This is the little number that started it all. For the English-speaking world (some translations of Verne possibly aside), science fiction begins with the four brief, brilliant novels published by H G Wells in the 1890s. The War of the Worlds is a still-unsurpassed alien invasion story; The Invisible Man one of the first world-dominating mad scientist tales; and The Island of Dr Moreau a splendidly misanthropic story of artificial evolution and genetic modification. But The Time Machine came first, launching Wells' career in literature; and, after just over a century, there still isn't anything nearly like it. A Victorian inventor travels to the year 802701, where the class divisions of Wells' day have evolved two distinct human races: the helpless, childlike and luxurious Eloi and the monstrous, mechanically adept and subterranean Morlocks. Predictably, the film version turned them into the usual Good Guys and Bad Guys, though it's still worth seeing, particularly for its conception of the Time Machine itself - a splendid piece of Victorian gadgetry. The book, despite its sociological-satirical premise, is rather more complex in its treatment of the opposed races, and the Time Traveller's voyage ends, not with them, but still further in the future, with images of a dead sun and a dark earth populated only by scuttling, indefinite shadows. As in the other three novels, too, the premise of the story is carefully worked out and clearly explained - a discipline largely beyond science fiction today, in which time travel, invading aliens or whatever are simply taken for granted as convenient genre props and automatic thought-nullifiers. After more than a century, The Time Machine is still waiting for the rest of us to catch up.