Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Step Into My Time Machine (Favorite Time Travel Novels)

There is something about time travel novels that particularly appeals to me.  I suppose it is that chance to go back for a free re-do, be it a personal one or one that positively (hopefully) affects the history of the whole world.  That second type often involves eliminating someone like Adolph Hitler before they gain power - or changing the course of some major war like the Civil War or one of the two World Wars.  Fun stuff, if done correctly with in depth character development and a side plot or two to worry about.

These are some of my favorites from the last few decades (in no particular order):

I first read Time and Again in the summer of 1970 and later added a first printing copy to my personal collection.  I consider it a modern classic of the genre and believe that it influenced a whole bunch of time travel novels that followed it.  The plot involves a man chosen by a secret government agency to be transported back to 1880s New York in order to test the theory of time travel.  Our time traveler, of course, falls in love, only to come to the realization that the government wants more of him than just standing around and observing everyday life.

The book is illustrated by numerous old photographs of the various locations the time traveler wanders through during the novel.  This was a groundbreaker.

Time on My Hands is one of those time travels novels that focuses on real life historical figures - in this case, former president Ronald Reagan.  Here Peter Delacorte explores the case of a young man hired to return to the Hollywood of the late 1940s where he is to make contact with a young actor by the name of Ronald Reagan.  His assignment is to do anything necessary to somehow push Reagan from the path that would bring him to the White House in 1980.  What happens when our hero befriends Reagan under false pretenses but starts to actually like him makes for a fun ride.

At first glance, Time Out of Mind is pretty much just a ripoff of Finney's Time and Again, but John Maxim gives it enough twists to make it work well even for fans of the great Finney novel.  This one was written some 16 years after Finney's novel, and I suppose that Maxim and Houghton Mifflin were hoping that everyone had forgotten about the Finney masterpiece.  It even goes so far as having each of its chapters begin with an old photo or illustration to set the scene.

The hero of this one goes back specifically to the great New York blizzard of 1888.

Laura Watt's Carry Me Back incorporates one of my favorite music genres (hard core traditional country) into a time travel novel...a perfect combination for someone like me.  This 1997 novel involves ex-con Webb Pritchard who buys an old banjo to entertain himself after his release from prison.  Unbeknownst to Pritchard, this is a magic banjo that transport him back to 1951 where he manages to wrangle himself a job with the man who went on to become country music royalty before he died at age 29, Hank Williams.  The romance story inside this one is another that pays homage to Jack Finney.  Carry Me Back  is still on my shelves and I plan to re-read it in the next year or two.

Time travel novels often involve some kind of moral dilemma for the time traveler to deal with - in this case, our hero has to decide whether or not to prevent the bombing of Hiroshima.  Till the End of Time is part of author Allen Appel's time travel series featuring Alex Balfour, a history teacher for whom the ability to time travel runs in the family and has been genetically handed down to him.

Along the way, Balfour interacts with people like Albert Einstein, Betty Grable, John Kennedy, and FDR.  This one is fun, but the appeal largely comes from getting to know the Balfour character well through several books.

One last one for this time around is Stephen Fry's Making History.  This is one of several time travel novels I've read in which the protagonist goes back in time to do something about Adolph Hitler before it is too late.  In this instance, the time traveler wants to take the most certain path by going back to the time before Hitler was even conceived - and making sure that his parents never get together.

Stephen Fry is one of the most talented people I know of: author, film star, comedian, television star, documentarian, etc.  This man can do it all and this novel is no exception to the quality of his work.  It is great fun...and one of the best snuff-Adolph time travel books I've encountered.

That's it for now, but this is fairly representative of my favorites of the genre.  I haven't even mentioned older books like The Time Machine by H.G. Wells, but that is the one that created my love for time travel books in the first place when I first read it at age 12 or 13...and, of course, there was that great 1960s movie version of the novel.  The movie locked me in for good.


  1. I haven't read any of these! But I'll share some of my favorite time travel books:Doomsday Book, To Say Nothing of the Dog, Blackout, and All Clear---all by Connie Willis. These are far and away the best time travel books I have ever read.

    Pastwatch by Orson Scott Card

    A Wrinkle in TIme and its sequels by Madeleine L'Engle (I like children's novels just as much as I do adult novels, sometimes more.)

    Portrait of Jennie by Robert Nathan

    Stephen Lawhead has a new series called Bright Empires with two books out so far, The Skin Map and The Bone House. I've read both, but I'm not sure yet what I think about them. They're intriguing, but rather confusing, and unfinished. I'd be interested to hear what you think of any of the above.

  2. Sherry, this is exactly the kind of response I was hoping to get from this post...time travel books I can look at and add to my TBR list. I love it.

    Thanks so much.

  3. Awesome list. Any list with Stephen Fry is inherently awesome. And what time-travel list is complete without Finney?

    I hope, one day, people think of The Prodigal Hour as one of their favorite time travel novels. That was my goal, writing it. Well, that and depicting what a temporal paradox might actually be like.

  4. I haven't read any of these either. I will add them to my TBR list as I love time travel themes also. My two favorites are : Timeline (both in print and on audio) by Michael Crichton (although, the movie was awful), and 11/22/63 by Stephen King in audio.

  5. Will, I very much enjoyed your time travel novel, The Prodigal Hour, and it's somewhere in my Top 20 of the genre - and I've been reading those things for over 50 years, so good on you,

  6. Angela, I've read the Crichton book you mention, but it didn't work for me for some reason. I think it was just too action-oriented and not enough time travel oriented to suit me. As for King, I have that one in my radar and if I ever get caught up enough in my backlist, that's one of the first ones I plan to pick up.

  7. I love time travel too but I've read (several times) only the Finney in this list. (I've also read Finney's follow-up From Time to Time).

    I've put a whole bunch of these recommendations on my wish list - thanks!

  8. I hope you enjoy one or two of those, Debbie. I've read Finney's follow-up to Time and Again, too, and thought it was pretty good, just not in comparison to the original. But that is not surprising, considering how high he set the bar with that one, I suppose.

    Have you tried his time travel short stories?

  9. I haven't read any of these. You provide a great list of books to check out. Thanx!

  10. Thanks for some of these recommendations, Sam. I'm putting a couple of them on my list.

    I read Time and Again for the first time this last year. I enjoyed the depiction of 19th century New York, and the Dakota. Loved the photos. The casual, innocent chauvinism of our protagonist took me right back to the early 30's, I can recall my father speaking about women this way.

    There IS something so seductive about time travel novels, isn't there?

  11. sorry, typo. Took me back to the early 70's.

  12. It all seemed so innocent, Suasan...if more than a little chauvinistic. I love the paradoxes and how they are dealt with in really well written time travel novels.

  13. Wow, I've never heard of any of these. I'm fascinated by time travel and the ramifications...if it were possible. These will be good recommendations for me.

  14. That first one, "Time and Again," is considered a true classic of the genre, Kathleen. Don't miss that one.