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.

A Taste of Adventure in the Face of Demise

H. G. Well’s Time Machine, and Wertenbaker’s The Man from the Atom, have two main characters that seem to have a severe disregard for their own personal safety. Kirby in The Man front the Atom, puts his personal safety in the hands of a controversial scientist who is not accepted by the rest of contemporaries and allows himself to be the Guinea pig in his outlandish experiments. The Time Traveller does something similar in his story except he is putting himself in danger instead of endangering the lives of others. The reckless danger that scientist and adventure characters put themselves into during their stories seems to be a commentary on the recklessness that some endeavors into exploration and science seem to ignore. The lack of care and arrogance that these characters show toward the forces of nature that they are trying to manipulate usually ends up badly for them. The Time Traveler realizes that humanity is just a hiccup in the fate of humanity and all the cultural and intellectual progress that humans are striving for will end up in mindless crab people on a dead planet. Kirby ends up getting ripped away from his world because he allows himself to be manipulated by the Professor’s experiment.  It goes along with the cautionary tale vein that is carried within many science fiction stories especially within dystopian literature. This same theme reminds me of Frankenstein. The authors might not be saying science shouldn’t be explored but that people should not play God, and that there needs to be a respect for nature.

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.


Character Titles- from the Magazine to the Novel

Upon examining the first section of The Time Machine as it was published in The National Observer in March 1894, one of the most jarring changes is inarguably the lack of proper titles for the various characters- with the exception, of course, of the Time Traveler, who in this version of the story is instead referred to as the “Philosophical Inventor”.  The red-haired man remains as described in both iterations of Wells’s work, but others—the Very Young Man and the Provincial Mayor, for example—are reduced to lower-case titles.  Further, some of the characters are completely absent; where is Filby, the Medical Man, the Psychologist?  Who is the “common-sense person”, and why has the narrator contributed nothing to the conversation outside of the opening, unspoken description of the setting?  Above all- what motivated Wells to add in his seemingly unnecessary capitalizations of these characters’ titles in his novel, and why did he decide to bring more characters into the mix when the few present in edition of The National Observer seemed to carry out the conversation perfectly well on their own?  One could argue that “naming” the characters with a simple attribute—be it their profession or the color of their hair—adds a sort of science-fiction mystique to them; “the psychologist” is expected and mundane, whereas “the Psychologist” immediately seems to be capable of far more than his lower-case counterpart.  Further, the smaller group of men could simply be due to a word limit imposed by the publication, and the increase in numbers present in the novel contributes in a way to the legitimization of the Time Traveler’s thoughts and machine.  Rather, the fact that so many thoughtful, educated people are held captive by their own curiosity in the vicinity of the Time Traveler makes the possibility of time travel feel all the more real (although the version in The National Observer is nearly just as convincing).  As such, it could be said that Wells may have simplified his cast of characters in the version he delivered to The National Observer for the sheer sake of drawing readers’ attention to the content of the dialogue rather than who exactly was delivering said dialogue.

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.

The Voice of Time: A Man of Science or Philosophy?

After reading “Time Travelling: Possibility or Paradox” in The National Observer, perhaps the most significant detail for me was that the Time Traveler is referred to as the “Philosophical Inventor” (446). As the “Time Traveler,” which appears in both The New Review as well as the novel version that we are observing in class, one perhaps establishes several presuppositions about the character without having read much into the story at all. The “Time Traveler” essentially signifies that even though the story has hardly began to develop, he is directly associated with the event of traveling time, and that he perhaps has a significant role in that development. As we have the other characters present in the narrative identified solely as how they behave or what occupation they practice, so too is the Time Traveler identified by a singular facet of his life. The “Philosophical Inventor,” on the other hand, generates  a different approach at the story’s direction and development. As the Time Traveler, one could ask a variety of questions. “Has he actually traveled in time?” “At what point in his life did he travel time, and for what duration?” As a well established man of science, known in many “scientific circles,” (The New Review, pg. 98) one is perhaps inclined to trust his judgement. But a philosopher, on the other hand, elicits interrogation not only on his activities, but also calls into question the validity of not only what he is claiming, but perhaps even his motivations behind his actions. One may have questions that differ greatly from that which they would demand of a man of science. “Is the time travel hypothetical or literal?” “What sort of experience is the philosopher hoping to gain in his expedition?” “How will his discovery benefit anyone other than himself?” It is in this difference that a reader immediately experiences the story in a different way, starting simply with the first sentence of the story.

varying degrees of human experience

Following my exploration of the National Observer‘s serial publication of H.G. Wells’ “In the Underworld”, from what later would become published as “The Time Machine”, I noticed that the presence of dialogue in the serial publication complicated the idea of the societal schism and the evolution of two different species of humanoid creatures(/devolution of the human race) by pushing his audience to question the reasons why individuals are drawn to one another and moreover why these two species were preserved through homogamy. In “The Time Machine”, after the passing of thousands of years, the human race devolved into the Morlocks and the Eloi— representing the skilled proletariat and the indolent bourgeois. While it is logical to think that due to the long-term separation of these two social groups contributed to the birth of two distinct species, I don’t believe that similar standing within social hierarchy is the only reason why these two groups formed, but is definitely helpful to the discussion. This schism that the time traveller addresses occurs not simply between those of different rank within society, i.e. the capitalist and the laborer, but between the “sombre, mechanically industrious, arithmetical, inartistic type, the type of the Puritan and the American millionaire…” (which he likens to the Morlocks) “…and the pleasure-loving, witty, and graceful type that gives us our clever artists, our actors and writers some of our gentry, and many an elegant rogue (Wells, H.G. “In the Underworld”. The National Observer, 1890-1897. 19 May 1894. pp. 14-15)” (the Eloi).” What caught my attention here was the distinction made between those that are “sombre” and those that are “pleasure-loving”, adjectives implored to represent positions within the social hierarchy. So aside from their being a class struggle present within the novel, I think the serial publication does a good job of pushing the reader to also explore the clashing between humans with varying degrees of experience. There is a marxist binary present between the bourgeois and proletariat in addition to there being a social darwinian binary present between those that are fit for survival and those that are unfit. While the Eloi represent the bourgeois, and are the dominant force within society, they are also unfit for survival, in contrast to the working-class Morlocks who not only ensure that their race can survive but also provide for their superiors. Lastly, In “In the Underworld”, the time traveller argues that the natural divide that occurred between the Morlocks and the Eloi (and that is also evident English society) occurs not only because of differences in social hierarchy, since “families drop and rise from toil to wealth continually”, but the question will continue to remain unanswered due to the fact that human experience exists on more of a mystical continuum rather than a clearly-defined binary. 

Rhododendrons: Symbolism or Skepticism?

In both the novel and the installment in The National Observer titled “A.D. 12,203: A Glimpse of the Future”, the Time Traveller specifically points out the existence of rhododendron bushes when he travels to the future. Wells decided not to change the scene in which the Time Traveller first arrives in the future, leaving the immediate observance of the rhododendron bushes in both prints. The Time Traveller’s immediate (and, within the novel, consistent) observance of the rhododendron bushes come off as a little odd, considering they seem to be the only plants that hadn’t evolved or gone extinct in the thousands of years that had not only entirely changed the landscape, but had rendered humans extinct or evolved beyond recognition; in observing the flowers that Weena had given the Time Traveller, merely likened to “white mallows” (The Time Machine 50), the Medical Man says, “The gynoecium’s odd…I certainly don’t know the natural order of these flowers” (73). As such, there comes a question of why the rhododendron bushes had not changed, given that the Time Traveller is unable to identify much else. On the one hand, Wells may be trying his hand at some inkling of familiarity in order to not ward off readers entirely—while not everyone will know what a rhododendron bush is off the top of their heads, the fact that the Time Traveller clearly identifies it may bring some comfort as this strange future is described. On the other hand, Wells’ use of making the Time Traveller’s observance known (that is, not editing out the observance of the flowers between publications) hints at the possibility of some significance outside of merely bringing some familiarity in the new world—that is, the symbolism and meaning behind the rhododendron itself. The rhododendron flower symbolizes caution and danger due to its all-around toxicity (there are multiple flower language guides, but this blog post specifically discusses rhododendrons); considering the popular use of communicating with flowers during the Victorian era, the Time Traveller’s specific observance of the flower may not be a coincidence, and may have only offered further textual insight to those who were familiar with the language of flowers. Interestingly enough, this observation isn’t cause for interruption by the Medical Man in “A.D. 12,203”, but he instead interrupts to discuss how the Time Traveller’s description of the Eloi’s appearance (as being a “beautiful kind of consumptive”) could not possibly be correct, and it is there that the Medical Man discredits the story (500). While the Medical Man’s interruption was not present in the final print of The Time Machine, it still causes the reader some question as to which aspects of science in the Time Traveller’s adventure should be cause for skepticism: the aspects that are questioned, or those which quietly go undiscussed. As is the nature of the novel, this question is furthered due to the lack of interruption by the Medical Man or any other characters–those who do question anything at all at the end of the Time Traveller’s story have been so overloaded with information that any specific questions have been long forgotten.

H.G. Wells: The Degeneration of Man

The National Observer rendition of the Time Traveler and especially the scene in which he returns from his adventures in the year 12,203 A.D. seems to focus less on the current social class standing of man and more on the role that humanity will play in the grand scheme of history.  The strangest part of this is that the story is sandwiched between a book review for what is essentially an American Girl’s handbook to snatching and catching British gentleman as husbands and an account of a golf match between gentleman and professionals that ended obviously with the professionals winning the game.  These seem like such mundane and time appropriate topics compared to the tale of a man traveling in time and realizing that humanity is less important that it would like to believe.  The danger and implications that the novel held, for example, the Time Traveler’s inability to return home along with his relationship to both the Eloi and the Morlocks, seems trivialized in this version of the events.  The Eloi “began to weary and then irritate [The Time Traveler] because of their unsustainability,” which is a contrast from the strange connection that he seems to have with both the Eloi and the Morlocks.  The lack of connection trivializes the story and make it as unbelievable as the characters who are listening to it seems to believe it to be.  The fact that this story is sandwiched between two trivial pieces of unimportant information makes it seem as though anyone reading it would trivialize the story unlike reading in a book where someone would expect t find some greater meaning in the context of the story.