Travels through Time
Are you despairing over the coming loss of that precious hour of sleep? Do you wish traveling through time didn’t mean something so mundane as being a little extra cranky in the morning? Unsure over why we put ourselves through this debacle in the first place? Here are some time travel stories to entertain and fascinate, and hopefully help facilitate this annoying, annual, trite transition.
The classic tale, the foundation of the modern sub-genre, H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine sets the standard. Victorian Science Man Uses Science to Impress His Well-To-Do-Friends. His hubris humbles him eventually, but only after witnessing the Billions-Year Death of the Sun and Earth. What’s an hour compared to that?
If you're a fan of The Time Machine, Stephen Baxter’s The Time Ships is well worth a read. The book continues the story of the Traveler — and it's an official sequel, authorized by the Wells estate. It's also supremely cool hard sci-fi.
Besides trying to impress your friends, what’s the other reason for time travel? That’s right: regret. Unprocessed trauma. Time travel as a vehicle for personal healing and redemption. In Before the Coffee Gets Cold, specific customers of a magical café may use their time travel opportunity to speak with one person from the past, with the full knowledge that nothing they do can change the present, making their trip all about changing themselves and their relationship to unresolved pain.
Some contemporary time travel stories tend to be very tied to the opposing idea: the hope that, if only we could go back, we could fix the cause of this unresolved pain. If only we could, say, go back to the signing of the Uniform Time Act of 1966, we could get that extra hour back! But no, usually that’s where the trouble starts in stories like this, where unintended consequences begin to sprout up like weeds.
Take for example Stephen King’s 11/22/63. Here is time travel for the greater good. A man is called upon to change not a personal anguish but a world wide wound. He must race against Time to stop the assassination of John F. Kennedy, with the hope that the Vietnam War will never begin in the first place. Of course, things don’t turn out as planned.
And maybe that’s the perennial rule that time travel stories try to get at: Make peace with your decisions, make peace with yourself, there’s no going back, and even if you did, who’s to say it would be any better? What if Michigan had joined Hawaii and Arizona in their refusal of Daylight Saving Time; maybe we’d be living in some kind of dystopian hellscape.
Or maybe, through some strange series of the (ironically) unforeseen consequences of going back to change it all, we would have stumbled into a world where time travel wasn't the exception but the rule. A world where one could travel between the past and the future (or between timelines) with the ease of driving downstate. But this world, as many stories have shown us, would bring its own issues.
In a world where time could be warped, time itself would become a commodity, and control over the timeline would become the ultimate power. We might have agents working backwards and forwards in time, hired by governments, individuals, and associations to ensure fruitful futures (a reality painted beautifully in Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone's This Is How You Lose The Time War). Or maybe we'd be living in a multiverse where corporations can own their universes! Not at all a terrifying alternative reality, not at all instilling the heart with deep existential dread and the inescapable question of "In a world like this, what really matters anymore?"
But don't worry! You safely dive into such a hellish landscape with Charles Yu’s How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe. Here, the ramifications of multiple time-lines are explored with some seriously dark, wonderfully absurd, and very meta humor. This book feels like a glorious collision between Douglas Adams, Terry Pratchett and Kurt Vonnegut — which means laughter AND tears.
If you're not thoroughly time-traveled out and need a few more temporally-concerned stories, here’s a worthwhile smattering. But be warned: When it comes to these tastes of time travel, take care. You never really know where (or when) they will take you...
Good luck with your own little time jump this weekend.
We'll see you on the other side.