Book Review: The ‘Time’ Machine or the ‘Space’ Machine? Christopher Priest Takes the Easy Road!

The age-old conundrum ideally personified by the 1976 efforts of one ‘Christopher Priest’ (Priest of Christ) which if it is not a made-up name – certainly should be! It has long been known that it is easier to live off the creative labours of others rather than go through the effort of generating your own unique creative content! Such is the background to lazily named ‘The Space Machine’ supposedly designed by Priest as a homage to the bona fida genius of HG Wells by the welding together of two of the seminal works of HG Wells – The Time Machine (1895) and The War of the Worlds (1897)! Welded, of course, in a very shoddy, exploitative and entirely mercenary manner – the inherent weaknesses of which have been used to brainwash an unthinking and uncritical audience into thinking the very poorness of presentation and lack of originality are the very reasons the novel should be extolled as if HG Wells had written the book himself – as in a way he did (just not in the way that matters). The supposed ‘love story’ is more ‘corn’ than ‘horn’ with the author either deliberately jesting – or genuinely having no idea if how men and women relate and behave toward one another (in whatever age one happens to set the romance).

The key word here is ’embarrassing’ every time Priest attempts to fumble at a zip or bra-strap – something I am assured HG Wells in his private life had no similar trouble achieving! The point is that other than blatant plagiarism – Priest possessing no other ‘camouflaging’ mechanism to sell his wares! It is either a very, very poor version of ‘Women in Love’ (1920) – which would probably make DH Lawrence throw-up if he were ever subjected to it – or Priest possesses absolutely NOTHING original – other than the ‘racism’ that is. In other words, the very component HG Wells managed to omit (deliberately) from his numerous novels at a time when it was perfectly acceptable to have included it – is the very element Priest includes in his novel at a time when it was certainly NOT acceptable to voice racist attitudes around the dinner table or in polite conversation (privately voting at the ballot box was another story).

I am not talking about all the key characters being ‘White’ (an achievement suitably sneaky in and of itself) – but rather the manner in which the character Edward Turnbull describes the ‘aliens’ – in a hate-ridden language more suited to the manner in which the British newspapers The Daily Mail and The Telegraph routinely report the presence of non-White migrants in the UK! Needless to say, if the Martians happened to be ‘White’ Neo-Nazi Ukrainians fleeing Russian judicial punishment for their crimes – Turnbull’s assessment of them would have been much more appreciative – and Amelia Fitzgibbon’s (the other protagonist) would have quivered less! The ‘Priest of Christ’ writes with so little creativity and originality that one is left enthralled by the process he is attempting to pull off (like witnessing a daring heist) – and we find ourselves continuing to read simply to see if he can keep-up the charade chapter after chapter – obviously with the two classics of HG Wells open on the table in front of him and randomly selecting from each original story as his ‘new’ (hybrid) narrative unfolds!

One is left with the distinct impression that Priest truly believes that if his version HG Wells classics were published in the 1880s – well-bred young men would be masturbating every time there is mention of Amelia’s exposed ankles – to the back drop of a Martian invasion of Earth and nutty Professors who have convinced themselves that their ‘Time’ machine (which is only secondarily a ‘Space’ machine) is ‘not quite there’ whilst it supposedly lays shimmering in and out of material existence whilst inhabiting a study in Richmond! Those motoring goggles may well come in handy yet – and not necessarily for motor driving! As Priest penned this tome in 1976 – he was probably influenced by the highly successful British science fiction series of ‘Dr Who’ (that also possessed an advanced machine – the ‘TARDIS’ – which funnily enough could also travel in both ‘time’ and ‘space’) and was reaching its creative peak with the actor – Tom Baker – at the helm! More to the point, the ‘love’ scenes, if we can call them that, seem as if the author quickly threw the two Wells novels together, and then realised his caper was up if he did not attempt to go back and at certain random points in the story literally ‘insert’ obviously ‘out of place’ amorous interactions (the first of which – involving Amelia and Edward caught after hours together in a hotel room – owing more than a passing nod to Anthony Trollope’s [1876] ‘Christmas At Thompson Hall’ and the antics of ‘Mrs Brown’) to act as a type Pythonesque ‘camouflage’ – in the hope that the distraction will draw the attention of the audience away from the fact that the book contains ‘zero’ originality and no genuine labour on his part! If anyone does happen to invent a genuine time machine, perhaps the top of any list might be the necessity to go back to 1976 and hide all the pens in the Priest household – and thus save humanity from a genuine catastrophe!