For those of you who love Outlander or The Time Machine (or Ludo’s rock-opera Broken Bride), I’ve got some books for you.
The allure of time travel, I think, is that these stories always come so multi-faceted. You can’t tell a story about time travel without presenting certain important questions for the characters: will they return to their ‘own time’? Is it accidental, or by choice? How will they respond to the different political and cultural climate of the times? Will they assimilate, or prevail with their own thoughts or interpretations? What will they carry back with them?
“A Place Out Of Time” by Elsa Sjunneson
Short story, not a novel, over at Fireside Fiction, which does a lot of similar work as LSQ in the realm of short spec fic. In this short story, you will find extrapolations of some very important questions one should ask themselves before time traveling: How would someone like me survive? And what’s the point in going at all if I know the likelihood is zero?
Time travel is always dangerous. But Sjunneson imagines a group of researchers with various disabilities, especially the perspective of the main character in a wheelchair. Victorian London? Future UK? US in 1941? Even modern to him the time isn’t safe, as a time when people want to use science to ‘fix’ him.
This line moved me: “As I mark my timeline with black dots, showing me where my body is not welcome, I discover that my machine and I may have few places to go. Few places to research, to experience time.”
The Little Shop of Found Things by Paula Brackston
This novel is blessedly the first in a series, and it has a strong course of mystery running through it, but my favorite part is how well Brackston writes stakes and characters. Little to big, there’s always a difficult choice to make, competing priorities, which, even when we’re talking about the main character’s decision to sing for the first time in a long time, feels so right in a novel with time travel. The main character, Xanthe, has so much agency, and she tries to time things right. But doing so requires so much juggling and wit and bravery that even without someone’s life on the line (there is!), I’d be riveted.
The various characters feel so real, too, and dynamic. Her mother has severe arthritis and has a hard time getting around, but has a passion and skill for antiques. She’s also gloriously proud of her daughter. The townspeople, too, in this adorable village known for its popular antique markets, made me feel like I was going to a different place, for sure, even when I wasn’t reading in a different time. I won’t spoil the rest, though. You’ll just have to read it.
The Forever War by Joe Haldeman
An oldie, but a goodie. I’m not usually drawn into older and longer sci-fi works, because the big-name ones were written by dudes with surprisingly small imaginations when it came to things like, oh, gender equality and consent. But The Forever War, while not technically a time travel novel, is on this list because the writing is so good and looks long at the effect time dilation could have if we, say, had a space military conflict. To be fair, I read a bit of Quantum Physics 101 before this at the recommendation of a friend, which helped me understand the science of why certain things occurred (such as the MC living for hundreds of years and aging more slowly).
This novel is often characterized as a challenge to the realities of the Vietnam War, and by someone with personal experience, no less. Perhaps that’s why it feels so grounded. Have you seen Adam Driver’s Ted Talk about going from the Marines to acting? In it, he talks about how he struggled to find meaning when he returned to civilian life. The main character in The Forever War struggles with that concern throughout the whole novel. What’s the meaning of the conflict, the harsh training, the countless comrades’ lost lives? What’s the meaning of all of that when you return to ‘civilian’ life and learn they just watch TV all day and talk about pointless things? Where was this technology where you can regenerate a limb back when the war started? These questions, too, are part of a discussion of time: how do we use the time we have?
About this Column: With occasional parentheticals a la Robin McKinley, If This, Then That connects the dots between niche interests for LSQ readers and the books that suit them.