spacer Time Travel Books

Time travel guarantees to strain even the most nimble minds. Still, despite the ever present danger of a brain spasm, we are drawn to these stories like the proverbial moth. Work your way through David Gerrold's The Man Who Folded Himself and tell me that your brain doesn't hurt. Yeah, like I'll believe you. Time travel is simply one of those incredibly juicy ideas that, even without any evidence to support it, we cannot resist. Without further ado, here are books for when you absolutely had to have something new to read yesterday.



The Fury Out of Time LLoyd Biggle Jr.

This is not one of Biggle's more serious books so don't judge his works by this one example. Still, The Fury Out of Time proves to be an enjoyable space-time opera. Biggle's characters have a depth and charm that many such operas lack.

It's a cold autumn day and Bowden Karvel, air force pilot Major Karvel before the accident, is sitting at a lone table out behind Whistler's tavern enjoying the view across the valley. At 32, Karvel's military career and dreams of being an astronaut are finished and on a good day he'd be drinking whisky, but this isn't a good day. At night, Karvel is tormented by his demons and during the day he is a man without purpose. That is until today when, far across the valley, Karvel watches a lone tree unexpectedly topple to the ground.

At that instant a large spherical object had popped into existence near that tree and, with its arrival, a deadly wave of destruction went spiraling outwards from the epicenter with the lone tree its first victim. From his vantage point, Karvel was one of few to both witness and survive (barely) the spiraling death. It was this unique combination that brought Karvel to the attention of Gerald Haskins and started Karvel along a new path in life.

Gerald Haskins, of uncertain rank and affiliation, is an expediter; a man who is given the tough problems and produces answers. Gerald Haskins is only interested in two kinds of people; those who can tell him what he wants to know and those who can do what he wants done. It is with some discomfort that Karvel discovers that Haskins finds him very interesting indeed.

And so begins Karvel's odyssey as it is discovered that the unidentified sphere is in fact a very destructive time machine. In the course of his adventures, Karvel is cast far into the future to confront the supposed creators of the time machine (to ask them to please not send any more) and into the far past. To tell much more would detract from the book.

As I said, The Fury Out of Time is not a serious work but it is much more substantive that a typical space-time opera. Biggle's writing style is full of detail that lends his characters a real life. This book is well worth reading for some lighter entertainment.


The Return of the Time Machine Egon Friedell

I've listed this book primarily because of its novelty value. If you've read Wells' The Time Machine and are expecting something similar, don't hold your breath.

This book begins with the premise that Wells, rather than having written a novel, simply reported factually the actual adventures of the Time Traveler. The book consists of a series of letters between Friedell and various people as he tries to determine whether the Time Traveler is real and what his fate was. Eventually, Friedell finds someone claiming to know the actual details of the Time Traveler's fate and there begins a lengthy narrative.

Wells' The Time Machine is a book populated with juicy ideas and just enough prose to get them across. Friedell's work, on the other hand, rambles on and on with pseudo science and mumbo jumbo in an attempt to explain what is unexplainable and frankly needs no explanation. Like Wells, Friedell attempts some social comment by the natures of the future societies encountered but the encounters are brief and not very satisfying.

If this book did not bear a tenuous connection to Wells I would have set it aside long before reaching the end. Of course your mileage may vary.


Technicolor Time Machine Harry Harrison

Harry Harrison, well known for his many excellent books, takes a humorous romp in time with the Technicolor Time Machine.

L.M. Greenspan, head of Climactic Studios and responsible for such great epics as The Creature's Son Marries the Thing's Daughter, is up to his ears in hock and about to lose it all once the banks get wind of the books. For this reason alone, L.M. has been convinced to back a crazy scheme concocted by desperate producer, Barney Hendrickson, whose mediocre film career is about to vanish along with Climactic Studios. Seems that Barney has met a certain Professor Hewett whose invention, the vremeatron, promises to haul their collective buts out of the fire.

What Climactic Studios needs is a new multimillion dollar asset, like a wide-screen historical epic. With less than a week to make the film before the banks close in for the kill, they'd need a time machine to have a hope in hell. Fortunately, the vremeatron - vreme from Serbo-Croatian for 'time' in honour of a maternal grandmother - is a working time machine. Barney's plan is to ship a complete production crew into the past and film and edit the whole thing on site, using local natives as extras and returning to L.M. minutes later with a completed film. This sets the stage for the creation of Climactic Studios' biggest film ever, Viking Columbus.

As one might imagine, the road for Barney is anything but smooth. Barney's salvation is Ottar the Viking who, having recently acquired a fondness for Jack Daniels, is very eager to help the studio out. Ottar, created from the same mold as the Vikings of legend, is a true method actor and as hard to control as a force of nature.

The Technicolor Time Machine eschews the laugh-a-minute formula opting for a subdued humour that is more likely to put a smile on your face than draw outright laughter. This book is light reading and thoroughly enjoyable.


Time and Again Clifford D. Simak

I first read this book many years ago and had forgotten what a little gem it is. Simak has a special skill for parceling a story into neat, tidy, little pieces all of which then click precisely together to form a story.

It is the future and Mankind has spread to the stars like seeds before the wind. One star system, though, shrouded in mystery, has defied Man's every attempt to visit it. Every expedition to 61 Cygni has found its path inexplicably deflected and has been forced to return home in frustration. In desperation, special agent Asher Sutton was sent on a solo mission, but unlike the others he did not return and 61 Cygni was quietly forgotten.

As the book begins, twenty years have passed and, against all odds, Asher Sutton has returned. The mystery only deepens when it is discovered that Asher's ship was damaged many years ago in a crash that left it completely disabled and ought to have killed its sole passenger. The conclusion becomes inescapable; Asher Sutton died but now he's back. As the story develops, we discover Asher is not alone and it's not clear that he's even entirely human. But most importantly, Asher returns bearing an idea that will shake Mankind's beliefs to their foundations.

In Time and Again, Mankind is spread thin across the stars and to help hold the frontier he has created biological androids. Created in the lab by chemical means, androids are sterile and cannot reproduce but in all other respects are as human as their creators. None the less, androids are treated as property and bear a mark on their foreheads to distinguish them from "true" humans.

Androids dream of one day being acknowledged and treated as the equals of the "humans" and Asher's idea is the key for which they have been searching. Asher soon becomes the center of a struggle between three groups; humans of the present who fear any new idea that might loosen Mankind's tenuous grip on the stars, humans of the future who, via time travel, are waging a quiet war to alter the past to maintain the current status quo, and the androids of the future who struggle to let Asher's idea be born.

Simak weaves these disparate elements into a delicious story. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did.


The Time Machine H.G. Wells

The Time Machine is Well's first published novel (1895) and is considered a classic by many. It should be unnecessary to summarize the story but for the sake of those few who have never read it, here goes.

The Timer Traveler (for he is identified by no other name) is one of those rare individuals who is "too clever to be believed". A person who does things so easily, regardless of difficulty, that it becomes difficult to distinguish the miraculous from the mundane for they flow with equal ease from his person. A startling demonstration could as easily be real or only a clever parlor trick as he is equally capable of both.

One evening, a group of friends have gathered at the Time Traveler's home to dine and are surprised to find their host absent. Previous instructions bid the guests to begin dinner at 7:00 regardless of their host's presence. A week earlier, several of the guests had also dined with the Timer Traveler and were treated to his theories of time travel and a simple demonstration.

Soon after dinner starts, the guests are startled by the Time Traveler's sudden arrival. Disheveled and weary in appearance, he is apparently also ravenous as he downs a considerable meal of mutton before he is capable of speaking at length. His hunger sated, the Time Traveler begins to recount the strange tale of what has befallen him.

The rest of the book details the events of the Time Traveler's journey into the far future where he encountered a simple, delicate and graceful race of Men which he called the Eloi. These people knew no toil and occupied their days pursuing the simple pleasures of life like children. The Time Traveler's first impression was that these were the descendants of people who had conquered the need to labor and struggle. Without these driving forces, he imagined, intelligence and ambition soon dwindled away.

With the theft of his time machine, the Traveler soon became acquainted with the future's second set of inhabitants, the Moorlocks. The Moorlocks lived underground and had an incredibly intuitive grasp of machinery. With time, the Traveler eventually uncovered the strange relationship between the Eloi and the Moorlocks. I won't say more, in case you'd like to read the book.

This book is an ideas book, unlike his later work The War of the Worlds which I consider to be mainly about people. Characterizations in The Time Machine are thin, with the exception of the Traveler himself. Similarly, the plot elements are pretty weak. Nonetheless, the ideas presented here are juicy enough to make up for these weaknesses. The only thing I really didn't like about the book was the ending. Oh well.


The Year of the Quiet Sun Wilson Tucker

Wilson Tucker must love time travel as he has written several books on the subject. Unlike many, however, he seems less interested in the potential paradoxes as the human impact, especially on the travelers themselves. The Year of the Quiet Sun follows Dr. Brain Chaney, Major Moresby and Lieutenant Commander Arthur Saltus on a journey into an unknown future.

After publishing a controversial translation of the biblical Revelations scroll, Dr. Brian Chaney is quietly weathering the publicity storm on Indian Rocks beach Florida. Saddled with sudden notoriety, Chaney is looking forward to returning to the Indiana Corporation think-tank and his previous role as an extrapolative statistician and futurist.

At that same time, however, the government Bureau of Standards has other plans in mind for Chaney. While in the employ of the Indiana Corporation, Chaney completed a study for the bureau highlighting likely trends into the near future. For stage two of the project, the bureau has constructed a TDV (Time Displacement Vehicle) which is now in final testing. It seems clear to them that Chaney is an ideal candidate to join the team that will conduct the first physical survey of the near future, however reluctant he might be.

This a book, first and foremost, about people. It does underline, however, that the career of prophet has always been a difficult one. Predicting the future is perilous. Seemingly small and insignificant events can lead to radical and unpredictable consequences; a lesson our intrepid adventurers are about to learn.

In ancient writings, the Quiet Sun is a symbol of peace and tranquility. If this is our future, one can only wonder by what path it will be reached.