backward in time is, so far, complete fiction. But it's the backward travel that makes the best stories because it involves the whole idea of re-visiting and even changing history. As long as the writer keeps the time lines consistent and provides a scenario that, once you think it through, makes some sense, I consider it worth suspending questions regarding violation of the conservation laws of the universe and the proliferation of time lines. I'll have to do a broader treatment of time travel elsewhere. For now, I'd like to put in a word for the first great time travel story - The Time Machine.
I think we could say that the science fiction genre was born during the industrial revolution with the works of authors like Jules Verne and H.G. Wells. The Time Machine, written by Wells in 1895, was one of those first great works. The original work is not very lengthy and you can read it online here. It's original intent was to be a satire that made a statement about class disparity in society. Wells witnessed the exploitation of the workforce in the factories of the turn of the century tycoons of industry. But I think Wells also intended to experiment with ideas about time travel in general, which he did quite ingeniously in a time before the advent of Einstein's relativity. Except for the eventual return of the hero, all the travel in the book is toward the future, removing any of the problems mentioned above regarding changing history and such.
The Time Machine. Although it deviated quite far from the original work, and contained some cheesy Hollywood fare, on the whole it was a very good film, especially in the early set up. We're treated to initial explanations about time travel to a movie audience that was not accustomed to such ideas yet. The use of stop motion camera effects to speed up time throughout the film is still really great to watch even today. In order to give it some flare, the reflections of the traveller in the book are scrapped in favor of the beefed up action sequences in which the traveller must rescue his companion. Oh, and they gave him a name - H. George Wells!
worth watching for most of the film.
The Time Machine, directed by H.G. Wells' own great grandson, Simon Wells. Although the basic elements are there, it's safe to say this is an entirely new movie. Rather than mere curiosity, the time traveller's motivation for his work is to change history by preventing his fiance's death. He actually succeeds in doing this by going back in time, but finds she ends up dying another way. He then wonders about the possibility of changing history at all and begins travelling into the future to find the answer. The Morlocks have been beefed up into pretty terrifying monster versions of future humanoids and the Eloi are no longer stupid. In the end, the traveller ends up staying in the future with Mara (the new Weena) after the machine is destroyed. It's disappointing, not just because of the re-write, but because the re-write is so bad.
One final point of interest is the different ways each rendition of the story explains how the traveller ends up 800,000 years in the future. In the book, there is no explanation except scientific curiosity - that's the only time period the traveller targets. In the 1960 version, the traveller encounters a nuclear war that destroys most of the earth, including covering him over with a lava formation. He has to go far enough into the future to allow the lava to erode away and see if anyone survived. In the 2002 version, on one stop along the way, the moon is blowing up because of nuclear detonations on its surface to make way for new real estate construction. The traveller gets knocked unconscious with the machine running while trying to escape and wakes up far into the future. As you can see, science fiction often engages in social commentary, so the message can be tailored to the issues of the day, whether it be class disparity, nuclear war, or suburban sprawl.
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