I adore anything to do with time travel. Far more interesting than life after death, easier to grasp than parallel universes, it allows for the exploration of so many ideas, concepts, truths about human nature, history, and possibilities. Here are my top ten reads.
1. The Time Traveller’s Wife – Audrey Niffenger. Apart from being a tremendous love story and a gripping, pacey read, this is not really a classic time travel book in that nothing ever changes in the wider world when Henry travels through time, but this makes the novel an intensely interesting examination of the effect of time travel on individual fate and free will.
2. Making History – Stephen Fry. The main character in this book goes back in time to prevent Hitler being born, and of course then changes all history beyond that point, including his own. Another book which wins my vote because of its close focus on the main character and what time travel means for them personally.
3. The End of Eternity – Isaac Asimov. I have read a lot of classic sci fi in my time, and much of it doesn’t stand the test of time, but this one has a special place in my heart. A group of people exist outside time in an organisation which moves through the years, altering events for the benefit of all. Packed with ideas, this really does examine what the existence of time travel would actually mean for the human race.
4. The Lathe of Heaven – Ursula K LeGuin. I’m cheating a bit putting this book here, because it is more about parallel universes than time travel, but hey, I adore it, so in it goes. The main character George finds that his dreams change reality, including his own.
5. Woman on the Edge of Time – Marge Piercy. This was my favourite book for many, many years. Coincidentally I read it while working in a psychiatric hospital, which is where the main character – Connie – is incarcerated, and there was a woman in the high security ward where I was based who reminded me of so much of Connie, perhaps not surprising as many women were forced into psychiatric hospitals back in the day when they became an inconvenience to their families. Connie is either a time traveller or a schizophrenic, but she believes she’s in touch with people from a future utopia. Remember that this book was written in 1976, during the second wave of feminism, and so the ideas of this future utopia are heavily influenced by the politics and political writing of the time. (The utopia is based on The Dialectic of Sex by Shulamith Firestone who argued that for women to be liberated, we would need to stop giving birth to children and instead allow technology to grow new humans…) If you allow for that it’s a beautiful book which works on many layers.
6. The Door into Summer – Robert A Heinlein. Ok this is the last classic sci fi I’ll allow myself. Back to current stuff next, I promise. But you can’t do a top ten sci fi list without some Heinlein. And ok his sexual politics are terrible, but he is of his time. Door into Summer is maybe a bit creepy, with the protagonist falling in love with someone much younger than himself, but then she likes his cat. And the cat is a main character. And it’s got cryogenics and time travel – so it’s doubly good. If you enjoy this, then try one of his other time travel books – Farnhams Freehold. I read this over and over obsessively at one point; but if you’re too young to remember the Cold War then it’s probably not for you.
7. Time Riders – Alex Scarrow. The first book in a series of NINE (!) YA time travel novels, all of which feature three teenage protagonists, snatched from the jaws of death throughout time, to work for an agency which exists to fix history when it gets broken by other time travellers. Each book is set in different time periods, everything from the time of dinosaurs, to Romans to Mayans to pirates. Great pace, good characters, and a fantastic plot. I hoovered up the whole series as fast as Amazon could deliver them.
8. The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August – Claire North. If reincarnation was a real thing, it would be cool, right? But also dead annoying that you wouldn’t get to remember your past lives. That’s why reincarnation has always seemed a bit pointless to me. But Harry August remembers all of his previous lives. And he is also given a purpose – he has to prevent something catastrophic happening. I also like the fact this book moves away from the usual sci fi tropes and into being a bit more buddhist.
9. 11/22/63 Stephen King. Such a departure for Stephen King. Not horror, but real sci fi, although he allows himself to poke fun at the tropes of the genre:
“Yeah, but what if you went back and killed your own grandfather?”
He stared at me, baffled. “Why the fuck would you do that?”
But 11/22/63 is also a tender love story about an every day guy who is given the chance to stop JFK being assassinated and then spends most of his life trying to do just that.
10. Time and Time Again – Ben Elton. Another fabulous book by another fabulous writer looking at what happens if you try to alter history – in this case to prevent Franz Ferdinand being assassinated and thus stop the First World War.
There were so many other books I had to miss out – Clifford D Simak is another classic science fiction writer you should get to know if you can – Way Station and Time And Again – two fabulous time travelling books of his. Time and Again is also the title of a book written by Jack Finney about a character who travels through multiple versions of Manhattan using self hypnosis. It’s pretty good. The psychology of Time Travel by Kate Mascarenhas promised so much, but it doesn’t make my top ten because there is just too much going on; it’s really a murder mystery with time travel. Ditto Miss Peregrines Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs – a time frozen book rather than a time travel per se; I loved the photos, loved the story but it didn’t fulfil its promise enough for me to want to read any more of the series.