I apologize, I have a heretical thought. Instead of serenading you with an inundation of new and glossy (and sometimes over-hyped) hardbacks, let me bring you #faraway, in fact, way back, to the 19th century. And while we’re time-travelling, let me set the record straight. If you ever thought that the business of time-travelling is all about going back in time or fast forwarding a millennium into the future, it’s time to think again. What if you find yourself trapped in a time loop, destined to relive the unbearable moments of your life? Time travel is anything but linear. If I go back in time, accidentally kill an ancestor, or prevent my ancestors from meeting, I’ll cease to exist. But if I never existed (and never will exist), how can I go back in time in the first place? And more importantly, how am I here then, writing this delightful piece of wisdom you’re reading now?
Time travel fiction is deliciously mind-boggling. And let me boggle your mind further – while many think that the 19th century was the period that produced the baggy, intimidating, tome-like monsters, few will know that the 19th century also gave us the books that will define time travel as a trait of science fiction. Remember Washington Irving’s Rip Van Winkle where Rip Van Winkle escapes from Dame Van Winkle’s nagging, falls asleep, and skips through 20 years of his life? Or Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol where Scrooge is visited by (bless me) the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Yet to Come? Edward Page Mitchell’s The Clock That Went Backward is probably the first narrative to use a machine for time travel, but H. G. Wells’ The Time Machine is probably the most famous nineteenth-century text to give us a ridiculously huge time machine that concretized the concept of time travel for public imagination – a revolutionary idea in its day. And while Wells’ time traveller was busy travelling to the year 802,701 A.D., Mark Twain, on another continent, had written A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, a hilarious story succinctly summarized by its own title.
Now, if I’ve invariably bored you with these old classics, let’s fast forward a little to more contemporary times while I continue gushing about time travel fiction. Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five is a curious story about Billy Pilgrim, an incompetent soldier who jumps erratically from one point of his life to another, much like Henry DeTamble in Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveller’s Wife. Unlike their nineteenth-century counterparts, time travel has become the wretched constant, not the exception, of Billy’s and Henry’s lives.
Time travel fiction explores endless possibilities, and more. Haunting and inexhaustible to the imagination, these stories are seductive and call to me time after time (get it?). Now, if you’re jumping up and down in your seat for a list of recommendations, here it is:
- A Sound of Thunder and Other Stories by Ray Bradbury
- 11/22/63 by Stephen King
- How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu
- Counting Up, Counting Down by Harry Turtledove
- Blackout and All Clear by Connie Willis
Contributed by Nicole Yeo, Woodlands Regional Library