Like Army of Darkness, but more realistic
December 10, 2007 5:02 PM   Subscribe

Help me find a specific type of time travel novel.

I like to measure my knowledge of technology by how well I could describe a thing to people living in the past. Say I was transported 300 years into the past - would I be able explain powered flight? How about germs or penicillin? I'm really keen to find books that describe this specific scenario: Someone from the present is transported into the past, taking with him or her the benefits of our age.

Outlander is a pretty good example, but Gabaldon is too romance-y for me. Any ideas?
posted by OpinioNate to Media & Arts (20 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
H. Beam Piper's Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen (and the more reasonably named short story "Gunpowder God" from which it was adapted):
Calvin Morrison is a Pennsylvania State Trooper who suddenly finds himself lifted out of his (our) world, and deposited on a parallel Earth. In this other Pennsylvania he finds a small kingdom of bearded primitives who appear to be on the losing end of a war of conquest. The locals have so little gunpowder compared to their enemies because the secret of making it is controlled by a corrupt religious order, Styphon's House. Calvin, a student of military history, finds himself proclaimed Lord Kalvan, and given the job of rescuing a seemingly hopeless situation.
posted by Partial Law at 5:06 PM on December 10, 2007

Well, a Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court is an example.
posted by jedicus at 5:08 PM on December 10, 2007 [1 favorite]

Harry Turtledove wrote a book called The Guns of the South in which the Confederate army gets armed with AK-47s due to time travel. There's also a Michael Crichton novel, Timeline, in which an anthropological team gets stranded in the past and becomes involved in Middle Age warefare. There's also a Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, of course, and its various modern updates.
posted by gerryblog at 5:09 PM on December 10, 2007

There's The Cross-Time Engineer, and its sequels, where the main character ends up in 13th Century Poland and has to teach them how to make cannon and so forth.
posted by ten pounds of inedita at 5:15 PM on December 10, 2007

This is a bit extreme but in No Enemy but Time "a modern day African-American man is recruited by the military for his special ability to 'dream' himself into the Pleistocene era where he becomes involved with a tribe of habilines." I read it years ago but I still remember it fondly.
posted by loosemouth at 5:18 PM on December 10, 2007

In the novel 1632 an entire West Virginian town is transported back to the midst of the Thirty Years War, and using their advanced technology proceed to ream the crap out of history by kicking off the American revolution 150 years early, among other things. The story is also continued in 1633 and 1634.
posted by barc0001 at 5:18 PM on December 10, 2007

SM Stirling's Island in the Sea of Time, Against the Tide of Years, and On the Oceans of Eternity more or less do that.

199x or 200x Nantucket gets zapped back to ~1500BC. Hijinks ensue. They have to explain things like the germ theory of disease to bronze age Babylonian kings, etc.

Warning: it is Stirling, so there are obligatory lesbian warriors and other assorted pulpy nonsense. Fun, though.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:24 PM on December 10, 2007

Response by poster: Wow, looks like some fantastic titles here. This will keep me busy for awhile. Thanks everyone. (Don't let this stop further comments!)
posted by OpinioNate at 5:30 PM on December 10, 2007

Here's another: Howard Waldrop's "Them Bones". The story starts in the 1920's, where archaeologists discover horse bones in the dig site of a 14th-century Indian village. Turns out the horse belongs to a soldier sent back from the 2200's in an attempt at "time war". The book is particularly interesting for the "invariant time" approach, ie the idea that time is not open to alternatives, and anything done in the past by people in the future always was done.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 5:47 PM on December 10, 2007

They have to explain things like the germ theory of disease to bronze age Babylonian kings, etc.

Seems to me that'd be more a demonstration than an explanation.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 5:49 PM on December 10, 2007

Oh another one that's not actually time travel: Joel Rosenberg's "Guardians fo the Flame" series is about a group of role-players transported to a medieval fantasy world where they live the lives of their characters. One of the players gives up his wizardly talents and uses his engineering skills to build railroads and telegraphs and so forth. The books sound like they should suck, but I've always been kinda surprised that they don't.
posted by ten pounds of inedita at 5:58 PM on December 10, 2007

Everyone should read Octavia Butler's Kindred
posted by Sara Anne at 6:47 PM on December 10, 2007

One title that's missing so far: Lest Darkness Fall by L. Sprague de Camp. Classical scholar gets zapped back to Gothic (6th Century) Rome. The Byzantines are invading, etc. He introduces hard alcohol to the population.
posted by chengjih at 8:01 PM on December 10, 2007

The movie Timeline is about a professor who gets sent back to 14th Century France and has to be rescued by his students. The professor has to reinvent Greek Fire to save his own life. Not much information is exchanged though.

There was a story I read in Asimov's Science Fiction magazine about a woman from the future who's selling science fiction stories printed on a dot matrix printer in the 1950s.
posted by Kioki-Silver at 8:11 PM on December 10, 2007

Swanick's Jack Faust doesn't have time travel, per se, but does have Mephistopheles bootstrapping late medieval Europe through the Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution, and early Modernity within a generation or so. M tries valiantly to explain quantum theory and cosmology to Faust who generally epically fails to comprehend. It's a nice little book that should have won the Hugo that year. Willis's 1992 Hugo and Nebula winner Doomsday Book (medieval researchers travel back in time to scope out stuff but it all goes horribly wrong...) is my best bet for a book that "inspired" Crichton.
posted by meehawl at 8:25 PM on December 10, 2007

Oh, chengjih's mention of L. Sprague de Camp reminds me of a great short story he wrote called Aristotle and the Gun. It's about a time traveler who tries to "speed up" the world's technological development by teaching Aristotle the scientific method.
posted by Partial Law at 8:27 PM on December 10, 2007

Second 1632 and 1633 (links are to the free e-books). As barc0001 says the books are all about the transported town interacting with and changing past both in terms of politics and technology.
posted by drill_here_fore_seismics at 4:58 AM on December 11, 2007

Alternate History stories generally deal with this theme and there are many of these types of stories. Check out websites that list stories like this.
posted by JJ86 at 6:10 AM on December 11, 2007

I don't know that it's much more realistic than Army of Darkness, but Simon Hawke's The Reluctant Sorcerer revolves around a scientist who travels back in time and makes extensive use of modern chemistry techniques. It's more on the lighter side, not really hard sf, but fun. (Incidentally, I'm a huge fan of Hawke's The Wizard of 4th Street series.)
posted by Caviar at 6:30 AM on December 11, 2007

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