I’ve always been (nearly) obsessed with obtaining as many time travel books I could find. Every time a new time travel movie or television show was released, I was the first in line to watch it. Many people feel this way, I know. Although some may wonder why that is the case, personally I don’t find it surprising at all. Time travel provides so many possibilities for an author that we should not be surprised it is used so frequently, and in such a great variety of ways.
Time travel enables revisiting the past with a modern perspective. It enables going to the far future and witnessing events that transpire long after we and our society are gone. It enables interacting with famous people who are dead. It enables changing a major decision and witnessing how this would have affected us or our society. It enables creating complex, intricate stories, where past and present interact in unpredictable ways: excellent setting for mystery stories.
A while ago I had a conversation with my friend Will. During our chat I realized I read more time travel books than anyone I know of – by far. Since I always enjoy recommending books to people, and always enjoy finding new books I haven’t heard of, I thought: why not create a website dedicated to the subject?
This has proven to be slightly harder than I realized, since writing reviews is a lengthy process. In fact, I’ve barely written anything about movies or games so far, preferring to focus on books at first. But I will get there, I promise.
It’s important for me to say that I don’t intend to review every novel which has time travel elements: it has to be a major component of the plot. Nor do I intend to review individual short stories – there are simply too many of those.
Here are the terms I use in this website:
After reading a couple of time travel novels I started realizing that there are several recurring styles. Creating this website has given me a very good perspective on this, so here’s my attempt of classifying the Time Travel genre into several sub-genres. Note that obviously, some stories could have more than one classification – I’ve tried to pick the one that made most sense to me. I also tried to pick a movie example (since these are best known) when I could think of one.
This is probably the best place to state that I only chose to review novels and movies that time travel is a significant component in their plot. Many of these include time travel, but it’s a minor element, not enough for them to be included in this genre. For example, Superman (remember – he flies back in time to save the Earth?), Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, etc
Alternate Reality: in this category of novel/movie, the protagonist travels to the past, and makes a change that affects the present. At times, this happens multiple times. The point here is usually to examine how one or more decisions, which at times could be very small, could have transformed the world. Example: A Sound of Thunder.
Anthology: a collection of multiple short stories or 2-3 medium sized stories. Although this is not specific to time travel, I feel obligated to mention this since this is one of the classifications I use.
Effects of Time Travel Technologies on Society: in these novels and movies, time travel is not actually achieved. However, something related does happen: certain knowledge is being transferred from the past or the future to the present. This knowledge is so important, so radical, that it affects every person on the world – and changes society. For example: Knowing (Nicholas Cage’s new movie that’s coming out soon).
Fantasy: there are numerous fantasy novels where time travel takes place (can’t think of a movie though). Although in many ways this should not make a difference, my personal feeling is that it does. Since time travel (often) enables the reader to examine a future version of our world – or conversely – see the world as it used to be, I don’t feel that using it in a fantasy setting has the same meaning. Consequently, I’ve given these novels their own classification.
Future Reality: in this class of novel/movie, the protagonist is being transported in some way to the future. It could be done using a time machine, being cryogenically frozen, or moving close to the speed of light. The end result is, we are being given the opportunity to witness one – or more – version of the society of the future. Example: Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, Planet of the Apes, The Time Machine
Historical Characters: in many novels the focus is on utilizing various real characters that have lived at some point in time, normally, to obtain their perspective on a contemporary issue. These characters are either put in contact with present-day people, or are literally moved in time to our present or future. You may be surprised, but there are quite a lot of novels with this premise. Example: the 80s show Voyagers (I used to love that one!)
Past and Future Time Travel: the focus of these novels is normally exploring a variety of different time periods: the past, the present, the future, the very far future, the unimaginably far future. Usually the point is the adventure, witnessing a crazy variety of societies and situations. If done well, this can be really good.
Past Time Travel: the focus of these novels is usually the examination a historical setting. Although an author may simply write a story situated in this historical period (and obviously many do), utilizing a time device of some sort to get to this time, enables examining the historical time from a modern perspective. Not to mention, this setting proves ample opportunities for paradox creation (Paradox: How do I love thee? Let me count the ways!)
Example: Timeline, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, the Time Tunnel
Personal Alternate Reality: just like ‘Alternate Reality’, only the changes affect a person’s life and not society as a whole. The point here is usually to examine how one or more personal decisions could have affected the course of a person’s life. This is quite a popular movie premise. Example: Groundhog Day, Back to the Future.
Personal Time Travel: different from ‘Personal Alternate Reality’. In this category of novels/movies, the protagonist usually has some kind of an ability to travel forward and backward in his own life, often (but not always) without the ability of making any changes, only reliving certain events again and again. Example: The Butterfly Effect
Plot Device: in these novels/movies, time travel is a large component of the plot, though often just a way to push it in a certain way. I also included here novels which utilize some kind of a time effect – not necessary time travel. Example: the most recent season of Lost
1 Star: Terrible book, or more precisely, one that’s seemingly designed to be bad (particularly irritating). Avoid unless you have some masochistic tendencies. Often these books can be controversial, meaning, some people actually like them.
1.5 Stars: Bad book, one I really didn’t enjoy. Better to avoid.
2 Stars: Not a very good book. Unless the premise sounds particularly interesting, I’d advise to avoid it.
2.5 Stars: Not a very good book. If it were slightly better, I probably would have enjoyed it. Read at your own peril.
3 Stars: An okay book. Overall I enjoyed it, but only marginally so. Generally worth reading.
3.5 Stars: Quite a good book. Normally used for books whose premise I found to be promising, but the execution was poor. Worth reading.
4 Stars: Excellent novel. Good premise and decent execution. Recommended for reading.
4.5 Stars: Superb novel, one I probably go around and ask people “did you read this already?”. Highly recommended.
5 Stars: Not only this book is a superb novel, but it also changed something in me. Stayed with me, even years after I read it. Highly recommended – do not miss!