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The Time Ships Mass Market Paperback – November 27, 1995
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It takes you to visions of alternate futures, as well as pasts, such as a sphere around the sun, a war-torn Earth of 1939, the Paleocene era of fifty-million years ago, an alternate reality with machines as the heirs of man, and finally to the most fantastic vision of an infinite universe created and ruled over by the true power of the human Mind. The book closes with the Traveller being returned to his own reality so that he is able to go and save Weena in the far-off age of 800,000 years hence(I wont give away the ending).
Throughout the book, Stephen Baxter gives you insights into the world of Quantum Physics, an aspect that brings the book to have a more real-world feel than some bizarre odyssey. Stephen Baxter is a true visionary. Someone who is able to see the current trends of science and incorporate them into a masterfully executed story. This book, in my opinion, is among the greatest sci-fi masterpieces of all time. The story never gets too technical, but never reaches down to the level of a child-like fantasy story. It is a story not only about time travel, but about the nature of mankind itself. but the most important thing that this book teaches you is that no matter where you are, or what you do, the future is a world of infinite possibilities and it is up to us choose the right ones throughout our lives. For who knows what the future holds? Possibilities, my friend. Possibilities, indeed.
Baxter's creativity brings a sense of wonder to the reader that is pure joy and adventure. (While reading it, I even listened to the sound track from the original "Time Machine" movie and the Russell Garcia score just made the entire experience even better). The story's ending was very emotional and showed that, for all the Time Traveller had seen and experienced - from the beginning of time to the end of the world - it was his human feelings toward another that mattered the most.
One last observation - It was my thinking that Baxter left the story open ended for another possible sequel involving the Time Traveller's adventures with the Morlocks. I can only hope that is true, for he has all the time in the world...
Despite all of this, I think he succeeds. Not just in imitating Wells's voice, but in all aspects.
To begin, this book has some prerequisites. To be sure, you need to read The Time Machine (Penguin Classics), and to track down the missing part to chapter 11--alluded to on p.103ff. You will also do well to track down The Chronic Argonauts, the early draft version of "The Time Machine." Watch the names Moses and Nebogipfel! Additionally, "The Time Ships" includes several Wellsian inside-jokes. These are references to several of his lesser-know works: "The World Set Free," (p. 157ff) "Things to Come," (both the book and the movie), and the quick nod to "War of Worlds" with the virus discussion (p. 284ff), and "The First Men in the Moon" with the selenites. I think some of the book's criticism comes from missing these subtle allusions.
(I recommend seeing the 1960's movie BEFORE reading this book, and seeing the 2002 version AFTER reading this book).
By including these easter eggs, Baxter's time travel story double-backs to its roots. The first two time travels stores, Wells's and Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (Tor Classics), were works of social criticism, with Twain's included the expected satire. Baxter, by including allusions to Wells's utopian future histories, brings back to square one. This is refreshing. So much of popular time travel stories are just variations on the Grandfather Paradox (The City on the Edge of Foreve, Back To the Future, every episode of Star Trek: Voyager). This book, however, uses time travel as a type of social commentary (akin to Star Trek IV), but on a scale reminiscent of Olaf Stapleton (Last and First Man, the Star-Makers, The Nebula-Makers).
Of course here and there it has a feel of "Goes Nowhere, Does Nothing," but so does Wells's work. "War of the Worlds" ends in a Deus Ex Machina, and the Time Traveler abandon Weena in the fire and zips on to 30 million years into the future. The flaws reminds us of Wells's flaws.
The tone/setting of the story also zigzags, almost chiasmically . We start with Wells's setting, then go to the high concept of Morlocks 2.0, then back to Wells's England, then to a steam-punk/pulp 1930's "World Set Free" time line, then back to Jurassic Park/Robinson Crusoe for Humanity 3.0, the New Humans, the to the high concept of the Constructors, and end up in full circle at the correct ending of "The Time Machine." What a ride! What a vision! C. S. Lewis would have loved this book!
Indeed, as I read books 5 and 6, I felt joy. For those of us who felt let down by the direction of Clarke's 2001 series (3001 The Final Odyssey in particular), rest assured that Baxter delivers on the promise Clarke failed to keep, If you see the Time Traveler as Dave Bowman, and Nebogipfel as HAL 9000 (both are cyclopean), and the Constructors as the Monoliths (they were originally pyramids in "The Sentinel"), then you see my point. Plagiarism, no! An unfulfilled promise finally met, yes, yes, yes.
This book has been one of the most refreshing, and invigorating books I have read in recent years. If you have lost faith in SF, read this book and welcome home!
PS- If you were confused by Star Trek: Enterprise's "Temporal Cold War," I assume they got the idea from this book.