The Time Ships

The Time Ships

infobox Book |
name = The Time Ships
title_orig =
translator =

image_caption = Cover of HarperCollins 1996
mass market paperback edition
author = Stephen Baxter
illustrator =
cover_artist =
country = United Kingdom
language = English
series =
genre = Science fiction novel
publisher = HarperCollins
release_date = 1995
english_release_date =
media_type = Print (Hardcover & Paperback)
pages = 454 pp
isbn = ISBN 0-002-24609-0
preceded_by =
followed_by =

"The Time Ships" is a 1995 science fiction novel by Stephen Baxter. A sequel to "The Time Machine" by H. G. Wells, it was officially authorized by the Wells estate to mark the centenary of the original's publication. It won the John W. Campbell Memorial Award and the Philip K. Dick Award in 1996. It was also nominated for the Hugo Award for Best Novel in that same year.

Plot summary

After the events related in "The Time Machine", the Time Traveller (his first name, Moses, is given in the novel but applied to the Time Traveller's younger self) prepares, in 1891, to return to the year 802,701 and save Weena, the Eloi who died in the fire with the Morlocks. He reveals that the quartz construction of the time machine is suffused with a radioactive substance he calls Plattnerite for the mysterious benefactor who gave him the sample to study twenty years earlier, in 1871.

The Time Traveller departs into the future and stops in AD 657,209 when he notes the daytime sky has gone permanently dark. He arrives and is abducted by a branch of Morlocks more culturally advanced than the ones he met before. One of their number, Nebogipfel (the name of a character from Wells' "The Chronic Argonauts"), explains after hearing the Time Traveller's own story that the conflict between Eloi and Morlocks never occurred due to the Writer's publication of the story that became "The Time Machine". The timeline he sought to go to is inaccessible to him now. The Morlocks of this timeline have constructed a Dyson sphere around the inner solar system and use the Sun's energy to power it. Humans as the Time Traveller knows them live on the sunlit inner surface of the Sphere while the Morlocks live on the outer shell. The Time Traveller convinces Nebogipfel that he will help him understand the time traveling mechanism of the Time machine if the Morlock takes him back to it.

When he thinks he is unobserved, the Time Traveller reactivates his machine and travels to 1873 to persuade his younger self to stop his research on Plattnerite. Nebogipfel, who took hold of the Time Traveller once he realized what he was doing, follows him there. As the Time Traveller attempts to persuade his younger self, whom he asks to call "Moses" to avoid confusion, to stop his research by providing Nebogipfel as proof that reality is changed by time travel, a tank-like "Juggernaut" pulls into Moses' yard. The army personnel on board, commanded by Hilary Bond and accompanied by an older version of the Time Traveller's friend Filby, take Moses, Nebogipfel, and the Time Traveller to "their" 1938, where World War I has stretched over twenty-four years due to the discovery of time travel which was influenced by the latter's work. Britain's major cities are all encased in Domes, and with the contributions of Austrian expatriate Kurt Gödel, the government hopes to win the war by altering Germany's history conclusively.

Nebogipfel explains to the Time Traveller that they've entered another future as a result of their actions in Moses' past. During another bombing raid on London by the Germans, Gödel provides a vial of Plattnerite and leads to the only escape available, a Time-Car prototype. Upon hearing this and what society would be like after the war (a pessimistic view mirroring Wells' own), the Time Traveller and Nebogipfel mount the vehicle and insert the Plattnerite. Moses is killed in an explosion when he tries to save Gödel, and the Time-Car travels back to the Paleocene and is wrecked on a tree. After weeks of bare survival, the Time Traveller and Nebogipfel are discovered by a scouting party from the Chronic Expeditionary Force commanded by Hilary Bond that arrived from 1944 to find them based on their remains in "her" time. Some time later, a German Messerschmidt plane arrives over the campsite, drops a "Carolinum" bomb (analogous to an atomic bomb in our world; see Wells's "The World Set Free"), and devastates the time-traveling Juggernauts and all but twelve of the Force. Nebogipfel and the Time Traveller are away from the campsite at the time.

Over the next year and a half, the stranded soldiers under Hilary Bond's command start the colony of First London. In off moments, Nebogipfel has worked on repairing the Time-Car and acquired shavings of Plattnerite to power it on a journey through time. When the Time-Car is ready, the Time Traveller joins Nebogipfel in a fifty-million year journey through which they see First London expand and develop colonies on the moon and in Earth orbit. Eventually, human tampering with the Earth's environment renders the planet uninhabitable, and they depart for the stars. When the Time-Car finally stops due to loss of its Plattnerite fuel, Nebogipfel and the Time Traveller are tended by a "Universal Constructor", a life form (or lifeforms) comprised of thousands of nanotechnological entities. Their goal is to harvest the energy of the sun to build time-travel vehicles from Plattnerite and travel to the beginning of the universe. However, this goal is not due to be completed for a million years.

Nebogipfel and the Time Traveller acquire enough Plattnerite from the Constructors in order to journey to the point in the future (i.e., another million years hence) when the Constructors will have finished building their time ships. Once the Time Traveller and Nebogipfel reach this point, the Constructors integrate them into a time ship and thus begins the journey back to time's beginning. At this central point from where all matter and energy and timelines branch off, the Constructors apparently start a new history in which they become something even more grand and knowledgeable than before. These successors of the Constructors place the Time Traveller and Nebogipfel into the Time Traveller's original history in the year 1871. It is revealed that the Time Traveller himself "is" the mysterious stranger who gave his younger self the Plattnerite sample under the alias "Gottfried Plattner", and that because of this, the circle of causality is closed and thus, the whole multiplicity of histories which ends up creating the Constructors and their successors begins anew. Nebogipfel, with his consciousness enhanced by his time with the Constructors, leaves the Time Traveller behind to travel with the successors of the Constructors. These successors plan to travel "beyond" the "local" multiplicity into a new realm of historical dimensions.

The Time Traveller then makes one final journey to A.D. 802,701, along his historical axis, and just barely saves Weena from the death she suffered before. Since (the reader is led to suppose) traveling in time again would cause this reality to branch off and become inaccessible again, the Time Traveller destroys the machine and encourages the Eloi in an Agrarian Revolution to reduce their dependence on the Morlocks for food and clothing, hoping to one day eliminate it entirely. As he works, the Time Traveller writes down the recounting of his adventures and seals them in a Plattnerite packet, a "time capsule," so to speak, in the hope that it will travel in time to a faithful scribe. Before sealing the packet, the Time Traveller writes that he plans to go into the world of the Morlocks again, hopefully to return and add an appendix to the story. The book ends by saying that no appendix was found.

References to the works of H. G. Wells

*The name Gottfried Plattner comes from "The Plattner Story" (included in Wells's collection of short stories entitled "The Country of the Blind and Other Stories", written between 1894 and 1909, first published in 1911). There is no original link between this story and "The time machine", nor does the account related to us by Baxter at the end of "The time ships" echo an event from "The Plattner story". In Wells's original story, Gottfried Plattner is given a full backstory including ancestry and occupation. He is a school teacher made to chemically analyze a "green powder" of uncertain origin by his students, and, upon lighting the powder on fire, is violently launched into a mysterious parallel dimension next to ours where mute "Watchers of the Living", obviously deceased souls or alternate versions of existing people in our world, take keen interest in our world.
*The Morlock Nebogipfel takes his name from Wells' story "The Chronic Argonauts".
*If the name "Nebogipfel" is the compound of a Slavic word "nebo" for "heaven" or "sky" and the German "Gipfel" which variously means 'summit', 'pinnacle', 'peak', 'height' or 'crown', then the Morlock's name means "zenith", "crown/apogee of heaven", or "pinnacle of the sky".
*The Time Traveller, Moses and Nebogipfel are taken from 1873 to 1938 in large tank-like vehicle that is capable of time travel referred to as a land Juggernaut which is similar to the vehicles in Wells' short story "The Land Ironclads".
*In the London Dome, the characters are introduced to the Babble Machines, an entertainment/propaganda device, which originally appeared in Wells' "When the Sleeper Wakes".
*The dome is somewhat similar in concept to the post world war "Bombproofs" mentioned as existing in London after the second world war in The shape of things to come though this is on a much vaster scale. A similar design is reused by Baxter and Arther C Clarke in their novel Sunstorm, for the vast dome used to shield London from the Storm of the novels title.
*When the London Dome is breached, the sound of the alarms is described as "ulla, ulla, ulla", which is the cry of the Martian Tripods in "The War of the Worlds".
*In the Palaeocene Age, the Time Traveller succumbs to a bacterial infection as his body is ill adapted to the environment, much like the Martians in "The War of the Worlds".
*The people of the Green Moon are referred to as Selenites, as are the inhabitants of the moon in "The First Men in the Moon".
* The novel suggests that the universe of the Time Traveller is not ours, but a slightly different one, coherent with Wells novels. Nuclear energy is produced by a material called "carolinum" and not uranium. Carolinum allows to produce plattnerite relatively easily. Carolinum bombs, contrary to A-bombs, continue to detonate for years with an eerie purple glow. The name "carolinum" and the continuous detonation are references to "The World Set Free".

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