Broken Utopia

Now following from my previous post where I mentioned book covers, this print by Kevin Tong would make a superb cover for a copy of ‘The Time Machine’. Tong has created many stunning prints for H.G. Wells’s scientific romances along with a huge body of other retro-futuristic work for movies and bands, however his The Time Machine print is truely exceptional. All the essential elements are cleverly interwoven together—the Time Machine, the Traveller, the Morlocks, the steampunk Underworld and a utopian Overworld—and illuminated within the flame of reason. The Time Traveller has his back to us and is looking out torwards grand and magnificent buildings that are riddled with cracks, falling apart and ruined—utopia is broken and beyond repair. But what could have caused such a calamity?

This is an important theme in The Time Machine—the fragility of civilisation and it’s a point the that Wells dwells upon time and time again in the novel. At the time of writing The Time Machine in the early 1890s Wells was much concerned with the state of the British Empire—he was aware of the signs of decline and stagnation. The Empire was overstretched, burdoned with bureaucracy with no structured plan to move forward. Sound familiar? When I turn on the television to see another conflict flaring up in the Middle East, another drought in Africa, natural resources being plundered with no consideration for the rights of other species or discover we, the civisilised, wealthy West have merely shifted our dirty industry to sweat shops in China or Bangladesh, it seems reasonable wonder if we’ve made any real progress at all.

It seems to me we, as civilisation need to pull our socks up if we’re going to stand any chance of making a bright future, but Wells goes on to put forward a bleak case against this possibility. A prevalent, scientific theme in Victorian times was the idea that the universe, that nature was like a great clockwork machine that was inevitably winding down, dissipating energy, its processes degrading before eventually coming to a stop and dying. The universe tends towards disorder. This closely relates to the Second Law of Thermodynamics and ‘entropy’, a force even more powerful and unrelenting than gravity. Gravity is the force that can create the ultimate super-dense object—a black hole, where not even light can escape. But over time even black holes evaporate, dissipating and falling apart as entropy inexorably continues it’s work, wearing away the fabric of reality—it’s entropy that will ultimately determine the fate of the universe.

But I’m rambling, let’s get back to Earth in the year 802,701 AD. The point Wells is making is that our civilisation is gradually falling and cracking apart due to our lack of ability to effectively harness and control the forces of nature for our own ends. And, even if we as a species, one day do manage to soar to bewildering technical heights and somehow construct a perfect civilisation, entropy would gradually erode and topple it. So the Time Traveller arrives in the far future to discover an irreparably broken Utopia that, even if someone did have the will to fix it, can’t be fixed. But no one cares anymore—strength and intelligence have long gone from the human race. But I don’t want to end this post like this, on such a deprressing, wistful note so below is a video showing how Kevin Tong used a combination of digital image manipulation and hand-painted drawings to skillfully blend art deco and art nouveau styles to create his wonderful poster.

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