Time Machine: Troopers, by Hal Colebatch
(Acashic Publishing, 172 pages)
In its own way, American Spectator contributor Hal Colebatch’s new novel, Time Machine: Troopers, is as subversive a book as any written in our time. What differentiates it from famous subversive novels like Candide, On the Road, and Catch-22 is that it’s subversive of the subversives, a counterrevolutionary romance.
How many of us have enjoyed books by authors like H. G. Wells, regretting even as we read the political and philosophical obtuseness underlying them? Colebatch tackles that problem hands on, revisiting the story and the characters in a more sensible and realistic (in terms of human nature) manner than Wells would ever have been able. The unnamed Time Traveler, in this book, says of Wells (who appears as a character):
I felt that under his optimism there was always a core of despair at the centre of his soul. As for the only way out he had looked to, “to live as if it were not so,” as if mere petty existence was all we would ever possess, I had thought such a doctrine of “existentialism” (as I called it for want of a better name) a mindlessly petty and bleak one. I am still prepared to wager that should such a view come to be held by the leading body of philosophers of any nation, that nation (though it be as great in the field as France… is today) would not any longer be able to control its affairs: an invader would sweep its defences away.
The ending of Wells’ book, the Time Traveler here informs us, was fictionalized. He did not, in fact, return straightaway to the future, never to be seen again. In fact he lingered in London, traumatized and depressed, contemplating the bleak vision of the future he had been granted. And gradually a new conviction grew on him — he had seen gratitude and courage in the Eloi woman Weena who had befriended him. What were the odds that this particular Eloi should be completely atypical of her people? Were the Eloi the helpless victims of evolution, or simply a population that had forgotten old lessons, lessons they could be taught anew?
In time he determines to return to the future world of Eloi and Morlock, but this time he will go prepared. He will bring with him tools and armaments, in order to help the Eloi care for and defend themselves.
He will also, he decides, need a companion, someone to watch his back. He considers a number of friends — Wells himself and young Winston Churchill among them. But he settles on a more suitable prospect, a recently returned general of the Boer War, Robert S.S. Baden-Powell, hero of Mafeking.
Baden-Powell, at this point, is not yet the founder of the Boy Scouts, but he already has some ideas along those lines.
The future world will be saved by Scouting.
(Tell me the truth. Have you ever read a more audacious concept for a novel?)
Through the adventures the Time Traveler and Baden-Powell experience in revisiting the future, Colebatch ruthlessly mines Wells’ own story for the inner contradictions that gainsay its author’s world view. Colebatch understands that good storytelling has its foundation in truth, and is ultimately incompatible with canting ideology. Wherever a ripping yarn is found, there an eternal verity is attempting to kick its way out.
The result is a whole lot of fun. This is the kind of story that used to be written (especially for boys), a rousing tale of courage and loyalty and hope. By writing in the voice of an Edwardian, Colebatch is free to unashamedly celebrate those manly and (dare I say?) English virtues that the world once admired and emulated, not so terribly long ago. And perhaps might again.
“We may be up against it, but remember, every Eloi, however small and weak, can Do His Best! We are going to teach Johnny Morlock a lesson he won’t forget in a hurry!” [says General Baden-Powell on the eve of battle.]
It takes considerable skill to carry this sort of thing off, I’ll grant, especially in a time like ours, but Hal Colebatch of Australia is the man for the job. You’ll smile as you read Time Machine: Troopers. You’ll want to give it to your son or your nephew. But you’ll keep a copy for yourself.