Review of ‘The Time Ships’ by Stephen Baxter

Did H G Wells’ The Time Machine need a sequel? No! The ending is mysterious and there are many unanswered questions, which helps to make the book memorable and intriguing. Yet, 100 years after this classic was first published, an authorised sequel by SF giant Stephen Baxter appeared. An award-winner, it was enthusiastically praised by Arthur C Clarke. Sadly, it’s getting little praise from me. The best I can say of this charity shop read is that it kept me occupied during a long journey.

The Time Ships, showing the white sphinx lit up at night.

The book provides a lot of detailed explanation of what happened to the Time Traveller after the end of Wells’ narrative. He intended to return to the future, to save Weena from the Morlocks, but finds that the Eloi are extinct and the new sophisticated Morlocks live in the sky. The actions of himself and the repercussions of his discoveries mean that every visit to the future, or the past, has a different outcome. A sprawling, complex story follows, mainly involving alternative Second World War history. I think Stephen Baxter must have really disliked the rescue-of-Weena idea, even though this is the focus of the blurb. Only in the last few pages of this book (note that it’s over 600 pages long) is the Time Traveller reunited with her, but then she is barely mentioned, suggesting that she didn’t mean much to him.

The writing style is a passable imitation of Wells, without the elegance. I did like some passages which, as in the original book, described the awe-inspiring and desolate views as the Time Traveller continued into the millennia. There are also some elements from other Wells works, plus some content which was present in the serialised version of The Time Machine. I do admire the effort put into The Time Ships, but not only is this book ridiculously long compared to its predecessor, the explanations of scientific development in the 20th century (expressed so that a 19th century person could understand them) are not compelling at all.

This edition published by Harper Voyager, 1995, with a few creepy illustrations by Les Edwards.

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