This book has been said to be one of the earliest novels of science fiction. While it is not a genre I know well, I believe that this book does set down some of the rules and standards that have become part of the definition of science fiction. A realistic setting, almost domestic, a real attempt to produce evidence that would satisfy a discriminating audience, and events just beyond expectation and credibility. In this novel the protagonist is not overly dramatic, his audience chosen for their professional scepticism, and the setting is so Victorian domestic that a reader can learn something of that period. In the light of the current fashion for dystopian vision, this is a chilling report of a world where evolution has defined humanity so as to be vaguely recognisable rather than the same, but developed. Written in 1895, this is a book that would shock today in its bleak view of life many thousands of years hence.
The Time Traveller is in his sitting room, expanding on his thoughts about humanity to his guests, known mainly by their profession (a Medical Man, a Psychologist, an Editor and others) in an after dinner discussion. No women appear in this setting; this is a gathering of scientific gentleman presumed to be sceptical about such dubious assertions that time travel is possible and indeed experienced by one of their number. He produces a model, beautifully made, of a prototype time travel machine, and explains when it disappears that he proposes to make a larger version in which he will travel to the future. His friends are unconvinced, but soon he invites them to believe such an attempt has been made.
The future is at once a paradise and a frightening place. Those he encounters are difficult to categorise, but the Time Traveller recalls an experience that is incredibly detailed. Proof of events is not utterly compelling, but there is every reason to believe that what occurred in this otherwise remarkable house cannot be easily understood.
This is an extremely short, readable classic which is stylistically of a time when the forces of industrialisation and invention were resulting in whole new world views, often painful, sometimes exhilarating. Its late nineteenth century setting is solid, its view of a possible future almost lyrical. Wells was a scientific journalist; a new profession which meant that he was presumably on the edge of discoveries that to the eyes of his contemporary readers would have seemed incredible. Thus time travel would have almost seemed credible by contrast, and it is long before the rules of causing upset in travelling backwards and forwards in time were set down.
This edition of which I received a review copy from Oxford University Press sets out an informative introduction and includes a substantial amount of additional text. The notes explain some of the more obscure references and greatly adds to the understanding of the book. If your tastes run to classic science fiction this novel is a defining introduction, and this edition explains much of the background and achievement of H.G.Wells as one of the most innovative writers of his time.