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What time travel novels do you recommend?
August 7, 2011 2:37 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for recommendations for time travel novels-- ones that I might specifically like-- and I'd like to ask the HiveMind what they think.

I love time travel stories. I've loved them for as long as I can remember, which means I'm really well read in the genre, and correspondingly picky. My fave time travel novels are "The Green Futures of Tycho" by William Sleator, "Kindred," by Octavia Butler, "The Doomsday Book" by Connie Willis, and "Sailing to Byzantium" by Robert Silverberg.

I'm also open to reading time travel romances, though it's harder to find stuff I like-- Diana Gabaldon makes me break out in hives, and I'm really disinterested in anything that involves Scottish highlanders. I especially like Marlys Milhauser's "The Mirror" and Elizabeth Chater's "The Elsingham Portrait." I'm also fond of Laurie Viera Rigler's "Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict" and Amy Elizabeth Saunders' "Enchanted Time."

Keep in mind I'm looking specifically for novels-- I can think of a million great time travel short stories, but I'd like to find some novels to get into. I've read a bunch of bad ones lately, and I'd like to find a few good ones to restore my faith in the genre.

So, what are you thoughts, HiveMind?
posted by suburbanbeatnik to Writing & Language (60 answers total) 96 users marked this as a favorite
 
'The Anubis Gates' by Tim Powers

'Across Realtime' by Vernor Vinge (only forwards)

'Dancers at the End of Time' by Michael Moorcock
posted by BinaryApe at 2:50 AM on August 7, 2011


How did I not not mention Kage Baker's The Company novels? The first one is a historical romance (an Elizabethan bodice-ripper with cyborg academics) but most are full of intrigue, action and humour.
posted by BinaryApe at 2:55 AM on August 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


The Time Traveller's Wife, Audrey Niffenegger (ignore the film, it was terrible)

Time and Again, Jack Finney

I had a third, but it has escaped me. I'll be back!
posted by DarlingBri at 2:56 AM on August 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


On preview, what DarlingBri said, plus Ken Grimwood's Replay.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 2:58 AM on August 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


You know there's a sequel to Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict?
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 3:00 AM on August 7, 2011


Corrupting Dr. Nice by John Kessel
posted by snwod at 3:01 AM on August 7, 2011


Seconding "Time and Again" by Jack Finney.
posted by MexicanYenta at 3:07 AM on August 7, 2011


Some great suggestions here. But if I say I found "Time and Again" incredibly boring, will you all send a lynch mob after me?

I've been up in the air for a while about whether I should read "The Time Traveller's Wife." The concept seems really interesting, but the heroine seems pretty passive... I think that would really bother me.
posted by suburbanbeatnik at 3:12 AM on August 7, 2011


For what it's worth, I also love "The Sterkarm Handshake" by Susan Price and "Lost in Time" by Hans-Magnus Enzensberger.

There is, unfortunately, a really terrible sequel to "Handshake" called "The Sterkarm Kiss," which I've been told to avoid at all costs. And speaking of sequels, I know about the "Jane Austen Addict" sequel-- just the idea of a girl from 19th century England travelling to modern day LA doesn't grab me as much as the reverse.
posted by suburbanbeatnik at 3:16 AM on August 7, 2011


The Company is great. You have to read the short stories, too. One short that may have slipped by you is The Men Who Murdered Mohammed by Alfred Bester.

Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut isn't about time travel as such but trust me, it fits.
posted by Leon at 3:20 AM on August 7, 2011


Jesus, brain fail. The Hitchhiker s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams.

If you didn't like Time and Again, you may not like Time Traveller's Wife. People love it or detest it. (I adore it but my best friend actually calls it Voldemort she hates it so.) The heroine is not, to my mind, passive; I see her as capable and steady. (I also don't see her as heroine, but that's probably for another thread.)

If you don't like H2G2, then you and I simply have contrary tastes, and that's good to know, too.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:20 AM on August 7, 2011


Thanks Bri. I actually liked "Hitchhiker's Guide" quite a lot, which surprised me, because usually I don't like British comedy writing. But the first three Adams books verged on sublime-- I think I should include "Restaurant at the End of the Universe" as part of my favorite time travel book list.
posted by suburbanbeatnik at 3:26 AM on August 7, 2011


My recent favourite: Palimpsest by Charles Stross. The key scene is as vivid writing as I have ever read. Not strictly a novel, but a novella - but I like that way that in the notes at the end of the book (at least in the edition I've got) Charlie Stross says that the story "really really wanted to be a novel".
posted by labberdasher at 4:19 AM on August 7, 2011


Here are some lists:

http://www.timetravelreviews.com/book_list.html
http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2009/aug/04/linda-buckley-archer-top-10-time-travel
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Time_travel_in_science_fiction
http://www.lcl.lib.ne.us/depts/bookguide/lists/timeisrelative.htm
http://www.webrary.org/rs/flbklists/timetravel.html
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Time_travel_in_fiction
http://www.jandysbooks.com/tablecontents/sf-time.html
http://www.listology.com/list/novels-about-time-travel
posted by TheRaven at 4:23 AM on August 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ah, you need Terry Pratchett's "Night Watch."

Caveat--it is part of an ongoing series, which you may or may not be familiar with, and yet it stands on its own, too; it's helpful, but not necessary, to know Discworld in order to appreciate what happens when the commander of Ankh-Morpork's city watch is accidentally sent back to his own past, along with a sociopathic murderer. It's a great reflection on idealism vs. experience, responsibility, the perils of making sure history happens, memory, loss and loyalty.
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:32 AM on August 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


OK, we seem to have fairly overlapping tastes in time travel fiction, so here are my suggestions.

Can I take it for granted that you've read the rest of the time-travelling Oxford historians novels?

From the suggestions you've had so far, I enthusiastically second The Anubis Gates, the Company series and Replay. (Though I would recommend against reading the second Company novel first - that's what I did, and as it's the weakest of the series, it nearly put me off for good.) Replay offers an interesting take on time travel; if you enjoy it, you might also like Catriona McCloud's Growing Up Again.

When you say you don't usually like British comedy writing, does that mean you don't get on with Terry Pratchett? Night Watch is very good, but if you don't like Pratchett's writing style, it won't suit you even though it's one of the more serious Discworld novels.

Harry Harrison's Technicolor Time Machine is fun! No link, because I couldn't find a spoiler-free summary anywhere; in brief, the protagonist travels to the Viking era because it's a cheap location from which to film the tale of Leif Erikson's discovery of America.

Finally, on the YA front, there's Diana Wynne Jones' A Tale of Time City. There's also her The Crown of Dalemark, which features time travel in a fantasy world. It's technically the fourth of a quartet, but I think it would stand alone well enough if you didn't fancy reading the other three first. And some of her other books also involve time travel, but it'd be spoilerish to tell you which ones...
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 4:38 AM on August 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


There is a time travel element in Thomas Pynchon's Against the Day, including a ride in a steampunkish time machine, and a convention of time travelers. But there's a lot more, and the book is not classified as science fiction.
posted by beagle at 4:40 AM on August 7, 2011


For the love of all that's holy, don't read Timeline.

It's not a novel, but Robert Heinlein's "All You Zombies" (full text pdf) is a classic.
posted by valkyryn at 4:44 AM on August 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Oh, and also, it's a book of linked short stories so not quite in the spirit of your request, but Larry Niven's The Flight of the Horse takes a playful approach to time travel that you might not have seen elsewhere. Worth a look if you fancy a variation on the theme for a change. The belated sequel, Rainbow Mars, is a novel.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 4:45 AM on August 7, 2011


The Forever War by Joe Haldeman.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:54 AM on August 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think that "Downtiming the Night Side" by Jack Chalker is one of the best time travel novels I've ever read. But I haven't read any of the ones you list, so I don't know if it's even remotely similar.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 4:58 AM on August 7, 2011


I hope you don't mind me recycling an old but relevant answer (re-hashing book plots in different words is tiring work for so early on a Sunday):
The Light of Other Days, by Arthur C. Clarke and Stephen Baxter, deals with time travel in an oblique but fascinating way. People can't actually travel trough time themselves, but an advanced wormhole-based camera system dubbed the WormCam allows them to view any location in the universe at any point in history.

At first the technology is used for small-potatoes political intrigue, but once it becomes mass-produced it leads to radical revelations in fields like history, religion, and biology. As the WormCam becomes more advanced and more deeply ingrained in everyday life -- including sophisticated brain-based VR systems that allow people to "walk" through the past for days at a time -- privacy is totally destroyed, and society changes in some interesting ways.

You can search or browse the book here.
Also, it's more novella than novel, but Ted Chiang wrote an exquisite Arabian Nights-style time travel parable called "The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate," available here.
posted by Rhaomi at 5:05 AM on August 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


A Maggot by John Fowles. Not a standard sci-fi novel at all, but set in 18th century England and involves time travel, and, in my opinion, excellent. (The Wikipedia article I linked to contains spoilers, as would any explanation. Basically, It appears to be a historical novel at first, but it keeps getting weirder.)
posted by nangar at 5:06 AM on August 7, 2011


I liked Connie Willis' To Say Nothing of the Dog even better than The Doomsday Book.
posted by emmling at 5:16 AM on August 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Lightning by Dean Koontz.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 5:24 AM on August 7, 2011


I also wanted to recommend Pratchett's Night Watch. Hands down my favorite Discworld book.
posted by pemberkins at 5:54 AM on August 7, 2011


Someone mentioned Ken Grimwood's Replay, which is great. He also has another book, Breakthrough, that you might like, although it's a bit of a twist on the classic time travel model.
posted by kimdog at 6:23 AM on August 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Does Pratchett's The Thief of Time count? Gotta love the only battle in all of fiction fought with chocolate.
posted by Logophiliac at 6:55 AM on August 7, 2011


It is one of his slighter efforts, but I quite like Roadmarks by Roger Zelazny. You mention Robert Silverberg, so you might also read Up The Line, if you haven't already.
posted by gudrun at 6:59 AM on August 7, 2011


Pastwatch by Orson Scott Card
posted by bq at 7:07 AM on August 7, 2011


Your list put me in mind of several books, but they strike me as being from writing styles a fair bit off from what you're preferring so I can't decide if you'd actually like them. But perhaps worth a look a the library...

Fred Saberhagen wrote a couple of decent interconnected time travel novels, Pyramids and After the Fact.

Rob Swigart's Time Trip is a strange, funny (but, it should be noted, frequently pornographic) contribution to the genre, with prescient elements of computer networks and a lot of parody of the burgeoning new age spirituality of the era (stuff like Werner Erhard's EST).

Ursula K. LeGuin's The Lathe of Heaven isn't exactly about time travel, but it does involve a strong element of the idea of the unintended consequences of purposely altering elements of the timestream that remind me in some ways of Sleater's The Green Futures of Tycho - so if that aspect of Sleater's novel is particularly appealing Le Guin's is a fine contributor to that conceptual field.
posted by nanojath at 7:17 AM on August 7, 2011


Thorzdad already broke the Haldeman barrier above with the Forever War but Haldeman also wrote a novel very specifically about a time traveling nerd called The Accidental Time Machine.

Honest review? It was fun but had a dragging, somewhat unsatisfying conclusion with a bit too much Deus ex Machina. But the first 2/3rds was quite entertaining wondering "where is this going to go?!".
posted by carlh at 7:25 AM on August 7, 2011


Surprised no one yet has mentioned How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe. It's just the thing.
posted by gerryblog at 7:28 AM on August 7, 2011


Stunned not to see 'The Great Work of Time' by John Crowley (of Little, Big fame). It's been not-unjustly called the canonical time travel story (as if anything could ever be that).
posted by waxbanks at 7:45 AM on August 7, 2011


The Anubis Gates is a perfect little potboiler, but as with any other Tim Powers, it seems to vanish before your eyes the instant you turn the final page. In many ways it really is just a conjuring trick; there's nothing to it but its impressive narrative achievement. Declare has no time-travel but is better Powers; but it's all of a piece, really.
posted by waxbanks at 7:48 AM on August 7, 2011


The Man Who Folded Himself, by David Gerrold
Master of Space and Time, by Rudy Rucker
Millenium, by John Varley

Of course, don't forget one of the originals: The Time Machine, by H.G. Wells.

There also A Sound of Thunder, by Ray Bradbury, which is a collection of short stories, some time-travel (like the titular story) and some not.
posted by zombieflanders at 8:05 AM on August 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


"Up the line" by Robert Silverberg. A great read and all about time travel paradoxes too!
posted by JtJ at 9:15 AM on August 7, 2011


I would be remiss not to also suggest Spider Robinson's Callahan's Crosstime Saloon.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:15 AM on August 7, 2011




Mark Twain's "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court", and Isaac Asimov's "The End of Eternity".
posted by qurlyjoe at 10:34 AM on August 7, 2011


I don't think Clare (Time Traveler's Wife) is passive. She's stuck waiting on his ass, yes, but in general the woman seems to go after what she wants when she can to me. Especially at the beginning of the book, ahem :)
posted by jenfullmoon at 11:04 AM on August 7, 2011


I don't think Clare is real. Who'd wait around so long?

Anyway, a real oldie nobody knows, for some reason, Isaac Asimov's The End of Eternity. It's about a Time Patrol. Bonus: romance!
posted by Rash at 11:18 AM on August 7, 2011


Wow, so many more amazing suggestions!

Many-Legged Creature, about ten years ago I tried to read "The Tale of Time City," but there was something about it that I disliked so much, that ever since I've avoided the rest of Wynne Jones' work. Re: Terry Pratchett, I'm not sure if I would like him or not. My attempt to read the humorous writings of Tom Holt, and then "Making History" by Stephen Fry, turned me off so much to British SF/fantasy comedy writing it made me wonder if my love of "Restaurant at the End of the Universe" was just a fluke.

I actually own "Up the Line," but I haven't gotten to it yet-- the same with "To Say Nothing of the Dog" (well, truthfully a few years ago I tried to read it but couldn't get into it, but I think I was really distracted at that point). I definitely need to check out Harry Harrison's "The Technicolor Time Machine" and Asimov's "The End of Eternity," since I love both those authors. I liked Haldeman's "The Accidental Time Traveler"-- even though Carlh's comment is pretty much dead on. But I enjoyed it enough that I think I'd check out "The Forever War."

Nanojath, "The Lathe of Heaven" sounds cool, but my only attempt to read LeGuin was my recent attempt to read "The Wizard of Earthsea," which convinced me that her writing was really not my cup of tea. Does this mean I wouldn't enjoy "Lathe"? Are the Earthsea books representative of LeGuin's sci-fi writing?
posted by suburbanbeatnik at 1:34 PM on August 7, 2011


I agree that you should try Kage Baker's Company novels! They're not quite traditional time travel novels (many of the characters are taking the long road, as I think Captain Jack may have said once in Doctor Who) but they're really fascinating.
posted by wintersweet at 2:37 PM on August 7, 2011


(Hope it's OK to give a direct response...)

about ten years ago I tried to read "The Tale of Time City," but there was something about it that I disliked so much, that ever since I've avoided the rest of Wynne Jones' work.

Ah, that's a shame! Her work does vary quite a bit, and I know some people do bounce off Time City in particular. You could try, oh, Charmed Life or Howl's Moving Castle or Hexwood instead - but only if you wanted to.

My attempt to read the humorous writings of Tom Holt, and then "Making History" by Stephen Fry, turned me off so much to British SF/fantasy comedy writing it made me wonder if my love of "Restaurant at the End of the Universe" was just a fluke.

I like Adams and Pratchett but not Holt (with rare exceptions) or Fry; but we've just established that your mileage and mine definitely vary. Try reading a page of something late in the Discworld series (Night Watch is number 29, and his style has developed over time) in a bookshop or a library; if the writing irritates you, then so be it.

a few years ago I tried to read [To Say Nothing of the Dog] but couldn't get into it

To Say Nothing of the Dog is Willis in her more comic mode, whereas Doomsday Book is very much not; Blackout and All Clear are closer to Doomsday Book in tone. Even if you find you still bounce off the former, it's worth trying the latter pair, if you haven't already.

"The Lathe of Heaven" sounds cool, but...

OK, this one wasn't directed at me, but since I've read and enjoyed the book too: My take on The Lathe of Heaven was that it read more like classic Philip K. Dick than like Ursula LeGuin. I don't find her fantasy writing like her science fiction writing at all, but neither do I find Lathe of Heaven like the rest of her SF.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 2:50 PM on August 7, 2011


Behold The Man by Micheal Moorcock. Amazing premise - a man, weaker than most Moorcock heroes, travels to the time of Jesus.

There is also Elvissey by Jack Womack
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 4:25 PM on August 7, 2011


Kurt Vonnegut - Slaughterhouse 5 and Timequake. Both excellent, and not what you might expect.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 4:33 PM on August 7, 2011


I stumbled on The Little Book by Selden Edwards and enjoyed it quite a bit.
posted by platinum at 4:53 PM on August 7, 2011


Rhaomi, thanks so much for recommending "The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate". That was one of the best stories I've read in ages!
posted by suburbanbeatnik at 6:34 PM on August 7, 2011


So glad you liked it! If you want more, I did a post on him last December rounding up all his stories that are online (the "Tower of Babylon" link is dead, but there's another copy here). Seriously some of the most outstanding science fiction I've ever read.
posted by Rhaomi at 6:40 PM on August 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


ManyLegged Creature, thanks for all the answers!

Ah, that's a shame! Her work does vary quite a bit, and I know some people do bounce off Time City in particular. You could try, oh, Charmed Life or Howl's Moving Castle or Hexwood instead - but only if you wanted to.

I know Jones is a renowned author, but I can't decide if I want to give her another chance. Howl's Moving Castle was my least favorite of all Miyazaki's movies (I love him to bits but that one left me kind of meh). There's so many other things I want to read, I don't know if I want to bother reading her again... but then some of my favorite authors have off days, so it's hard to decide what to do.

I like Adams and Pratchett but not Holt (with rare exceptions) or Fry; but we've just established that your mileage and mine definitely vary. Try reading a page of something late in the Discworld series (Night Watch is number 29, and his style has developed over time) in a bookshop or a library; if the writing irritates you, then so be it.

One of my best friends, who's a huge Pratchett fan, just told me that "Night's Watch" wouldn't make much sense unless I'd read other books in the series, which sounds it would take too much effort.

To Say Nothing of the Dog is Willis in her more comic mode, whereas Doomsday Book is very much not; Blackout and All Clear are closer to Doomsday Book in tone. Even if you find you still bounce off the former, it's worth trying the latter pair, if you haven't already.

I feel strongly enough about Willis (I saw her giving an amazing talk at Comic-Con in 2008) that I want to try reading "Dog" again-- and hopefully I can get to the others in chronological order.

OK, this one wasn't directed at me, but since I've read and enjoyed the book too: My take on The Lathe of Heaven was that it read more like classic Philip K. Dick than like Ursula LeGuin. I don't find her fantasy writing like her science fiction writing at all, but neither do I find Lathe of Heaven like the rest of her SF.

Hmmm. I'm checking out the wiki entry, and it sounds very intriguing to me. I think I'll check it out!

I was also reading various reviews on Amazon of "The Time Traveler's Wife"... and it sounds like something I would not enjoy at all. I think I'll give that one a miss.
posted by suburbanbeatnik at 6:44 PM on August 7, 2011


Please don't judge 'Howl's Moving Castle' by the movie.
posted by bq at 8:25 PM on August 7, 2011


Oh, I just thought of another one. Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, also by Douglas Adams. But not the sequel, the Long Dark Tea Time of the Soul.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 10:51 PM on August 7, 2011


Oh, I just thought of another one. Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, also by Douglas Adams. But not the sequel, the Long Dark Tea Time of the Soul.

Blew my mind when I found out that it started as a Doctor Who script.

I imagine some Doctor Who tie-in novels might count?
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 10:58 PM on August 7, 2011


"The Lathe of Heaven" sounds cool, but..

Le Guin's sci fi is very, very different to her fantasy; she is one of my favorite sci fi authors . Lathe is great, but not strictly about time travel.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 11:00 PM on August 7, 2011


Oh, and don't forget Ted Chiang's What's Expected of Us
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 11:02 PM on August 7, 2011


"The Man Who Folded Himself" has the main character explore just about every possibility of time travel. Heavy on the causality stuff. I still remember it even though it's been two decades since picking it up.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 11:29 PM on August 7, 2011


This is a short story, but I think it's pretty entertaining: WikiHistory
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 11:34 PM on August 7, 2011


It's probably a bit dated, but it did win a Hugo: The Big Time
posted by joeyo at 5:54 AM on August 8, 2011


A little late to the game, but seconding, thirding, and fourthing Orson Scott Card's Pastwatch. There's a short story on his website that is basically a superexpanded Chapter 4. It's quite good on its own too, though, and gives you a good idea of the premise and style of the book. I first read it a decade ago in high school, loved it then, and I just found a copy at a swap meet, still love it now.
posted by yeahlikethat at 9:59 AM on October 7, 2011


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