Holy Morlocks!

I just finished Stephen Baxter’s The Time Ships (1995). This semi-official sequel to H.G. Wells The Time Machine (it was authorized by Wells’s estate) makes for an interesting read, but unfortunately it also feels something like a doughnut. It begins well enough, but even though I liked the seventh –and final– book as well as the epilogue, books five and six felt somewhat tedious, out of place and out of character. And before we go any further, a fair warning: while I usually try to avoid spoilers in these reviews, in this particular instance it won’t be entirely possible for me to do that. No, I won’t be giving away the ending of the book, but I am going to be commenting on some of the specifics regarding both the characters and the events it depicts.

Now, as a sequel to a book that was written a hundred years prior, the author had the not insignificant challenge of trying to merge two styles and two moral codes into his work: Wells’s and his own. This is something that, at least for the first four books, he mostly manages to accomplish. The one place where I feel he gets into trouble is when it comes to the Morlocks. There, in what is probably an attempt at political correctness run amok, he overcompensates, and at times Nebogipfel (a civilized Morlock the traveller picked up as a companion in an alternative version of the year 657,209) comes across as too much of a Sherlock to the traveller’s own bumbling Watson. That is a problem in two ways: first there is the fact that the attitude gets annoying fast, and second there is the fact that, as far as the plot goes, I was left to wonder why the civilized Morlocks of the alternative future didn’t sit down on top of the traveller and explain to him, in very simple words, why it was that he couldn’t go around messing with their timeline, thank-you-oh-so-very-much, rather than allow themselves to be duped in a pretty stupid fashion.

In book four there is also a problem with an inconsistency with regards to an eye injury suffered by Nebogipfel. First we are told that the damage is irreversible, then the author/narrator goes back to speaking of his eyes, and then in book five the injury is actually repaired… or something like it. Yes, I know I’m nitpicking here, but this little detail, as well as the Morlock’s seemingly increased tolerance to light in book four, bugged me.

So to recapitulate, over all it was a fun book to read, and it gave me a taste of Stephen Baxter, an author I had been avoiding because I was a little intimidated by his tendency to write epic series. I am going to be reading Anti-Ice next to get a better idea of what he sounds like on his own, and then, if I like that one, I will turn my attention to his NASA trilogy.

And now, if you are in the mood for a little time-traveling treat that falls neatly in between this two that is in itself little known, I would recommend Anthony Boucher’s The Pink Caterpillar, which was first published in 1945 (it’s a way-back machine link, so it should be reasonably stable). I hope you like it!

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