Is time a line, or a circle? This essential question about the nature of our universe remains unanswered after hundreds, if not thousands of years’ worth of debate, giving birth to more schools of thought we could ever hope to count.
Everyone has their own idea of what the truth might be like, but how exactly are we to explore ideas which go beyond what we’re capable of perceiving and achieving? Why, through fiction, of course. Many authors have and are trying to explore in one way or another the concept of time, and more often than not, it results in works of time travel fiction.
The appeals to this genre are numerous: to imagine a past or a potential future we’ll never witness, to see modern and relatable people thrust into outlandish scenarios, and of course, to witness the concrete application of any philosophy about the nature of time itself.
In this category, we’ll be looking at science-fiction books which deal with the topic of time travel in one form or another, ranging from being the centerpiece of the story to a background element. More precisely, we’ll be looking at the unique ones I believe are truly worth reading above their peers, and most importantly, worth thinking about.
Connie Willis began with Blackout something few authors dare to do: writing a book so long it has to be split in two. In an age of declining attention spans, it’s a risk few are capable of taking. In All Clear she continues the story from the first book, concluding the adventures of the three Oxford historians who travelled back in time to WWII Britain and became not only stuck there, but have also seemingly managed to change the course of history itself.
Connie Willis is perhaps one of the greatest time-travelling authors of the modern era, her novels often exploring the subject from unexpected and novel angles. In her novel Blackout, the first in the All Clear series, we follow the story of three time-travelling historians who, upon being sent back to WWII, notice something terribly wrong happening. History itself seems to be spinning out of control, and they seem to be on the verge of doing something everyone thought impossible: changing the past.
William Gibson hasn’t needed to prove his worth as an author for a long time now, consistently coming up with original, and perhaps even singular science-fiction stories, such as The Sprawl Trilogy. In 2014 he published The Peripheral, the first novel in a trilogy by the exact same name. The story follows Flynn Fisher and Wilf Netherton, separated by decades in the real world, but about to meet through a virtual world which seems to have sinister repercussions on real life.
Adam Peter Johnson is without question one of the more promising authors to have arrived on the scene recently, having published his first novel, Branches, in 2020 and received a fair share of acclaim for it. The story follows a man who discovers that not only is he in the wrong timeline, but there’s also a remedy for it. With the world around him headed for catastrophe and chaos, he takes the plunge, and begins a surreal trip of seemingly endless second chances.
Andrew Cunningham is the sort of author who enjoys leaving his own comfort zone, and with Yestertime he dives into the untold potential of the time travel genre. It follows the story of Ray Burton, a journalist who, by pure accident, discovers a box from a hundred years ago carrying a seemingly impossible message, prompting him to embark on an investigation bound to change his life forever.
Elan Mastai has taken a bit of time before moving from screenplays to novels, taking the leap in 2017 with the publication of the novel All Our Wrong Todays, the film rights for which have already been optioned by Paramount Pictures. It follows the story of Tom, living in a utopic universe alternate to ours, and his accidental journey to the year 2016 of our own reality, which he comes to interpret as a dystopian wasteland.
Connie Willis has left her mark on the science-fiction genre through a large number of works which have earned dozens of accolades, and Doomsday Book is certainly one of the more remarkable ones, having won the Nebula, Hugo and Locus SF Awards. It tells the story of a time travelling historian, Kivrin, whose trip back to 1320 Oxfordshire goes unpredictably wrong and leaves her cut off from her command.
Douglas Phillips has explored some of the more interesting frontiers of our knowledge in his Quantum Series, and in the third book, titled Quantum Time, we join Daniel Rice, a time traveller on a mission to stop a nuclear holocaust. After a dying man stumbles into a police station claiming to be from the future, a series of predictions come true, and it becomes clear the Earth is on the verge of truly unexpected peril.
Rysa Walker has, like many others recently, injected some much-needed fresh blood into the alternative history and time-travelling genres with The Chronos Files series.
In her latest novel, titled Now, Then and Everywhen, Walker marks the beginning of a new series, The Chronos Origins. The story follows two time-travelling historians who are bound to meet on a collision course while trying to fulfill their personal missions, and hopefully prevent history from being erased completely.
Mike Chen has certainly done us book readers quite the favour when he finally dedicated himself to publishing his works, namely with one of 2019’s more prominent works of science-fiction, Here and Now and Then. The story revolves around Kin Stewart, a time-travelling agent stuck in San Francisco in the 1990s, now with a daughter and a life for himself. Suddenly, his rescue team shows up, 18 years too late… but Kin isn’t as keen to come back home as he once would have been.
Joshua Dalzelle is one of those authors who has found their niche in the world of literature, dedicating his impressive talents to works of science-fiction. After penning numerous novels in his three series, he has decided to try creating a standalone book, and the result was the curious Blueshift. The story has us following a group of people who return to Earth after spending eight hundred years on a space mission. However, the planet they once knew has become incomprehensibly different, and the crew realizes they are living on borrowed time as they try to uncover the mystery of the nightmare they landed in.