For the record, in The Time Machine,
the world ends thirty million years in the future, while the Eloi and Morlocks live 800,000 years in the future.
Now, please, tell me again why I'm wrong that 800,000 AD seems to be a totally made up number, because I missed your chain of reasoning there, about why it was a more plausible choice than 400,000 AD or 1,600,000 AD.
On the other hand, I can certainly agree that this book provides an early, if not prototypical, example of the trope in science fiction of concocting an alien civilization by exaggerating and transposing certain features of our own civilization, evidently by comparison and contrast in order to say something about ourselves. But didn't Tolkien do this, too, after a fashion?
The difference is that Tolkien was postulating an imaginary past, while Wells was offering a conjectural extrapolation into the future. Science fiction, like science, is about making deductions and extrapolations from observed knowledge. Positing a future society that's an outgrowth of a current trend extrapolated to its extreme is a fundamentally science-fictional trope, one of the most basic ones in the genre.
What observed trend was Wells extrapolating? Is the labor class developing an aversion to sunlight or becoming cannibalistic? Is the upper class growing weak and listless? Or, more to the point, were such trends observed or hypothesized by scientists in his day? If so, then I'll concede that Wells was actually extrapolating something. Otherwise, the book read like he was applying a sense of poetic justice to invert social class structure for the purpose of debasing human dignity. From the point of view of debasement, the narrative of future human history isn't more profound than ashes to ashes, dust to dust
: mankind evolved out of animals, and in the end he will devolve back towards a beast. But to call it actual extrapolation
seems to take the conceit of the narrative too seriously.
Calling it conjecture
is also problematic because there are multiple senses of that word. In contemporary usage, such as in mathematics, the word often has the sense that a conjecture is suspected of being true although there is no proof that it is and it is understood that it might very well be false. However, in the sense that in a world when certain hypotheses are taken for granted the conjecture would follow, without implication or suggestion as to how likely it is that those hypotheses hold, I would agree that conjecture
is a fair way to describe it. Based on your remarks, it seems like you probably mean it in the latter sense, but I think this is a clarification worth making, given the contemporary usage of the word in technical contexts.
What you're talking about is soft science fiction, not fantasy. Fantasy is something where the extraordinary events are explicitly the result of supernatural or mythical phenomena. Wells's SF was certainly softer and more allegorical than his contemporary Jules Verne's, but he still presented his ideas as scientific rather than magical, so yes, his work was science fiction.
No, what I was talking about, really, was that The Time Machine
wouldn't lose much, if anything, from being transposed
into the fantasy genre. I know good and well that The Time Machine
is science fiction.
Stripped of its scientific conceits, the bulk of the story remains. I was pointing out that there's a lot in the story that's really scientifically arbitrary to begin with. The conceits have little, if any, bearing on the actual structure of the conjectures. The future history of humanity makes just as much sense, if not more, when viewed as pure allegory than as actual future history.
Apologies for the multiple edits on this post. This is the final form of this particular post.