the pale stars alone were visible. All else was rayless obscurity. The sky was
absolutely black. A horror of
this great darkness came to me.’9.
Wells, The Time Machine, (London: Penguin Classics, 2005), p.4.
Claeys, The Cambridge Companion to
Utopian Literature, (London:
Cambridge University Press: 2010), p.3.
3 H.G. Wells, p. 66.
Thomson, ‘On a Universal
Tendency in Nature to the Dissipation of Mechanical Energy’, Philosophical Magazine, (Proceedings of
the Royal Society of Edinburgh, 1852), p. 514.
Bould, The Routledge Companion to Science Fiction, (London: Routledge, 2009), p.3.
6 H.G. Wells, p. 62.
Jameson, ‘Progress Versus Utopia; or, Can We Imagine the Future?’, Science Fiction Studies 9, pp. 147-158.
Maudsley, Body and Will, (London: Kegan Paul, 1883), p.
9 H.G. Wells, p.65.