What's the time-travel canon?
March 11, 2008 2:10 AM   Subscribe

I'm trying to make an expansive and widely-varied reading list of time-travel books and stories. Suggestions?

I realize that asking for a list of science-fiction stories about time-travel is a little like asking for a list of pop songs about love, but I'm interested in compiling a reading list of the very best and/or most eccentric or idiosyncratic works in the sub-genre.

I tend not to read sci-fi, so feel free to assume that I'm unfamiliar with works that might seem obvious to a connoisseur. Off the top of my head, I've read Wells's Time-Machine, Orson Scott Card's Pastwatch, that horrible Michael Crichton book, and that's it. Everything else is fair game.

I'm not looking for movies or TV shows, but graphic novel suggestions would be totally welcome. I'm looking for work that is either exemplary of the genre or quirky because it comes at the genre in an unpredictable way.

Thanks so much!
posted by scarylarry to Media & Arts (43 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
The Time Traveler's Wife was the first book that I thought about when thinking about time traveling. It's very much more a love/relationship story than a time traveling sci fi story. It is one of my favorite books but it may be something that is totally off base of what you're looking for.
posted by woolylambkin at 2:16 AM on March 11, 2008

Best answer: Time Travel in Fiction.
posted by oh pollo! at 2:18 AM on March 11, 2008

Slaughterhouse Five
posted by maryh at 2:37 AM on March 11, 2008

Heinlein's By His Bootstraps. Short and great.
posted by Dan Brilliant at 2:44 AM on March 11, 2008

No Enemy But Time by Michael Bishop.
posted by loosemouth at 2:51 AM on March 11, 2008

The first one I thought of, appropriately enough since it's a very early example, was A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court by Twain.
posted by JaredSeth at 2:56 AM on March 11, 2008

The Man Who Folded Himself by David Gerrold
posted by crios at 3:43 AM on March 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

Alfred Bester had a nice little short story... "The Men Who Murdered Mohammed", 1959. File under quirky.

Also Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five and Sirens of Titan.
posted by Leon at 3:50 AM on March 11, 2008

Time and the Conways (a play) by J. B. Priestley is a classic.
posted by BobsterLobster at 3:52 AM on March 11, 2008

Doomsday Book by Connie Willis is very good.
posted by OmieWise at 4:13 AM on March 11, 2008

Ray Bradbury's short story "A Sound of Thunder" is a classic in the genre. I also really like his story "The Toynbee Convector," which is a bit of a different twist on the time travel story.
posted by Stacey at 4:35 AM on March 11, 2008

Joe Haldeman's The Forever War
posted by Thorzdad at 4:38 AM on March 11, 2008

I rather enjoyed Robert Silverberg's Up The Line, which is about time-travel tourism.
posted by Katemonkey at 4:49 AM on March 11, 2008

Best answer: You should check this, which has been asked before. In fact, this question should be deleted, but I shall keep my flagging to myself today.
posted by poppo at 5:05 AM on March 11, 2008

Stephen Fry's Making History tends not to be categorised as SF, but it's in this sub-genre. The strict time-travel element is small before it veers off into alternate history, but it's tone certainly makes a change from the earnestness of much of this type of novel.
posted by Jakey at 5:16 AM on March 11, 2008

Best answer: Not mentioned in the other thread: Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy. It's about a woman who time travels to 2137 while in an asylum, and it's much more about commenting on society and much less about science fiction.
posted by bibbit at 5:56 AM on March 11, 2008

Einstein's Dreams by Alan Lightman
posted by mattholomew at 6:03 AM on March 11, 2008

Another Connie Willis novel with time travel is To Say Nothing of the Dog. Highly recommended.

The Anubis Gates is sitting in my To Read pile. It won the 1984 Philip K. Dick award so I assume it's good, too.
posted by Durin's Bane at 6:08 AM on March 11, 2008

"The Albertine Notes," by Rick Moody, in which the survivors of a nuclear attack on Manhattan become addicted to a drug that causes time travel. This is the second time I've recommended this story within a week or so. That's because it's incredible. You can find it in Thrilling Tales or Right Livelihoods.
posted by ourobouros at 6:14 AM on March 11, 2008

Graphic Novel: I Killed Adolf Hitler by Jason

Maintimestream comic: Booster Gold

Bookwise, a hearty second for Anubis Gates. Tim Powers is constantly awesome.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 6:14 AM on March 11, 2008

While time dilation from the relativistic effects of high velocity space travel are a component of Joe Haldeman's Forever War and Forever Free (and surely others that I'm forgetting: Worlds Enough and Time, maybe?) Haldeman deals with 'classic time travel' in the manner I believe you are looking for in The Hemingway Hoax. There's also a short story he wrote decades ago with time travel as a central theme, but I cannot remember any part of it.
posted by mojohand at 6:30 AM on March 11, 2008

The Technicolor Time Machine, by Harry Harrison. It's about some desperate Hollywood folks who get access to a time machine, and use it to try and make a Viking movie in record time. Humor, satire, and action ensue. Not sure if it's considered a classic, but it's a fun read.
posted by chr1sb0y at 6:36 AM on March 11, 2008

Hey! How about Stress Management for Time Travelers?

Otherwise, seconding the Heinlein tale, By His Bootstraps. Great stuff.

I wrote it but it's still a good story! No, really!
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 6:37 AM on March 11, 2008

I mean, I wrote Stress Management for Time Travelers. Argh.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 6:38 AM on March 11, 2008

"A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens
posted by grumblebee at 6:42 AM on March 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

Oh yeah, Joe Haldeman has recently published The Accidental Time Machine, which I'd suspect just might also deal with the subject of time travel, though I haven't read it yet.
posted by mojohand at 6:42 AM on March 11, 2008

And, if you could ever find a copy, there's Keith Laumer's hilarious The Great Time Machine Hoax.

Finally, I'll convey an interesting observation that Joe Haldeman made on the subject: If you write a story about time travel, it's considered 'Hard SF,' although time travel has never been observed and is entirely fanciful. If you write one about werewolves, it's considered fantasy, although lycanthropy is a clinically observed phenomenon (albeit not from supernatural causes.)
posted by mojohand at 6:53 AM on March 11, 2008

Probably the greatest time travel book ever: Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency.

My number two and three are:
Life House, Spider Robinson.
A Door Into Summer, Heinlein
posted by ewkpates at 6:55 AM on March 11, 2008

For a really fascinating twist on time travel, try Millenium by John Varley.
posted by cyclopz at 7:05 AM on March 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

"Downtiming the Nightside", by Jack Chalker
posted by Class Goat at 7:06 AM on March 11, 2008

Replay by Ken Grimwood
posted by kimdog at 7:21 AM on March 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

Seconding Connie Willis' "To Say Nothing Of The Dog". It's one of the best time-travel novels ever written.
posted by Malor at 7:21 AM on March 11, 2008

The "Outlander" series (6 books) by Diana Gabaldon. A great mix of science fiction/fantasy/romance/historical fiction. Love 'em. And she's still not finished with the series; she's said at least two more books are forthcoming.
posted by Mimzy at 7:25 AM on March 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

I absolutely love Asimov's The End of Eternity. The idea of commerce between different time periods is perhaps unique to this story.
posted by dbiedny at 7:32 AM on March 11, 2008

Similar to Finney's Time and Again is Charles Dickinson's A Shortcut in Time. It's not defacto sci-fi, but maybe all time travel novels are a little science fiction.
posted by mattbucher at 7:49 AM on March 11, 2008

Michael Moorcock's Behold the Man. And thirding By His Bootstraps. Another Heinlein time travel take would be The Door into Summer.
posted by Dr. Grue at 8:18 AM on March 11, 2008

Time Travel in Fiction

No offense to everyone who's busily naming stories and novels, but most of you are wasting your time, because that list, linked by oh pollo! in the second comment, is pretty comprehensive (everything I thought of is on it) and has nice short descriptions, and if I were the original poster I'd just ignore the other comments and use that as a reference. (Do check poppo's link, which would have saved you the trouble of posting in the first place.)
posted by languagehat at 8:22 AM on March 11, 2008

I remember a time travel series from when I was a kid called "Agent of T.E.R.R.A." which were breathtakingly bad. (A bit of googling says that the author was Larry Maddock.)
posted by Class Goat at 8:32 AM on March 11, 2008

languagehat is right...wow, that's a thorough Wikipedia page.
posted by desuetude at 8:34 AM on March 11, 2008

And, for grins and giggles, you should check-out the whole John Titor web saga.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:19 AM on March 11, 2008

Thirding Connie Willis' "To Say Nothing Of The Dog".
posted by signal at 10:58 AM on March 11, 2008

Heinlein's other classic time travel story is, "All You Zombies--"
posted by Chrysostom at 11:06 AM on March 11, 2008

I guess this is a bit off-topic, but you'll get a hilarious/clever timetravel story in the Spirou comic albums The Comet's Watchmaker and The Awakening of Z (1986). The Spirou albums were hardly distributed outside of europe (and mainly in France/Belgium), but they are besides Tintin the most beloved comic albums of this genre. I loved it as a kid, and still do.
posted by SurrenderMonkey at 11:11 AM on March 11, 2008

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