Time travel! Unlimited possibilities: visiting the past to relive momentous events in mankind’s history, or for another chance to do things differently with the benefit of hindsight! Or even the possibility of future travel — to see what will be, what could be, to reforge destiny! Time travel! One of the most imaginative and fantastical sub-genres in literature! These are best of all time-travel novels:
I have some quibbles with Tau Zero; the forgettable characters and the flat dialogue are two of the worst offenders in the book. However, Tau Zero‘s shortcomings can be forgiven if you immerse yourself completely in the fantastical story of a research crew marooned in time due to the effects of exponentially increasing time dilation. A time travel novel both sad and introspective and a must-read for fans of classic sci-fi literature.
The Time Traveler’s Wife
The concept of time travel lends itself well to a love story; lovers searching for each other across the most insurmountable distance — time — is an idea that plays into an idealistic version of romance. For this reason, there are many time travel romance novels out there, but The Time Traveler’s Wife is the best that I’ve read. A beautifully written, emotional debut novel for Audrey Niffegger.
The Time Machine
H. G. Wells
Though The Time Machine was originally published in 1895, it still holds up well today. The social concepts in the book are complex: the Morlocks and Eloi of Earth’s far future — the result of the degeneration of the human race into two separate factions — live a dystopian existence with a predatory relationship with each other. Though time travel is just a vehicle (literally and figuratively, in this novel) for a book about Wells’ social commentary of the class structure of his time, the sociological theories explored in H. G. Wells’s classic is relevant to readers even today.
The Man Who Folded Himself
In The Man Who Folded Himself, author David Gerrold addresses paradoxes and philosophy, in an ever-increasing web of cause-and-effect complexity. The premise is a simple one: a young man named Daniel inherits a time-travel belt from his mysterious uncle, and like most people would, he immediately uses his newfound power for money. This leads to a story with events that are both refreshing and surprising, even for veteran readers of time travel literature.
The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August
The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August is the most recent novel on this list and earns its way through the strength of strong writing and with just-confusing-enough-to-be-exciting jumps in narrative timelines. Conspiracies, secret societies, secret societies — all come together in an excellent story of a man who relives his life multiple times. The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August starts slow but quickly ramps up the excitement and turns a story about cause-and-effect into a fast-paced thriller.
November 22nd, 1963 is the date of President John F. Kennedy’s fateful motorcade in Dealey Plaza and it’s preventing the outcome of this event that is Jake Epping’s motivation for stepping through a portal that takes him back in time to 1958. Time travel fiction routinely deals with cause-and-effect, but in 11/22/63, the universe resists changes to the timeline, and external forces attempt to prevent Jake’s manipulation of history. Stephen King’s 11/22/63 is a long book — over 250,000 words — that still manages to pack a lot of tightly-paced excitement into its pages.
The End of Eternity
The Eternals that oversee the time continuum in Asimov’s The End of Eternity aren’t too concerned with singular events in history, because what is a global war or a breakthrough in humanity’s development in terms of the millions of years of existence? Instead, they observe the entirety of history, making slight changes here and there to alter the course of humanity as needed. The End of Eternity — written in the 1950s — is an early example of time travel literature that deals with complex concepts, like cause-and-effect and paradoxes. A classic, and easily one of Isaac Asimov’s best works.
Robert Charles Wilson
Robert Charles Wilson is a fixture in time travel fiction: his Spin series deals with the effects of time dilation on an entire world and A Bridge of Years features a tunnel that leads to the past. In The Chronoliths, numerous monoliths — seemingly from the future — appear at random times. The book studies the societal and cultural impact of predestiny and cause-and-effect, and if the world can be bound to self-fulfilling prophecies. A great novel and well worth the read for any fan of science fiction in general.
A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court
Like H. G. Wells’s The Time Machine, time travel in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court serves as a vehicle for social commentary. An engineer from modern-day Connecticut is transported to medieval England and of course, uses his knowledge to make changes in social structure and advance scientific growth in the era. In A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court Twain addresses issues like slavery, religion, and class structure in a brilliant satiric combination of science fiction and fantasy.
Slaughterhouse-Five is part historical fiction, drawing from Kurt Vonnegut’s own experiences during the bombing of the city of Dresden during World War II, that becomes science fiction, then a time travel novel when narrator Billy Pilgrim is abducted by aliens and given free reign of the fourth dimension of time, allowing him to experience his entire life simultaneously. Vonnegut tells this difficult story with masterful narrative mechanics and makes what could have been an impossible-to-follow read an excellent satiric criticism of war — made much more significant when we consider Slaughterhouse-Five was published at the height of anti-Vietnam war sentiment in America.