Friday, October 5, 2012
Time Travel Books to Read on the TARDIS
by Sara N.
I've been on a bit of a time travel kick recently, even before Looper came along to blow my mind with its twisty time-bending plot and its uncomfortably realistic vision of the future (well, except for the time travel, of course).
Time travel has been one of my favorite literary devices since I devoured the kiddie book Time at the Top as a dreamy tween. Since then, I've fed that love with The Terminator and Doctor Who and The Time Traveler's Wife. But ever since I read (and adored) Stephen King's "let's kill Oswald" opus 11/22/63 last year, I've moved into overdrive in my pursuit of time travel books. Read on for some favorites.
I'm not saying the following books are perfect, by the way. Some are excellent; others are merely interesting in spite of their flaws. But you're bound to find something here to suit your reading tastes.
The End of Eternity by Isaac Asimov — There's a good reason this is one of the classics of science fiction. The End of Eternity, published in 1955, tells the story of Andrew Harlan, one of the men tasked with traveling through time to make minute adjustments that keep humanity on track. It's a cold book, with a passionless man finding passion and jeopardizing absolutely everything he believes in for a woman. Despite the rather bloodless characters, the story is gripping, and once you understand what Eternity signifies within the context of the book, the title becomes portentous.
Doomsday Book by Connie Willis — Oh, this book. This gorgeous, heartbreaking book. Connie Willis has written several books that deal with time travel, but this one destroyed me with its sad, powerful beauty. Kivrin is a scholar from the near future who travels to the fourteenth century, where she deals with situations I wouldn't dream of spoiling here. One of her dilemmas is how she will deal with being an unescorted woman at that time — an interesting gender conundrum that not enough time travel tales tackle. The characters — both the heroes and the cowards, the suspicious and the open-hearted — will stay with you.
(Oh, and just for fun, please note the image to the right, which may just be the most awful, least appropriate cover for any book in the history of books. Nobody in Doomsday Book wears a shiny crown. There's no grinning prince on a horse. Scientists do not engage in any DNA tampering. It's so thoroughly terrible that I had to include it. If you picked up the book to the right, you would expect a pretty blonde princess to find true love with a dashing knight and her eyebrow waxer. I would love to have been in the room with someone expecting that storyline when she got to about chapter 12. Heh.)
Overseas by Beatriz Williams —If you like the romance of time travel, this one's for you. Overseas bounces between modern New York and the Europe of World War I, telling the epic love story of Kate and Julian. To be honest, I wanted to read a little less about the characters falling in love and a little more about the actual complications of time travel that affect poor lost-in-time Julian (who makes a scrumptious leading man). While Kate borders on the Mary Sue-ish, she redeems herself in the last act, which picks up speed and zooms to the end. You'll mourn for all of the men lost in the trenches of WWI, and you'll enjoy the way Williams plays with the ripples of the past and the challenges of finding yourself in the future.
The Revisionists by Thomas Mullen — Zed has come from the future to stop an impending catastrophe that will lead to Very Bad Things for present-day America and the rest of the world. During his mission, he gets tangled up in some recognizable contemporary issues: unrest over American military involvement in the Middle East, the CIA's insidious involvement around the globe, and the abuses that the privileged perpetrate on the powerless. It's a book that crackles with our present international tensions, with the added observations of a man from a near-perfect future who's disgusted and a bit overwhelmed by our time. This book didn't work for me, though; it unraveled by the end, and I was left feeling a bit cheated. Still, it's a serious-minded look at the world and how it might appear to people from a more enlightened time.
When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead — This is a children's book. Not YA, but children. And it's excellent. Miranda starts receiving notes about the future, and she slowly comes to realize how they all fit together and what they might mean about her own future. It's a puzzle, and its solution is one that will surprise and move even adult readers. If you've got kiddos, get them started in the time travel genre with this book.
Time at the Top by Edward Ormondroyd — I read this book as a 10-year-old, and it was the first one to make me ponder how people in the past could affect the future through their actions. This is a lighter book than When You Reach Me, and it has a charming, ambiguous ending that lets readers continue the story in their own minds.
So, readers, what are your favorite time travel books? Hit me with your recommendations!