A Review of The Time Ships

The Time ShipsThe Time Ships by Stephen Baxter
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The Time Ships is an interesting book. I honestly don’t know how many stars to give it. One could argue it’s an epic masterpiece and deserves five stars. One could argue it’s darn good, but drags a bit toward the end, thus bringing the rating down to four stars. One could say this is an ambitious novel but the last third drags so much, it only deserves an average three star rating. One could say the book is overly ambitious, the science is imperfect, the ending is disappointing and it deserves two stars. And one could say this book flat out bores the hell out of you, is far too long, drags incessantly in the second half, and the ending is so obscenely stupid and disappointing it only merits one star. What to do?

This book is indeed ambitious. It’s an officially approved sequel to H.G. Wells’ classic The Time Machine and starts up immediately where the previous one ended. However, even though it’s a classic and I’m showing my ignorance here, I’ve never read it, so I didn’t understand dozens and dozens of things in this book that were alluded to in the former. And then, from my understanding, Baxter starts taking liberties, using quantum physics as his scientific reason for doing so. We discover alternate histories and futures. We discover what becomes the future of the human race and of Earth itself, while the protagonist and his Morlock friend from the future also travel back 50 million years to the Paleocene age to see and help human life begin on Earth. In fact, this book is even more ambitious than that, and we travel even further back, though I won’t say any more, as I don’t want to give away an important section of the book. However, while being stuck in the Paleocene age was theoretically interesting, it soon became somewhat of a caricature, the lone man (or beings) stranded alone on an island, or in this case, on a world with nothing else there. After awhile, it’s like ho hum. So too, the White Earth. Good God, I thought those chapters would never end! Could those have been anything more boring? I don’t know what the author was thinking when he wrote this huge section (being paid by word count?), but it sure wasn’t anything to do with entertaining his readers. And then there’s the unnamed scientist who built the Time Machine in 1891 and discovered time travel. When he discovers Morlocks hundreds of thousands of years in the future, his traveling companion, one of them named Nebogipfel, turns out to be the godlike intelligent one of the pair, while the British scientist is reduced to having the intelligence of a pumpkin. It’s a little bizarre how every single time something happens to them no matter where it is or how many millions of years they’re away from their previous location, Nebogipfel always knows exactly what the situation is and has to explain everything to the brain dead human scientist. Just a bit odd. Finally, there’s the damned annoying issue of every single time the Time Machine stops, no matter how many decades or tens of millions of years in the future or past, it’s at the scientist’s house in the London area and he immediately recognizes the Thames, various roads and fields – even when the world is a giant ice ball with no identifiable features and even when the world has pretty much just been created and there’s nothing there but land and sea. He can see his place in London. WTF? Seriously??? We’re supposed to believe that? Why don’t they land in Hong Kong or Perth or Chicago or anywhere else? Why is it always at this nonexistent home by the Thames? That’s pretty stupid. But then, for all I know, it could be something that Wells did in his original and Baxter is simply assuming we all know that story by heart, so we’ll understand automatically. Maybe. But I doubt it.

This is one of the more ambitious books I have read, but it literally took me weeks to finish it, while it typically takes me two or three days to finish a 500 page book while I’m reading five or six at the same time. It took me so long because after awhile, I was no longer interested. I didn’t care. I just wanted it to be over. I just couldn’t give a shit about what happened to the characters. The last third of the book was tortuously boring. I’d pick it up and read a couple of chapters every few days. I often give up on books when I don’t like them, but I had read too many pages to feel like I could do that with this one, so I had to finish and I’m so happy to be done with this. This was one of the less enjoyable sci fi books I’ve read recently. Great concept and theory, yes, but in practice, flat out boring and stupid. I’d rather read a cookbook. Two stars instead of one for its ambition and originality. Not recommended.

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One thought on “A Review of The Time Ships

  1. In the original HG Wells story, the machine only moved through time, and not through space. It was just an immobile thing. The scientist Hartgegen built it in his house, so there it is.


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