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tosaynothing

Classification: Past and Future Time Travel

 

It is the year 2057. Lady Schrapnell is a wealthy patron of Oxford’s university time travel research unit (time travel being already an established science). She promises to provide ample funding, if the unit can help her build an exact replica of Coventry Cathedral, which was destroyed by Nazi bombing in 1940. The unit is so eager to get her endowment, that every member is going back and forth in time, looking for items which existed in the destroyed cathedral. One particular item, an esoteric piece of furniture called the Bishop’s Bird Stump is proving exceptionally hard to track down: was it stolen? burned during the bombing? No one manages to find an answer.

 

Ned Henry, the protagonist of To Say Nothing of the Dog – together with his teammates, repeatedly finds himself going to various periods in search of the elusive object. It’s almost as if someone is trying to keep this object from them. But the lady’s search eventually proves to be too much for poor Ned; after numerous jaunts to the past, Ned contracts a severe case of “Time Lag”. Thus, he goes for two weeks of rest in Oxford circa 1888. There he meets another time traveler, Verity Kindle, and realizes that he must fix a time anomaly accidentally caused by Verity when she brought something from the past.

 

Even worse, Ned’s very presence accidentally causes two lovers to never meet, and unintentionally he introduces someone to the girl whom she quickly falls in love with. He and Verity must to fix this as well, but the problem is that they are not exactly sure whom the girl was supposed to marry – her diary (which they’ve seen in the future) was unfortunately damaged in exactly the section describing these events.

 

Somehow the events of the missing Bird Stump related to what’s going on in 1888. But how? And can this be fixed?

 

To Say Nothing of the Dog weaves a very complicated story, with very memorable characters. I admit it took me three separate occasions to get to the hang of things, and I almost gave up. But I’m so glad I pulled through as it has become one of my all time favorite novels. It involves comedy, mystery, romance, Victorian etiquette, time travel, science and unresolved paradoxes. At times it can get confusing, but I advise the reader to bear with the novel – it’s absolutely worth it.

 

One of the novel’s strength is its humor. It is very hard to create a serious and believable story, and yet continue seeing the funny aspects. This is more the case when it comes to time travel stories. But the author successfully captures the ridiculous aspects of time travel and the Victorian era (and there are so many). More so, the humor feels right at home historically speaking (it’s often a comedy of manners, think “The importance of being Earnest”).

 

In terms of time travel, this is one of the few novels that is able to create multiple threads the reader knows must eventually be tied together, and yet do this in a satisfying – and unpredictable – manner without resorting to cheating or some pseudo-mystical solution. It’s a novel that constantly keeps you guessing.

 

In summary: To Say Nothing of the Dog is a very witty, very funny time travel novel. Despite being a highly ambitious novel, when one considers the number of things it’s trying to achieve, it does not disappoint for a moment. Highly recommended!

 


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aworldoutoftime

Classification: Future Reality

 

After finding out he has terminal cancer, Jaybee Corbell decides to place himself in suspended animation in the hope that in the future it will be possible to revive him and cure his cancer. After all, he is only in his mid 40s, and surely in the future it’ll be a simple matter to cure him. 200 years pass, and Jaybee wakes up in a world very different from what he remembers – strangely, in a body not his own.

 

As Jaybee quickly finds out, in the 22nd century, the world is controlled by a single totalitarian government, and he does not have any rights anymore. In fact, he has only been brought back from the dead (his consciousness placed in the body of a mindwiped criminal) to perform a task as ‘payment’ for his resurrection. His mission: pilot a spaceship towards unknown space, and find planets suitable for terraforming. He is informed that unless he complies, a different consciousness will be placed in the body he occupies – effectively, destroying everything that’s left of him.

 

Jaybee pretends to be complying, but when he is certain he could no longer be stopped, he redirects his spaceship towards a black hole in the center of the galaxy. His goal is to benefit from relativity, that is, reach a a spatial area where time travels slower in relation to normal space. Ideally, this will propel him enough into the future that he could return back without any repercussions.

 

His attempt is a success and when he finally reaches Earth, he finds out that 3 million years have passed. However, in this time the Earth has become a much worse place than it was before. In this terrible future, the Earth is controlled by the Boys, the immortal descendants of humanity (who look like children) who capture him. What will he do? I don’t want to spoil the book, so read the book to find out.

 

This is one of the first time travel books I’ve ever read, and I consider it one of the classics. It has many of the ingredients necessary for a good time travel story: a diverse journey to the future (or the past), interesting setting/s, and a driven protagonist. Although the book does suffer from a malady many other older science fiction novels suffer from, namely, poor characterization, it still makes a very fun read and is highly enjoyable.

 

In summary: Not Niven’s greatest creation (that would be “The Mote in God’s Eye”), but still an excellent book, I recommend this to anyone who wants to a light read and does not expect a masterpiece.

 


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tsaddik

Classification: Past Time Travel

 

There’s no need for a time machine if you’re a Tsaddik (the Jewish equivalent of a saint) – that is the premise of The Tsaddik of the Seven Wonders.

 

In this novel, Yitzhak Ben Reuvan, a Tsaddik, goes on a wild journey through time in which he meets various historical figures, from Moses to Richard Nixon, and rescues a Polish shikse (non Jewish woman – normally very attractive). In order to prevent the space-time continuum from collapsing, the Tsaddik must utilize some Jewish miracle working.

 

I’ll admit I don’t remember this book very well, but I do remember it’s a very fun Jewish science fiction novel (not something one reads every day) where time traveling Hassidim fight evil. Definitely an original concept.

 

 

 

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fabulousriverboat

Classification: Historical Characters

 

The Fabulous Riverboat is the second book in the Riverworld saga.

 

The Riverworld: a place where everybody who has ever lived has been resurrected, and now must seek out a place for himself in this brave new world. From Abraham Lincoln to Al Capone, everyone is there.

 

The Fabulous Riverboat continues the plot which started in To Your Scattered Bodies Go. This time the protagonist is Sam Clemens also known as Mark Twain.

 

During the time that has passed since the resurrection, there have been some attempts to make order. Numerous ‘countries’ have been organized. Some are dictatorships, others are democratic. Some are friendly, other are warlike. In addition, the people from the technological eras are pretty much in the same state as primitive humans. Don’t forget, since everyone has been resurrected and the planet has no history, there are no factories or available technology whatsoever. And even though the knowledge to obtain this certainly exists in the population, tracking down the right person among the billions of humans, with no phones or internet, is no simple task.

 

Sam Clemens has met a mysterious being claiming to be a rebel of the group that created the Riverworld and resurrected humanity there. The being supports his goal to explore the river, and instructs him where he can find iron deposits which he can use to construct the riverboat. In addition, obtaining the iron will be extremely useful in defending the venture from hostile societies; since metal is very rare on the Riverworld, everyone who possesses it, will have a big advantage over his enemies.

 

The choice of Clemens as a leader of this venture is perfect considering his vast experience in building and piloting riverboats on the Mississippi. But before that can be accomplished, he must ward off multiple hostile ‘countries’ who also want the iron – and must ally himself with one of the biggest villains in history, John Lackland (one of the historical kings of England). In the course of the events described in the book, we also meet other interesting characters from history including: Cyrano de Bergerac, the Nazi Hermann Goring, famous viking leader Odysseus, and more.

 

Although not a bad book, this is the weakest in the series. As before, the book is well written, and the historical characters are as fascinating. Sam Clemens makes a very interesting protagonist. However, the quest to obtain the iron and build a boat is not too interesting, and generally feels like a filler – something to delay the heroes until they can get their journey started.

 

If it were possible to skip this book, I’d say do so – as the next books are much better. But unfortunately it is a necessary element of the Riverboat saga, and so, definitely worth the effort.

 


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scatteredbodies

Classification: Historical Characters

 

To Your Scattered Bodies Go is the first book in the Riverworld saga.

 

Imagine: at the end of your life, you die; but whether you expect heaven or hell, reincarnation, or simply oblivion, you find yourself waking up naked, young again, at the shores of an endless river in a strange world. And you are not alone: it appears that everybody who has ever lived has been resurrected in this brave new world. Imagine: if you search hard enough, you will find: Albert Einstein, Moses, Abraham Lincoln, Adolf Hitler, Heath Ledger, Buddha, John Lennon, Al Capone, Robin Hood, John F. Kennedy and even Saddam Hussein – they are all there! Some are prehistoric people, others are from the future – but they are all present, all in the same bewildering situation. The Riverworld saga has one of the most amazing premises I’ve ever seen. Maybe even the best premise. The number of possible stories is infinite.

 

In the first book, the protagonist is Sir Richard Francis Burton, the famous 19th century explorer. The last thing he expected is to die and find himself in the Riverworld. Finding himself – just like everyone – with an indestructible container that can be used to gain meals three times a day, and also contains cigarettes, alcoholic drinks, a lighter and a lipstick, sir Richard tries to make sense of his new life.

 

Not long after waking up, Richard and a few people he befriended, including: Alice Liddell Hargreaves (the grown up inspiration for Alice in Wonderland), a Neanderthal, a holocaust survivor, and an alien that happened to reach Earth in the 21st century, decide to build a riverboat and go up the river in the hopes of finding who has resurrected everybody – and why. But this is no simple feat since many of humanity’s worst examples (such as the Nazi Hermann Goring) have been resurrected as well.

 

The book is fantastic. Using so many historical figures provides an amazingly deep setting that can and is used very creatively. The first book in particular is the best as it enables us to experience the wonder through the eyes of multiple famous protagonists.

 

The author did a fantastic job at researching these individuals. Often we see references to anecdotes that do not make much sense, but if one searches them (say, on Wikipedia), one can understand the meaning. It makes the story so much more realistic. It feels as if we’re reading the adventures of a real pesron.

 

In summary: Superb! An absolute treat that all sci-fi lovers will enjoy.

 


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thefirstimmortal

Classification: Future Reality

 

The First Immortal is a speculative, 200 year saga, describing events that take place between the years 1925 and 2125.

 

It is the end of the 20th century. Dr. Ben Smith, suffers a terrible heart attack which does not kill him, but leaves him in a fragile state. Refusing to accept the fact his days are numbered, and a firm believer in cryogenics, Ben decides to have himself frozen until a future time which will be able to fix his heart. After Ben is frozen, a legal battle ensues because his children each claims to get his trust fund that is supposed to take care of Ben’s body and pay for his future revival.

 

[As you probably know, Cryogenics aims to do just that: have people freeze their bodies or only their heads (the price is different), in the hope that at some time in the future, the technology - and the willingness - to revive them will exist. The Author, James Halperin, appears to be a big believer in Cryogenics. Anyway, I digress.]

 

83 years pass and Ben wakes up, a mechanical heart ticking in his chest. The world he finds is very different from the place he left: disease has been conquered and people no longer need to age. Thus, he becomes what is described in the book’s title: The First Immortal.

 

The book is very well written. The plot is strong, and the characters are fully fleshed. I liked the sheer scope of the novel, which follows Ben’s family for several generations. That being said, what I particularly liked is the future it paints. Clearly the author has done his research on cryogenics, nanotechnology and artificial intelligence. Although probably too optimistic, the future he describes sound generally plausible, and I could really imagine it eventually happening. In many ways it reminded me of some parts of Ray Kurzweil’s wonderful The Age of Spiritual Machine (unsurprising consider the author is an aspiring futurist).

 

I know some people felt the book is just a way for preaching cryogenics, and as a result, did not enjoy the book at all. Although I agree with the claim that the book preaches cryogenics, I can’t say it bothered (or convinced) me – I simply enjoyed the entire package.

 

To summarize: if you like books that combine technology, science and story, and you are not turned off by the concept of cryogenics, you’ll probably find this book appealing.

 


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thedoorintosummer

Classification: Future Reality

 

Set in “future” 1970 (as the book was written in 1957), The Door Into Summer introduces us to Dan Davis, one of the greatest electronics engineers alive. Dan’s latest invention is a sophisticated household robot which will dramatically change life for the housewife at home. [Note though this was publishable in the 50s, I doubt anyone would write things like that today]. Just before he is able to enjoy the fruits of his labor, Dan is tricked by his business partner, Miles, and fiancee out of business. Even worse, the two betrayers inject him with a drug and put him in suspended animation for 30 years.

 

30 years pass, and Dan wakes up – penniless and feeling betrayed. Determined to make a new life for himself, Dan starts catching up on new technologies and finds a job. However, he never forgets the betrayal. And so, because the engineer in him never sleeps, he eventually manages to build a time machine – which he decides he’ll use to get back in time and exact revenge on the two people who have stuck the knife at his back.

 

The Door Into Summer is considered by many to be one of the finest time travel novels ever written. Honestly, I think it is a good novel, particularly when one considers the year it was written in, but I don’t think it meets the higher standards by today’s science fiction novels: The story is decent, but nothing spectacular.

 

As for character development, well, one of the common problems with science fiction books written in the 50s and before is character development. Although to some extent it is a problem today as well, it seems that back then creating believable characters was never an important consideration when writing science fiction. The Door into Summer is a perfect example: the characters are all exaggerated cliches of the role they play. If this were the goal then that could be fun, but it’s so clearly not the intention.

 

Note that one of my favorite aspects of this book – and all older science fiction – is seeing the futures they envisioned, and how they differ from the real world. In this book, the future was 1970, and the far future was 2001. Although we’re already 8 years after 2001, we still do not have robots that do everything, nor do we have suspended animation or self driving cars (at least we’re getting closer to those!), and that sort of thing. Yet we do have amazingly complex computers, we have the internet, we have stem cell research, we have iPods and HD Television – and plenty of other things that could not have been predicted back then. Anyway, I digress – this is just an anecdote I find interesting.

 

To summarize: if you like golden age science fiction, you’ll love this novel. But if poor characterization or old science fiction irritates you – skip this one. Just remember – you may be missing out!

 


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enchantment

Classification: Fantasy

 

In 1975, when Ivan Smetki was 10 years old, his family was forced to stay for a while in his uncle’s farm, which is located next to Kiev. One day, Ivan went on a small excursion in the woods and stumbled into a small clearing. When the wind pushed moving leaves, Ivan saw the pale shape of a sleeping woman. But there was something else – something malevolent. Panicking, Ivan ran away in fear. Not a long time afterward, the Smetski family moves to the US.

 

Many years pass, and Ivan is now a Ph.D. student working on a thesis dealing with Russian fairy tales. Although in the years since he stayed with his uncle Ivan always believed what he saw was a hallucination or a dream, he couldn’t forget it. Thus, when his research takes him back to Russia, he decides to look for the clearing he saw when he was a kid. To his great surprise, he finds it. And indeed there is a woman sleeping underneath the leaves. There is also something malicious guarding her – a huge bear.

 

Before he realizes what is going on, he is informed that the bear will kill him unless he agrees to marry the woman. This will break an enchantment that is placed on her (which is what kept her sleeping for so many years). Naturally, he proposes on the spot, and suddenly he – and the beautiful princess Katerina, apparently the source of the Sleeping Beauty tale – are living in 10th century Russia. Shattering romantic expectations of a trip through time, Ivan finds himself in a place where all his skills are worthless (what would a modern Russian scholar do in the 10th century?), and needs to prove himself to the locals.

 

The plot thickens when Ivan and Katerina find themselves back in the 20th century, fleeing the wrath of the Baba Yaga – the mythical Russian witch that actually placed the curse on Katerina – and Bear, the spellbound personification of Russian winter.

 

Enchantment combines elements of Folklore, Modern Fantasy and Time Travel. This is a really hard thing to do: very few novels manage to do this successfully, but this is one of those cases. There were also a lot of unexpected twists: time and again the novel managed to surprise me with original plot elements. A fantasy novel becomes great if it manages to convince you that there is a great universe in existence beyond the novel, with its own rules and limitations. This is the strength of Lord of the Rings. Here, too, the author manages to do a superb job in creating a highly believable universe. What I thought was weak in the novel is the characterization. The character of Ivan was not very realistic, and seemed to exist only to advance the plot. Sleeping Beauty, Princess Katerina, was also a one dimensional character (I also could not stand her!). However, the Baba Yaga is a fascinating villain, I greatly enjoyed the scenes told from her perspective. Bear was even better, and was my favorite character in the book.

 

To summarize: highly recommended. One of the most original stories I’ve ever read, extremely enjoyable. Although it is more a fantasy than a time travel story, it will appeal to lovers of both.

 


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bonesoftheearth

Classification: Past Time Travel

 

Bones of the Earth introduces us to paleontologist Richard Leyster. One day, in the very near future, a government agent steps into Richard’s office and offers him the opportunity of a lifetime, the chance to study real, live dinosaurs. Using a time machine, whose mysterious origins are only given at the end of the novel, several researchers would be transported to the past, specifically, the several eras between the Triassic to the Cretaceous, and will be able to study creatures indigenous to these time periods.

 

Even though at this point the book may appear to be very similar to many other novels, the standard “paleontologist travels back in time to see dinosaurs” story, it has several unique subplots.

 

Many time travel novels fail to perceive the entire scope of the effect time travel technology could have. For example, if someone has a time machine, what’s to stop him from going to the future and finding the solutions of problems he’s currently working on? Bones of the Earth does not fall in this trap. For starters, since the agency organizing the expedition is going to exist in the future as well as the present, the researchers it sends back in time may come from many different times. Consequently, it is possible that knowledge that is widely available in the time of some members will not have been discovered yet in the others’ time. If a slip up occurs, it has the potential of changing the timeline, something the organization wants to avoid at all costs. Furthermore, it’s even possible that the two separate ‘versions’ of the same person from two different periods will work together, as long as the older version does not reveal anything to the younger version.

 

An additional subplot deals with a fundamentalist terrorist group that is determined to infiltrate the organization, and send objects through time so it could discredit archeology forever. These terrorists aim to send modern as well as fictional artifacts to the past, so that archeologists will find them in the present. Something like this has the potential of doing great harm.

 

The novel speculates a lot on the ecology and behavior of prehistoric creatures. This increases the realism of the plot, since the protagonist is a paleontologist, and also makes for a very interesting read. Whether or not the author is correct in his theories is besides the point.

 

All in all, the book is populated by a large number of interesting – and not so interesting – characters. Scientists, religious nuts, terrorists. Not to mention the “Old Man”, the enigmatic person who has total control of the organization. It’s a stimulating tale of time travel that offers a few new perspectives on a popular premise. However, some of the subplots were boring and overall, I felt the book was trying to accomplish too much (the love story and the sex scenes probably could’ve been removed!). It was definitely not an easy read – the reader really has to pay attention to all the details.

 

Although I recommend this book, I feel I could give it a higher ranking because I found some of the subplots to be boring, and in general, the book was a challenging read.

 


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falling

Classification: Personal Time Travel

 

In Falling we are introduced to Jude, a young woman living in future London who was born with a special ability: Jude is a ReTracer, a person who can travel to any point in her own history. This special ability confers many advantages, so unsurprisingly Jude works as an agent for the government.

 

But someone wants to kill Jude, someone who also has the ability to jump through time. This person has attempted to kill her in several different periods – and will eventually succeed if not stopped. Who is this person and why does he want to kill her? And so, Jude starts traveling to various points in her own history in an attempt to discern who her nemesis is.

 

Although the premise is excellent, and the author has created a near-future setting that is both believable and intriguing, I can’t say I liked the book, mainly because of the disjointed and confused writing. The writing is also very fast paced, normally something I’d find appealing, but because of the problematic style, it made the story hard to follow at times.

 

Do I recommend this book? I really did not enjoy reading it, but perhaps I should give this book a second chance, as frankly, all the components were promising.

 


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Time Travel Movies