Today I started reading An Ocean of Minutes by Thea Lim, which promises to be an engaging time travel story. And like every good geek, I saw Avengers: Endgame this past weekend, which also plays around with time travel. I enjoy time travel stories because their mind-bending possibilities are so abundant, but it’s difficult to write time travel well. The author has to think through all the possibilities and convince the reader that the story is plausible and that it also has consequences. The author also has to build convincing historical or alternate or future worlds (or all of these at once). I’ve pulled together a list of some of my favorite time travel novels, from the beginnings to contemporary new twists on the premise for those who might not have read much in this genre and want to read more. Here they are, in no particular order:
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle: I always start with the children’s classics; Meg Murry is one of my all-time favorite heroines and was a great role model for me as a preteen reader.
The Time Machine by H. G. Wells: If you’re interested in time travel, you have to read the novel that started the genre. This classic is a short, easy read. I found Wells’s writing about the dying Earth to be both thought-provoking and moving.
Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut: A classic; Billy Pilgrim has become unstuck in time. I discovered Vonnegut later in life and I have to say, if you haven’t read this, you really should.
The Oxford Time Travel Series by Connie Willis: I can’t recommend just one of the books from this series; they’re all very different in theme and style, and each one features time travel to a different period in British history. In publication order, they are Doomsday Book, To Say Nothing of the Dog, and the duology, Blackout and All Clear, which should be read as one novel.
The Door into Summer by Robert Heinlein: Readable and fun, if not particularly deep, but Heinlein is de rigueur for these lists.
Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy: Read this as an antidote for the Heinlein; it’s a feminist time travel novel that imagines a future utopia of gender equality.
Kindred by Octavia E. Butler: In this twist on the slave narrative, time travel is used to transport a contemporary woman to antebellum Maryland against her will, where she must adapt to living as a slave.
The Forever War by Joe Haldeman: This is really only time travel in that it explores how time dilation affects the lives of deep-space soldiers who, each time they return home, find that centuries have passed and everything has irrevocably changed.
Time and Again by Jack Finney: More of a love story with a time travel premise, this novel is also compelling historical fiction set in New York City during the late 1800s.
The House on the Strand by Daphne DuMaurier: Who knew the author of Rebecca also wrote science fiction? I didn’t until I discovered this book. DuMaurier’s writing is always suspenseful and engaging, no matter the genre.
The Family Tree by Sheri S. Tepper: An adventure story set in the present and the far future, this fantasy novel has strong environmental themes and an unexpected twist.
11/22/63 by Stephen King: If there’s a Stephen King book that fits the subject, it will land on my list of favorites for sure. This one is a particular favorite of mine by King–engaging time travel and historical fiction, with a dark twist.
The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger: This is a good time travel novel to read if you don’t care for science fiction. Even though the time travel aspect is plausible and convincing, it also explores the themes of love, predestination, and free will.
Replay by Ken Grimwood: A little-known novel that in recent years has made something of a comeback, it’s about a man who relives his life again and again–like Groundhog Day on a longer scale.
The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North: Here’s another play on reincarnation and reliving lives over again, although this one has a suspense-fueled plot as the hero must try to stop another reincarnator from bringing about the end of the world.
All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai: This contemporary novel has the protagonist impulsively time travel from what is essentially a utopian world and wind up creating our world–a dirty, dystopian version of where he came from.
The Gone World by Tom Sweterlitsch: This just came out last year, and it’s a really interesting twist on the premise. It’s got multiverse hopping, time travel, a looming apocalypse, and detective work, all in one.