Things I knew about this book going in:
1) I should have read it a long time ago.
2) Time travel.
3) Something about a morlock.
Strangely, there’s not actually much more to the story than that! There is, obviously, a time machine, and a Time Traveller, as he is called. And it’s a frame story, so there’s a narrator who has dinner with the Time Traveller and hears his stories and then recounts them to us, which is always a good time. And so through our narrator we learn about how time travel theoretically works (just moving really really fast through time, basically) and then later how the Time Traveller is now called Late for Dinner and also managed to travel to the year 802701. That is a big number, dudes.
In the future there are some perfect-ish people who are also totes lazy and boring, and also some terrifying people-ish creatures, the aforementioned Morlocks, who are industrious enough to steal Mr. for Dinner’s time machine. Social commentary ensues, Mr. for Dinner gets his time machine back, he goes home, no one believes him, and then he and his machine disappear. The end!
I’m sure that when this book came out in 1895, people were like, holy moly this Herbert fellow is a genius and also possibly insane! But unfortunately here in 2011, I’ve read one or two books that involve time travel and so I already had that part down and the rest of the book had to carry itself, which it didn’t do terribly well. So, as a novella experience, not so great.
But I totally enjoyed the book on its historical merits of introducing time travel (I mean, travelling really fast through time is a genius idea) and the intriguing future that Wells devises. It’s not exactly a dystopian future, since there’s no real sense of utopia, but it’s obviously not the future to which Victorian gentlemen aspired and those Morlocks are pretty creepy. I also like the Time Traveller’s nods toward literary convention — he mentions once that in a novel the author could tell you all the intricacies of society, but he was a little too busy experiencing the world, thanks, and while sometimes that can be really annoying, Wells does it just fine.
My only problem with the story is that I’m pretty sure that the Time Traveller should have gotten his time machine stuck somewhere along his travels, considering his explanation of how it works, but I suppose I can forgive Mr. Wells, just this once.
Recommendation: For people who like to know where their contemporary literature came from, also future time travellers (or past time travellers?).