If you had the ability to travel through time, what would you do?
I personally am a sucker for a well-told time travel story, and I don’t think I’m alone in that, judging by the number of time travel books that come out every year (not to mention the ongoing popularity of the Doctor Who television series). I’ve already written about my love of the Felix Palma series, The Map of Time, The Map of Space, The Map of Chaos, in which time travel is a critical (and brilliantly handled) element, but there are other terrific time travel books available at or through the Field Library to blow your mind.
Let’s start with the classic: H. G. Wells’ The Time Machine. This is another of those books whose story everybody knows because of the famous movie and all the other cultural references (including a clever reference in an episode of The Big Bang Theory), but it’s more than just a science fiction exploration of a fascinating concept; it’s also H.G. Wells’ critique of Victorian society and can be read both as an adventure story and as a satire. Not to mention that reading this book will set you up well for The Map of Time, whose plot turns on Wells’ concept of the time machine.
A bestseller from a few years ago, which I recommend to anyone looking for a good read, is Audrey Niffinegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife, though I have to add (as I do to everyone I recommend this book to) that it is VERY confusing at the beginning and you have to give yourself fifty pages or so before you get the rhythm of the book and are able to keep track of the characters and the different times in which the book is set. But once you get the hang of it, the interlocking stories of Henry, a librarian who involuntarily travels through time, and Claire, his wife, are both fascinating and deeply moving (have tissues on hand for the end of the book), and, as is always the case when a time travel book is done right, you have the pleasure of seeing how everything comes together and connects.
An intriguing mechanism of time travel is used in Jack Finney’s Time and Again: no machine but the human mind’s ability to erase the present and step out into the past. This is both a time travel novel and a historical novel, bringing our protagonist, Si Morley, from twentieth century New York back to 1880’s New York, where he tries to solve a mystery and discovers where and when he belongs, and how to stay there. Paradoxes included at no extra charge!
For a different twist on the question of time travel, there’s always Replay by Ken Grimwood, which turns on the intriguing question of what you would do differently if you had it all to do over again, knowing what you know now. The main character, Jeff Winston, dies of a heart attack at age 43 at the very beginning of the book — and then wakes up as himself, 18 years old, in his college dorm room, knowing everything that will happen in the next 25 years. With a chance to change everything, Jeff (along with a fellow repeater, Pamela) takes many different avenues to relive his life and make things different, for him and for the world, and his efforts succeed and fail in unexpected ways, making for a fascinating book all around.
If you had the ability to travel through time and change one thing, which one thing would you change? For Hugh Stanton, the protagonist of Ben Elton’s new book, Time and Time Again, the one thing that will change everything, hopefully for the better, is preventing World War I. He believes the entire history of the twentieth century will be different if World War I never happened, and since the war began with a single shot (that killed Archduke Franz Ferdinand), he’s going to try to prevent it with a single shot, even if that means that everything he knew and loved in his life will no longer exist, or will no longer exist the way he remembers it.
Once you’ve been bitten by the time travel bug, rest assured there are plenty of ways you can satisfy the craving — just come in and ask!