To see reviews by Sandra Petojevic of each book, click on each picture!
Last update of these links August 28, 2005

bkreturnof.JPG (226255 bytes) The Return of The Time Machine by Egon Friedell

Review by John Q McDonald --- 3 September 1998

In this DAW publication, the editor declares that Friedell may have been a correspondent with H. G. Wells, author of the science-fiction classic, The Time Machine. The novel opens with the author reproducing letters between him and Wells' secretary, but the overbearing grouchiness of the letters surely belies that possibility. The book sets out to be a faithful sequel to Wells' story of a man traveling into the distant future only to find the horrific outcome of a divided society. Grouchy is the best word to describe this book. The tone of the writing, the unprovoked barbs at English culture and several poets, and the characters themselves, all express a "curmudgeonliness" not seen in the first book. The story itself is not a very good sequel, dwelling on "scientific" details of the time travel, leaving what the traveller finds almost a footnote. There are fair attempts at describing the world of the future, and the difficulties in traveling into the past, but the whole lacks the cohesiveness of Wells' work. The story fails, not only to be consistent with The Time Machine, but to be consistent with itself. Perhaps the book serves as an oddity in time travel stories, but it isn't a very good book.


bkmorlove.JPG (245992 bytes) The Man Who Loved Morlocks by David Lake, illustrated by Steph Campbell

bkmorlocknite.JPG (327413 bytes) Morlock Night by K. W. Jeter

bkpalII.JPG (182647 bytes) Time Machine II by George Pal and Joe Morhaim


timeships.JPG (267382 bytes)The Time Ships by Stephen Baxter

Rebuilding the Time Machine: The Science of H.G. Wells

by Stephen Baxter

"Long ago I had a vague inkling of a machine... that shall travel indifferently in any direction of Space and Time, as the driver determines." Filby contented himself with laughter.
  "But I have experimental verification," said the Time Traveller...

The Time Machine, Chapter 1.

      The Time Machine, by HG Wells, is 100 years old in 1995; and it remains a wholly remarkable book. It is the story of an unnamed Victorian scientist/adventurer who builds a bicycle- like Time Machine and uses it to explore a dark future: a world of Eloi and Morlock, of degraded humanity. The Time Traveller returns to the 1890s to leave an account of his voyage, and then, at the end of the book, sets out on his Machine once more... and never returns.

      Like many readers, I've always longed to know what happened to the Time Traveller! - and now, able to stand it no longer, I've written my own sequel to Wells's book, called The Time Ships. And one of my pleasures in researching my novel has been to reexamine the scientific basis of the Time Machine itself, in the light of 1990s physics.

      Academic research is very different to researching a science fiction novel. I should know; I have a yellowing PhD in acoustical engineering, as well as six published sf novels, to my name. So how does a writer of sf go about researching a topic like Time Travel?

      The best sf comes from the edge of current understanding, where there tend, unfortunately, to be no helpful popular overviews. And - naturally - the more recent papers are, the more they tend to disagree. To research, it helps to have access to a good science library: papers can be obtained through inter-library services or, in some cases, on-line; but you can't browse that way, and browsing is important. And, if your topic is something to do with the physical sciences, understanding maths well enough to be able to ignore the equations is a bonus.

      When I started to dig into Time Travel, I quickly found that - remarkably enough - modern physicists have dreamed up several ways for Time Machines to work. (A good popular overview is John Gribbin's In Search of the Edge of Time.) Following the work of Kip Thorne and fellow workers at Cal Tech since the early 1980s, most of these paper travellers journey in spacecraft through fixed wormhole time tunnels (see New Scientist's "Wormholes, Time Travel and Quantum Gravity", 28 April 1990).

      Every so often objections are raised about the physical plausibility of this scenario. For instance, recently Stephen Hawking pointed out that any time-bridging wormhole would quickly suffer a catastrophic energy leakage, caused by radiation feeding back on itself through the wormhole. But to each objection a counter is quickly found: in Hawking's case, Li-Xin Li of Beijing has come up with a way to stop the feedback using a spherical mirror placed close to the wormhole ("Time Travel: It's All Done with Smoke and Mirrors", New Scientist, 4 February 1995).

      So the physicists keep on coming up with plausible ways to construct time tunnels, and their main problem is how to resolve the consequent granny-strangling causality paradoxes. The main get-out clause at the moment seems to involve the quantum physics idea of multiple universes, with a new world- line being created each time history is adjusted.

      Unfortunately for me and H.G., however, a constraint of researching sf is that the science has to fit the fiction. And a Kip Thorne time tunnel just wouldn't suit our fictive purposes. Wells's Time Machine was more like the Tardis: a device you sit inside, and press levers to freewheel through Time. Not a wormhole in sight.

      As I dug further in the literature, though, I found another promising lead. It seems that there are particles which can, conveniently, move backwards in time without the assistance of tunnels: antiparticles, like positrons. But this wouldn't do either: annihilating the Time Traveller and rebuilding him in antiparticles would surely require the entire mass-energy of 1890s Richmond as fuel!

      And besides, I needed to build on Wells's own rationale. The Time Traveller says: There are really four dimensions, three which we call the three planes of Space, and a fourth, Time... (The Time Machine, Chapter 1.) According to Wells, the Machine works by traversing a 'distance' in a fourth Time direction, just as conventional vehicles can traverse Space. So the Machine, evidently, somehow 'twists' the axes of Space and Time.

      (The history of Wells's novel is interesting on this point. Space-time geometry was in the air in 1895: Lorentz and Fitzgerald had already published space-bending hypotheses to explain the celebrated Michelson-Morley light-speed experiments (roughly speaking, rulers are shortened and clocks slowed to make light-speed come out at a constant value). But, nevertheless, Wells was writing a decade before the publication of Einstein's first Special Relativity papers. Wells seems to have been the first anywhere to express Time as a geometric dimension. And considering that such Time Travel stories as preceded Wells's had featured such 'justifications' as angels and reincarnations, Wells's perception seems all the more remarkable.)

      How could I extrapolate from this to rebuild the Time Machine?

      I went back to Einstein. How can Space-time get twisted? Well, rotating matter - according to General Relativity - does twist axes: matter currents drag at Space-time with gravitational fields, rather as electrical currents exert magnetic forces.

      This seemed a promising lead. And in fact, Frank Tipler (Physical Review D, vol 9, p 2203 (1974)) has described a mechanism for Time Travel involving paths around an infinitely long cylinder, spinning so fast that its surface moves at more than half the speed of light. Unfortunately for me, such an artifact might have been conspicuous in Victorian Richmond.

      At last I came across a more satisfying possibility. In 1949 Kurt Goedel, working with Einstein at Princeton, published a paper called 'An Example of a New Type of Cosmological Solutions of Einstein's Field Equations of Gravitation' (Reviews of Modern Physics, vol 21, p 447). Yes, this was the famous Goedel who had already - in 1931, at the absurdly young age of 25 - proven the incompleteness of mathematics.

      Goedel described a rotating universe. In such a place, if a bullet is fired off from any point, its path will be swung around by the general spin. In fact, Goedel's Space-time is so distorted by its spin that it contains paths which loop into the past. In a universe like ours, such paths would be hundreds of millions of light years long, but the paths shorten if the general density is higher. (Gribbin's book has more details.)

      At last I had the bones of a rationale! I imagined the Time Machine dipping into an alternate, dense, fast-rotating Goedel universe, a few milliseconds at a time, and so spiralling into future or past...

      Of course this still requires a certain amount of hand- waving - for instance, about the existence of the Goedel universe, and how to get the Machine there and back - but such things are (comparatively speaking!) mere details. But this mechanism would match, more or less, Wells's Space-time axis bending. I knew that in the course of my plot, as the Traveller looped back and forth in Time, altering history, I would be exploring modern alternate-universe ideas anyway, so the idea of the additional Goedel universe would fit the framework of the novel. And as I learned about Goedel himself, I began to see a new subplot opening up, involving a cameo role for an enigmatic mathematician...

      An sf novel is not an academic text. (For one thing, it's a lot more fun.) In researching for sf, you aren't seeking completeness and depth; rather, you tend to browse, to use indexes heavily, to follow your nose. You're looking for the peculiar and interesting, and for material which will fit the fictional framework of the piece. As far as accuracy is concerned, the objective is to assemble a reasonable consensus picture of a subject, thus avoiding any obvious boners in the text. And a key activity is looking for angles on how to transmit your findings, painlessly, to the reader.

      Wells's purposes in writing The Time Machine went far beyond scientific extrapolation, of course. His vision of Morlock and Eloi is a complex myth of man's future, a myth which struck powerful chords in a culture riven by Darwinism and a new social awareness. And - as a piece of literature - The Time Machine has often been followed (including by me!), but never surpassed. But, as with all the best sf, the myth would have had far less impact without its underpinning by science. And, in The Time Machine, Wells's science was truly prescient.

      But is there any 'experimental verification' in Wells's text for my Goedel-spinning idea? At the end of The Time Machine, Wells's narrator watches the Traveller depart: I seemed to see a ghostly, indistinct figure sitting in a whirling mass of black and brass... but this phantasm vanished... The Time Machine had gone (Chapter 16).

      Whirling, eh? So that is how the Time Machine worked after all!

copyright Stephen Baxter 1995

For information about George Pal's proposed MOVIE sequel, go HERE.

For another Stephen Baxter "take" on "The Time Machine," go HERE.

Don Brockway, Juny 10, 2000 (updated October 12, 2004)

The Book ] The Time Machine Home Page ]