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The Time Ships by Stephen Baxter is a continuation of The Time Machine by H. G. Wells. I haven't read either book, but I have read a little information about both. I find The Time Ships far more interesting as it is about something that I like: another civilization far more advanced then ours. The Time Machine seems boring to me: a civilization more degraded then ours.

Maybe I'm wrong, but that's what I deduced from the summaries of these books.

Now the question is: can I start reading Time Ships without wasting time on Time Machines, or do I need to read Time Machine first in order to get what's going on?

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You should at least be familiar with the major plot points of The Time Machine (especially the names and basic nature of the two future races), but beyond a reasonably detailed summary, I don't think a lot of details of Wells' novel come into play. Spoilers:

The Time Ships goes by the theory that each trip back in time creates a new alternate timeline, so when the traveler tries to return to the future, he first ends up in a fairly different future than the one seen in Wells' original, although one of the major races--The Morlocks--still exists in this timeline, in a slightly altered form. Then there are a series of trips through time that lead to timelines even less similar to the one in the original book.

If you like more intellectually interesting science fiction, and that's why you prefer more advanced future societies to degraded ones, you might want to reconsider your dismissal of the original--the civilization depicted in Wells' story is not exactly "more degraded" than ours in the usual post-apocalyptic sense (the movie versions do add a future apocalypse, but this wasn't actually suggested by Wells' original story), many of the technological changes Wells imagined (underground machines, bioengineering on the surface to create an eden-like garden world) remain in place. Instead it's humanity itself that seems to have "degraded" (in terms of capacity for cultural innovations like new technologies and art) by evolution, with two different groups of present-day humans having taken divergent evolutionary paths. A lot of the future chapters consist of the time traveler trying to deduce a theory that can explain all the features of the future he finds in a sort of scientific way, with him coming up with a series of plausible-but-wrong theories and later discarding them as he comes across new evidence, until finally he comes up with a theory that seems like a good fit for everything he's found. So it's more intellectually interesting in that way than a typical pulp sci-fi post-apocalyptic story. (The opening discussion of time travel is also probably the first fictional work to discuss the idea of time as a dimension akin to space, predating the appearance of this idea in Einstein's relativity, so that element is interesting as well...Wells is speculated to have gotten this idea from the mathematician C.H. Hinton who wrote about the notion in his 1884 nonfiction essay "What is the Fourth Dimension?", and who also coined the term "scientific romance" which contemporaries often used to describe Wells' stories, though @a4android notes in a comment that Wells himself avoided the term until the 1930s.)

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  • Good discussion about Wells' THE TIME MACHINE. I agree it's likley Wells borrowed Hinton's fourth dimension for the basis of his time travel. The fourth dimension was popular concept in the 19th century. See also Abbott's FLATLAND. One fallacy though, Wells didn't use the term "scientific romance" for his early fiction. This was mainly used by others. He preferred imaginative romance or fantastic romances instead, only by the 1930s did he accept the term for his own work. This was discussed by Brian Stableford in his SCIENTIFIC ROMANCE IN GREAT BRITAIN 1890-1950 (1985).
    – a4android
    Commented Sep 20, 2016 at 9:23
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I read The Time Ships, having not read The Time Machine in twenty years and not remembering much of it. I had zero problems understanding the context.

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The Time Ships is about five times the length of The Time Machine, the latter being more a novella than a novel, so it won't add much to your total reading time to just go ahead and read The Time Machine first. Regard it as a prologue to the main story.

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