On the first date I went on with my wife of 13+ years, I was reading The Best Time Travel Stories of All Time edited by Barry N. Malzberg. I’ve always enjoyed time travel stories. I’ve always wanted to write one, but they are difficult to write because the obvious time travel tropes have been done over and over again. I particularly enjoy those time travel stories that find an original twist. So I was pleasantly surprised when I sat down a few days ago to read The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North.
This was a terrific time travel story with a unique twist: certain people, when they die, reset back to the beginning of their life, but retaining all of their memories. They are then able to communicate with others like them by passing messages to the future (via carvings in stone, or hidden messages in plain sight); and they can communicate with the past by telling people about the future when they are “reborn.” This was also just a plain enjoyable spy-versus-spy story, well executed, and with a satisfying ending that stayed within the limits of the rules of the universe as setup by Claire North.
A big part of what delighted me about this book is that these types of time travel stories–one that have an original twist, that is well-executed–seem so rare to me. In reading The First Fifteen Lives… two books with fairly similar ideas came to mind. The first was Timequake by Kurt Vonnegut, in which through some strange universe gymnastics, everyone jumps from 2001 to 1991, and then has to relive the decade, making all of the same decisions as they originally did. The other book I was reminded of was Robert J. Sawyer’s Flashforward, in which everyone passes out at the same instant and each person has a brief vision of the future.
There are other time travel stories I’ve enjoyed. My personal favorite (and still one of my favorite novels period) is Stephen King’s 11/26/63. The novelty there is that when you go back in time, you reset everything to the exact date and time in 1958. So if you back in time and make changes, those changes will propagate to the future and stick–until you go back in time again, and everything is reset. You could be gone 20 years, but only 2 minutes passes in the present.
Another favorite of mine is one that Barry Malzberg mentions in The Best Time Travel Stories of All Time, but is too long to reprint there: Up the Line by Robert Silverberg. This is the time travel story to end all time travel stories and the ending is about as brilliant as one can get in a time travel story.
The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger had an original twist to it, traveling through time being a kind of genetic disease. Pete Hamill’s Forever, though not strictly time travel had time travel tropes in that the main character could not die, but as the title suggests, lives forever, so long as he never leaves the island of Manhattan. He spends centuries there.
Two fun time travel novels include The Accidental Time Machine by Joe Haldeman, and Time Traveler’s Never Die by Jack McDevitt. Connie Willis has done several time travel novels, but my favorite of hers and one of the better time travel novels I’ve read is Blackout / All Clear. Bonus points for all of the World War II era history.
Sometime I will try writing a time travel story of my own. But not until I return from the future and can be sure that my idea is still unique and not overused.
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