The Time Ships by Stephen Baxter

The tagline on the cover says, “The authorized sequel to The Time Machine,” and in many ways it is the perfect sequel. Baxter takes elements from H.G. Wells’s classic novel and builds upon them with a skill that had me in awe in places. You could almost be forgiven for thinking that H.G. himself had written the first book with this next one in mind. The romance that the Time Traveller of the original novel had with a woman from the future called Weena is built upon beautifully. At the close of The Time Machine she was left to a cruel fate at the hands of the Morlock race; now the Time Traveller’s first aim is to use his machine to rescue her. One of the things that made the original novel so brilliant was Wells’s sharp logic; unlike Back to the Future, it is not enough for a simple kiss to get a misdirected timeline back on its original course. Baxter is every bit as sharp as Wells. And what this means in terms of the story is that the Time Traveller can’t get back to Weena, because his return to the past has already wiped out the entire future that he visited. Space doesn’t permit me to go into enough detail here, and I’m probably failing to communicate any of the amazement I felt at Baxter’s theorizing, so all I can say is read it for yourself. If you’re a fan of the original novel, you’ll love it.

I won’t say much more about the plot, save that time is a vast thing, and this is a big book. Baxter will take you lots of places. I am sad to report, however, that things took a disappointing turn for me towards the close of the book. There was a section where the protagonist had a kind of out-of-body experience, and it seemed to go on and on, and the things that Baxter explained through it were either very fanciful or way over my head.

Stylistically, the the novel is written to complement the original; i.e. words like “futurity” are used in place of “the future”. It’s a fitting approach and it reads well.

Overall I feel very ambivalent about this book. Part of me wants to recommend it very highly because of how well thought-out and enjoyable it is. But the ending was a real let down.


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