Top Time Travel Novels
For our fourth installment of the 100 Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Novels we decided to look at some of the top time travel stories.
By His Bootstraps by Ansom Macdonald AKA Robert A. Heinlein*
Okay, this is one of two on the list that are technically short stories, however By His Bootstraps is a fun story so we had to list it anyway. It is about a man named Bob who, while working on his thesis on time travel, is confronted by a strangely familiar man trying to send him to the future. We won’t go into the story too much except to say that it follows a classic predestination paradox.
A Sound of Thunder by Ray Bradbury*
Another short story that made our list, but again, this is a pretty important one to include. After all, there are two main time travel novel clichés: killing your grandfather before you’re born and killing a butterfly. So it’s only natural that we list the story where the accidental killing of a butterfly has a profound effect on the future.
The End of Eternity by Isaac Asimov
This ontological paradox story is set around a secret group calling themselves the Eternals who exist outside of time and travel to important moments in history changing history “for the better.” Harlan, a brilliant technician indoctrinated into the ways of the Eternals, falls in love with a woman from the 482nd century while at the same time discovering he is part of a larger plot to send someone back in order to help create Eternity. The most interesting factor however may be the identity of the woman Harlen has fallen for, her true purpose and the real effect that Eternity has had on mankind.
Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
This Kurt Vonnegut classic follows Billy Pilgrim, an American WWII soldier, captured by Germans and placed in a disused slaughterhouse. While Allied air raids go on overhead Billy finds himself transported by aliens and becomes unstuck in time, visiting moments in his own life (including his own murder) with no way to stop what happens to him.
The Time Traveller’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
Henry DeTamble has a very unique illness known as Chrono-Displacement meaning that he leaps through time. He has no control over it, in fact the only way he is able to control it is to run, which keeps him calm, focused and very much in the present. Through his leaping through time he is forced to learn survival techniques since every time he “leaps” he arrives with no belongings including clothing. His wife, who has known him all her life, must wait for him, never quite knowing how long he’ll be gone, or if he will even come back.
Up the Line by Robert Silverberg
Most time travel novels tend to be serious affairs about paradoxes and such. Here’s a story that also focuses on paradoxes but with plenty of humour as well. It follows Jud, a Harvard grad student who decides to get a job as a time courier. Jud travels back and forth through time taking tourists about and, well, as with any job in the tourist industry, there is plenty of sex, mayhem and stupid tourists to deal with.
The Year of the Quiet Sun by Wilson Tucker
In Wilson Tucker’s novel, government agents travel forward in time to determine future political situations. Thus, Brian Chaney finds himself propelled forward through time from the 1970s into the 1990s and beyond. Much of this time travel novel is now completely inaccurate, but it is still an interesting take on what Tucker imagined the future might hold. Though I’m guessing by the emphasis on a black/white divide, that a black president elected in 2009 would not be something he would have expected.
Millennium by John Varley based on short story Air Raid
In the last age, when humanity can no longer sustain itself, it becomes up to a group of humans to time travel back into the past and bring humans to the future in order to keep the human race alive. Of course, they can’t just take anybody from the past since they could be changing the time line, so instead they must bring back people who were already destined to die, particularly those that die in disasters which leave no survivors.
A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain
I can’t mention time travel without giving kudos to Mark Twain, for which there have been a number of movies and stories taking its basis from this tale. Hank is a Nineteenth century resident of Connecticut who suddenly finds himself back in Medieval England, which is ruled by none other than King Arthur. Sentenced to death, he manages to save himself due to a historic solar eclipse of which he not only predicts, but takes credit for. The story presents a fun satirization of the idea of Camelot and King Arthur’s court.
The Time Ships by Stephen Baxter
Since we already placed HG Wells classic The Time Machine squarely in top dystopic novels, we figured we’d add The Time Ships, a sequel to Wells’ classic, written by genre favourite Stephen Baxter. The Time Ships continues directly on from where Wells’ original novel left off. Having written the novel, The Time Machine, the Time Traveller finds himself abducted by a more advanced race of Morlocks, who explain that the future he is trying to return to, to save Weena, no longer exists, because of his novel. It suddenly becomes up to the Time Traveller to try and get his past self to not write the novel, so that he can return to the Eloi.
* Actually a short story