I decided to read this book because it was short and I just wanted something I could finish quickly. Upon finishing it, I conceded that a book does not need a thousand pages to be great. In my opinion, this book stands the test of time as great literature (pun intended).
The first thing that struck me about this book is the way Wells emphasized the science in science fiction. The story was structured as a piece of science writing, where one person was objectively recording the observations of another individual. In addition, since the time traveler was a scientist, he presented his information as a scientist would. As he was relating what he saw in the future, he states, ” I tried to look at the thing in a scientific spirit.” (p. 66)
The vision of the future presented in this book is bleak. Not wanting to include too many spoilers, I will only say that Wells portrays humans as eventually destroying themselves by their obsessive drive to subjugate nature, a trend that we see continuing today. “Humanity had been strong, energetic, and intelligent, and had used all its abundant vitality to alter the conditions under which it lived. And now came the reaction to the altered conditions.” (p. 38)
Another passage that I found disturbingly sobering regarded the future of literature. As a writer, I’ve always bought into the idea of writing as a way of immortalizing your thoughts and leaving a legacy. But Wells seems to see the folly in this belief. As the time traveler comes across the remains of a library, he comments on “the enormous waste of labour to which this sombre wilderness of rotting paper testified.” (p. 71) It is obvious that merely writing down information does not guarantee that information will be passed to future generations.
I finished this book torn between feeling despair over the fact that we still seem to be heading toward our inevitable demise and optimistic over the fact that an increasing number of people recognize the challenges that lay ahead and are working hard to change the course of humanity. I think ultimately, we will rise to the challenge and that the impending global changes will force us to become more intelligent and more creative in figuring out how to live in harmony with the world. As Wells writes, “There is no intelligence where there is no change and no need of change.” (p. 84)