THE TIME SHIPS
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
A few years ago, the term "Steampunk" began to appear as a means of denoting science fiction in which the Victorian's managed to develop computers. By expanding its use, steampunk could be taken to mean any Victorian tale which included aspects of technology which were not readily available to the Victorians. A few years ago, Stephen Baxter wrote his paean to Jules Verne when he published Anti-Ice, in which a Vernesian character manages to build a spaceship in the late nineteenth century.
Baxter's new book pays tribute to the other great nineteenth century SF author, H.G. Wells. The Time Ships is a direct sequel to Wells's The Time Machine (1895). Before attacking the Baxter work, I decided to re-read the Wells original. Upon beginning Baxter's sequel, I discovered that Baxter had managed to faithfully capture Wells's style. Moreover, while usually this type of pastiche fails if carried on too long, Baxter's prose seems to flow naturally, as if he were writing in the current manner rather than a style which has been out of date for a century. While Baxter's prose is reminiscent of Wells's, many of the social ideas which Baxter espouses would not have sat easily, I suspect, with Wells.
In order to get around this, Baxter's author is the original time traveler (who Wells never named). One of his audience when he related his earlier adventure was a young journalist, who turns out to be H.G. Wells (although Baxter refrains from giving his actual name). This allows Baxter an increased versimilitude when the reader sees what "really happened" as opposed to the slant which the author of the previous work placed on the time traveler's adventures.
Wells's book was under one hundred pages. Baxter's covers nearly six times that length. Nevertheless, he manages to maintain the pace of the original. Wells's time traveler made a single trip through time, beginning in 1894, journeying progressively into the future until he reached the end of the universe returning to 1894 and then leaving on another journey into the future.
Baxter takes over at this point, introducing the first anachronism based on the time traveler's own motions. The Eloi and Morlocks he encountered on his first visit do not exist as such when he returns to the future and he must come to terms with a world in which his expectations were not met. As the time traveler continues through time, eventually gaining a Morlock scientist as a companion, the universe continues to splinter until the traveler seems completely lost from his own England.
While Wells's traveler visited the end of the universe, Baxter's traveler seems intent on seeing the beginning of the universe. His leaps through time eventually land him in a prehistoric England in which a time war is being fought between twentieth-century Germans and British.
Baxter's work builds admirahly on The Time Machine, and while he doesn't always share the political and social views which suffused Wells's original, he manages to interject his own ideas without breaking entirely from the world which Wells created a century ago.
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