Christopher Priest: The Space Machine

November 6, 2020

     I obviously liked this novel, for this is the fifth time I’ve read it (over a period of 40 years, mind). It’s a tribute to the lure of H G Wells’ two novels which are archetypes of science fiction, The Time Machine and The War of the Worlds. Priest has played deftly with the two novels, as did Ronald Wright in A Scientific Romance, though now I think I prefer the latter’s riff on Wells’ creation…

Deviously, Priest firstly gets his hero and heroine together, and then through the use of a prototype time machine manages to get them to Mars: as he is writing in a pseudo-nineteenth century style and vein, as well as pastiching Wells’ novels, obviously it’s a Mars as was imagined at the end of that century, with canals and cities and humanoid Martians, divided into two species, rather as the Morlocks and Eloi 800,000 years in Earth’s future in Wells’ original novel.

What we gradually realise as they explore the planet and learn about it, is that they have arrived there in the time leading up to the projected invasion of Earth which Wells described; Mars is a worn-out planet gradually becoming a wasteland unable to support its inhabitants (now where have we come across that before?) and so its masters are seeking pastures new. Priest develops and fleshes out the ideas only hinted at by Wells, especially the monsters’ need to feed on human blood, and their powerful weaponry.

The story struck me, this time around, as a bit plodding and woodenly crafted. Our plucky pair – in a nineteenth-century swashbuckling manner, stow away on the first spaceship of the Martian invasion of Earth, and of course are unable to do anything when they arrive back home; the invasion proceeds very much as Wells describes it, and the pair encounter a philosopher among the destruction and chaos of south east England, who turns out to be none other than Wells himself, of course, and he finds their tale very far-fetched.

It’s a competent yarn, much more War of the Worlds than Time Machine, and I think I can dispense with a sixth reading…

2 Responses to “Christopher Priest: The Space Machine”


  1. […] biggest disappointment of the year: re-reading Christopher Priest’s The Space Machine, of which I’d carried positive recollections for quite a few years. It palled, it dragged, it was […]

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  2. […] Various writers have played with Wells’ original idea: I once admired Christopher Priest’s The Space Machine, which managed to combine elements of the original novel with the same author’s The War of the […]

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