The Best Time Travel Stories of the 20th Century

BOOK: The Best Time Travel Stories of the 20th Century
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of the



edited by 

Harry Turtledove 


Martin H. Greenberg

The Best Time Travel Stories of the Twentieth Century

Introduction copyright © 2005 by Harry Turtledove.

Compilation copyright © 2005 by Harry Turtledove and Martin H. Greenberg.

All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions.

Owing to limitations of space, permission acknowledgments can be found at the back of this ebook, which constitute an extension of this copyright page.

Published in the United States by Del Rey Books, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and simultaneously in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto.

Del Rey is a registered trademark and the Del Rey colophon is a trademark of Random House, Inc.


Harry Turtledover
Theodore Strugeon
Henry Kuttner

Arthur C. Clarke
Richard Matheson
L. Sprague DDe Camp
Poul Anderson
R.A. Lafferty

Larry Niven
Joe Haldeman
Jack Dann
Connie Willis
Robert Silverberg
John Kessel
Charles Sheffield
Nancy Kress

Ursula K. Le Guin



by Harry Turtledove

We’re all time travellers, whether we know it or not. We go into the future at a steady rate of one second per second, and we leave the past behind. New things come along.

Old things are forgotten. My own lifetime—neither especially long nor especially short these days—has seen the rise of antibiotics, AIDS, space travel, television, CDs, videotape, DVDs, Richard Nixon (twice), civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights, cell phones, the computer, and the Internet. It’s seen the fall of Communism, segregation, records, smallpox (we hope!), polio, Richard Nixon (twice), the Twin Towers, and the idea that smoking is cool. It’s seen hula hoops, stuffing phone booths and Volkswagen Bugs, and streaking. Some things, of course, remain constant. The Chicago Cubs haven’t been in a World Series since before I was born. They haven’t won one since Teddy Roosevelt was president.

Toward the end of his long life, L. Sprague de Camp would give a presentation at science-fiction conventions called “Memoirs of a Time Traveler.” Sprague, who was born in 1907, had seen much more come and go than I have (he was even around the last time the Cubs won a Series). Making other people see how much that he took for granted as a child and a young man had changed since was thought-provoking, to say the least.

But what if we weren’t limited to that steady one second per second progression?

What if we could go against the normal flow of time from past to future instead of being trapped in it? H. G. Wells, who was—among many other things—the first great science-fiction writer to use English, published
The Time Machine
in 1895. He gave us the name for the device and the bones of one kind of time-travel story: go to the future, take a look at what’s there, and come back and tell the present about it. Other writers have been exploring and expanding the concept ever since.

Traveling into the future is relatively safe. Traveling into the past starts generating paradoxes. What if you killed your own grandfather? Or, less bloodily, what if your journey into the past changed things so that your mother married somebody else? Would you disappear? (Yes, that’s the one the
Back to the Future
movies look at, but you can also do it without a DeLorean.) What if you changed some important past event? Would you change its future—your own present? That particular line of time-travel stories forms one part of the spectrum of alternate history tales, some of which Del Rey recently collected in
The Best Alternate History Stories of the 20th Century


Dealing with the paradoxes—or not dealing with them—challenged the ingenuity of writers throughout the last century. Writing as Anson MacDonald, Robert A. Heinlein wrapped up all the problems of one man’s existence in “By His Bootstraps.” Close to twenty years later, Heinlein took another shot at it in “All You Zombies,” which tightens his protagonist’s gene pool—and the inherent paradoxes—even more. His novel
Door into Summer
also looks at time travel in a situation where the traveler has an exactly even chance of going into the past or the future.

Isaac Asimov is better known for his Foundation stories and his tales of the Three Laws of Robotics, but he also wrote a thought-provoking novel of time travel both into the past and across varying realities in
The End of Eternity
—which, in a way, serves as the underpinning for all the other tales.

L. Sprague de Camp’s
Lest Darkness Fall
is a time-travel novel not in the school of
The Time Machine,
but rather of Mark Twain’s
A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s
one that drops a modern man with all his modern knowledge into a medieval setting and challenges him to make the best of it. Unlike Twain’s protagonist, de Camp’s Martin Padway really is in sixth-century Rome, and establishes an alternate history by his success. De Camp’s “A Gun for Dinosaur” and the other tales of Reggie Rivers collected in
Rivers of Time
exploit one of the time-travel story’s favorite themes: using a time machine to go back into the past to look at and even to hunt animals extinct by the time humanity evolved. In
Genus Homo,
de Camp and P. Schuyler Miller used suspended animation as a time-travel device by which modern men could visit the future.

Poul Anderson’s “The Man Who Came Early” is another variant on the theme of a modern man trying to make the best of things in the past. Unlike the Twain and de Camp stories to which it is related, though, it is marked by Anderson’s strong sense of the tragic. Anderson, always a writer with a strong sense of history, used time travel in his novels
The Corridors of Time
(a sort of science-fiction companion to the fantasy
Hearts and Three Lions
) and
The Dancer from Atlantis.

Perhaps the bawdiest time-travel novel ever written is Robert Silverberg’s
Up the
. Silverberg notes that, as time travel becomes feasible for a longer and longer period, more and more travelers from the future will crowd back in time to visit such events as the Crucifixion, the opening of Hagia Sophia, or the Black Plague. Why, then, don’t these historical events grow ever more crowded with observers from their futures?

His answer is that they do, though just what the locals do about this is not always quite so clear.

One time-travel theme that has perhaps never quite been successfully brought off is a reversal of the time stream, so that it begins to flow from future to past rather than the other way around. Fritz Leiber’s “The Man Who Never Grew Young” perhaps comes closest; several others have tried at novel length, also with results less than they might have hoped. The challenge there remains for writers yet to come.

Time travel as a vast, secret government project intended not just for exploration but also to change the past for the benefit of the government doing the sponsoring is a common theme of these stories, and has perhaps grown more common as governments have grown larger and less easily controlled by the people they rule. One of the best of these tales is Jack Finney’s
Time and Again,
which seems only to have grown more relevant in the generation and a half since it appeared. It is beautifully written, beautifully researched, beautifully illustrated, and very well thought through. Its sequel,
From Time to Time,
unfortunately does not quite measure up to the high standard it set.

Another novel with a related theme, though much grittier and more cynical, is Joe Haldeman’s
All My Sins Remembered
. Because of his indoctrination and training, the protagonist has a great many sins indeed to remember. The book, which dates from near the time of the Watergate scandal, is a devastating indictment of those who do things allegedly for other people’s good.

Another theme often used in time-travel tales is that of the time traveler from the future who comes back to the present for his or her own nefarious purposes and has to be thwarted by moderns with technological resources small compared to those of the villain. A good recent example is S. M. Stirling’s
which springs from his series of Draka alternate-history novels. His heroine finds herself in the late twentieth century of our timeline because of an experiment gone awry, and proceeds to do her best to remake it to her—nasty—heart’s desire. If the poor hapless moderns didn’t also have assistance from the future, things would turn out even worse. And, as there is room for a sequel to the novel, they may yet.

Clifford D. Simak’s
The Goblin Reservation
takes time travel out of the sphere of big politics and puts it in a far less consequential arena: that of academia. He has a great deal of gentle fun with the theme. Simak’s cast of characters includes a moonshining Neanderthal brought up to his future present and rechristened Alley Oop; a sabertoothed tiger; as well as elves, dwarves, a banshee, and the ghost of a prominent seventeenth-century English playwright—the only problem being, the ghost isn’t sure whose ghost he is at first, so when the authentic Will Shakespeare (who turns out, in this book,
to be the playwright in question) is brought forward, alarming, and very funny, consequences ensue.

Simak’s book is unquestionably science fiction, despite the trappings of both fantasy and popular culture that hang on its coattails. Larry Niven takes a different course in his series of time-travel stories collected in
The Flight of the Horse
. To Niven, a hard-headed rationalist, time travel is impossible. This does not keep him from writing time-travel stories, but does turn the stories he writes about it from science fiction to fantasy.

His time traveler, a certain (often, much too certain for his own good) Svetz, is a bit of a bungler, and never realizes that when he travels back into the past, he’s not exactly traveling back into the past with which his world is familiar. Problems with a roc, a leviathan, and too many werewolves immediately spring to mind.

Time travel through magic or other fantasy device is less commonly written of than time travel through time machine or other science-fictional device. Just why this should be so is puzzling, as time travel by either means seems equally impossible and equally implausible, but it does appear to be so.

One time-travel novel that leans more toward fantasy than sf is
Household Gods,
by Judith Tarr and Harry Turtledove, from an idea that the late Fletcher Pratt had but did not write up before his death. Despite the fantasy trappings, the novel springs from the school of
A Connecticut Yankee
Lest Darkness Fall
. It drops a modern American woman dissatisfied with her life and with bumping her head against the glass ceiling into an ancestor’s body in a town on the Danube frontier of the Roman Empire in the late second century a.d., just in time for a series of Germanic invasions and devastating plagues. Nicole Gunther-Perrin has the chance to see whether the glass at the end of the twentieth century is half full or half empty.

Roger Zelazny’s
straddles the line between fantasy and science fiction. Its protagonist is traveling down the Road of Time with a pickup truck full of automatic weapons to help the Greeks beat the Persians at Marathon. The Road, and the various characters, nasty and less so, he meets along the way are shown with Zelazny’s characteristic wit and splendid writing. The Road is a concept a little reminiscent of that in Anderson’s
The Corridors of Time,
but far more mutable.

These are some of the more interesting time-travel novels the field has produced over the years—not a complete list, certainly (you will want to get on to the stories themselves, after all!), but a few of the highlights. The short fiction collected here looks at similar ideas and some wildly different ones. The pieces speak for themselves; anything I say about them, I fear, would only get in the way. The only thing I can be fairly sure of is that you’ll like most of them. 

BOOK: The Best Time Travel Stories of the 20th Century
7.79Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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