Scifi Genre Signals: Single Men with a Death Wish

Both H.G Well’s The Time Machine and The Man from the Atom by G. Peyton Wertenbaker utilize a specific genre signal—a single man who goes on a faraway dangerous adventure for the sake of science–which I think is very interesting.  Both the Time Traveler and Kirby are undoubedly single men, as there has never been any mention of the Time Traveler having an attachment to anyone in his house or otherwise and Kirby specifically mentions always being “ready for these experiments” (Wertenbaker 64).  Likewise, both of these men are going on really dangerous journeys—the Time Traveler is going to the far future and he has no clue what he is getting himself into.  In fact, the Time Traveler does not even know if the Earth would exist at that point and as the story progresses we see that it was indeed a dangerous journey that he was not prepared for.  Kirby as well jumped on board with the professor’s experiment without much thought—even though the professor explicitly warned him by saying, “’You must realize, of course, that there are a multitude of unknown dangers. I know nothing of the complete effects of the machine.  But my experiments on inanimate objects have seemed satisfactory’” (Wertenbaker 63).  Any sane person would at least hesitate when the professor who built the machine says he does not know all there is to know about said machine yet.  Obviously these men have motivations that guide their actions, most likely for the sake of science, but I see this as a signal of the Science Fiction genre.

The Man From the Atom : The Interstellar Savage

Once Kirby in The Man from the Atom becomes larger than life on a “strange planet of a strange star” he becomes aware of the relative meaningless of the human footprint on an ever-expanding universe (66). The Professor’s machine stretches his life expectancy by increasing his size, but all around him “men had come and died, races had flourished had fallen” (66). He enters into the unknown like the Time Traveller’s ability to live outside of time and space and bear witness to other societies. Kirby explains how “[i]n ten minutes of [his] life” even the professor has lived away a lifetime. One discovers a sci-fi hero encountering a new civilization as the outsider. Kirby explains, “I find myself a savage, a creature to be treated with pity and contempt in a world too advanced even for his comprehension. Nothing here means anything to me” (66). Not only does his gigantic size make him stick out like a sore thumb, but the relative sentiment of receiving a polarizing reception from foreign civilizations reminds one of the Eloi and Morlocks. Kirby immediately thinks the others will feel sorry for him or consider him a worthless creature. Although the Time Traveller’s appearance does not change, the stark differences between an alien race and a human one conjures complex themes about identity and acceptance between two seemingly different groups. The feeling of becoming the other, the savage, seems to be the hyperbolic reaction of Kirby. Interestinly enough, the Time Traveller recognizes his difference, he considers the Elois and Morlocks to be the savage other. Maybe because the Time Traveller’s reckless abandon desires his time travelling success, he feels superior and successful. However, Kirby’s freak accident feels like a cautionary tale about the limitless variables in an uncontrolled science experiment.