The writer H. G. Wells once declared: “I am extravagantly obsessed by the thing that might be, and impatient with the present; I want to go ahead of Father Time with a scythe of my own.” He did just that in 1895 with The Time Machine, the novel that coined the eponymous term—but not the idea. For that you have to rewind to 1888 and “The Chronic Argonauts.” In this Wells short story, the mysterious Dr. Nebogipfel moves into a manse near the town of Llyddwdd and builds a strange device behind his boarded-up windows. When the Llyddwddites pick up their inevitable pitchforks, Nebogipfel and a local reverend vanish aboard “a peculiar erection of brass and ivory.” After the reverend rematerializes, he describes “the ship that sails through time,” the Chronic Argo.
Such vessels have visited us ever since. Asimov had “kettles” in The End of Eternity and Van Damme rode a sled in Timecop. Necklaces (Harry Potter’s Time Turner), remote controls (Click), and an Infinite Improbability Drive have assumed Wellsian powers, along with DeLoreans, police boxes, and phone booths. And we’ll soon reboard the Argo: New Baby Productions is turning “Argonauts” into a graphic novel. “It’s like looking at Da Vinci’s doodles,” writer Jason Quinn says. “Without ‘Argonauts’ there would have been no Time Machine. Without Time Machine we’d have no Doctor Who, no Time Tunnel, none of the great sci-fi comics of the ’50s. Even Dr. Doom would be stuffed without his time machine.” That’s not a future we’d want to live in.