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 Professor and the Traveler

Something that struck me while I was reading “The Man from the Atom” was the depiction of Professor Martyn, as I was immediately reminded of the Time Traveler from Wells’ The Time Machine. Both are men of great curiosity, so much so that they are ostracized within their respective communities. Of the Professor, Kirby conveys, “Ordinary men avoided him because they were unable to understand the greatness of his vision” (“The Man from the Atom” 62). He continues, “Where he plainly saw pictures and worlds and universes, they vainly groped among pictures of his words on printed pages” (“The Man from the Atom” 62). Upon reading this, I immediately though of the Time Traveler and the information the narrator gives us as we first encounter both him and his outlandish scientific experiments. Wells writes, “The fact is, the Time Traveler was one of those men who are too clever to be believed: you never felt that you saw all around him” (The Time Machine 10). In “The Man from the Atom”, it is noted that “the Professor had few friends” (Amazing Stories 62), where we see a similar likeness in The Time Machine. “The serious people who took him seriously never felt quite sure of his deportment: they were somehow aware that trusting their reputations for judgement with him was like furnishing a nursery with eggshell china” (The Time Machine 11). Both intellectual figures in The Time Machine and “The Man from the Atom” are depicted of having both wild ambitions and audience that doesn’t quite understand them, adding a curious dimension as we explore the nature of their inventions.


Wells Allows for Individual Thought

The magazine article A.D. 12, 203: A Glimpse of the Future features many interruptions of thought not only from the Time Traveler himself, or “I” in this case, but from the surrounding audience.  Wherein H. G. Wells’ novel the Time Travel appears to have final say in all ideas and theories, this article provides points of reflection for both the reader and the other characters. For instance, the Time Traveler takes a moment to ponder and states “What might appear when that hazy curtain was altogether withdrawn? What might not have happened to men” (500)? These series of questions give the reader a moment to input their theory, in contrast to the novel which has the Time Traveler creating his own theories after just being in the future for a short time. Also, later on in the article the medical man is allowed to chime in with “That…entirely discredits your story” (500). By allowing another character to contradict the Time Traveler, Wells provides conflict for the reader to be able to decide for themselves what they believe to be true instead of completely accepting all that is told by the Time Traveler. This sense of doubt appears to be more present in the article version of The National Observer than the actual book version.

Work Cited

“A.D. 12,203.” The national observer, 1890-1897, vol. 11, no. 280, 1894., pp. 499-500.