Herbert George Wells had a shoddy education, worked unwillingly as a draper's assistant and then as a chemist's assistant, for which he acquired sufficient Latin in a five-hour burst of study. He then studied science and became a teacher, but was rendered semi-invalid by a football accident, and was finally forced into authorship by a burst blood-vessel in his lungs. A born fighter, he immediately produced The Time Machine
, which is now regarded as the best of all his books, and whose intellectual audacity is extraordinary, given the primitive scientific ambiance of 1895.
The inventor-hero announces to a group of friends that the geometry they learned at school was a misconception, and promises--despite their incredulity--that he will prove experimentally that time is the fourth dimension. He produces a minute machine, points out two levers marked "past" and "future" and presses one, whereupon the model grows indistinct and then vanishes. He then shows them the full-scale machine in which he himself will time-travel. Eight days later he reappears dirty, hungry, bleeding, and exhausted: with poetic intensity he describes the sun jerking from solstice to solstice while the moon spins through her quarters. The world he has visited was divided into a soft, idle aristocracy and a vicious underclass of murderous workers: in other words, a powerful social allegory reflecting his own innate radicalism.
Brian Cox's reading is both convincing and gripping, as he relives his helpless headlong flight to the world of AD 802701.--Betty Tadman