Thommy Ford Reads

A blog by the staff of the Thomas Ford Memorial Library

Three Classic Time Travel Novels

In Stephen King’s newest novel, 11/22/63, his protagonist uses a time portal in an effort to prevent the assassination of President Kennedy.  Noticing that the book was still on the bestseller lists five months after it’s release, and that it has been one of King’s best received novels in years, made me think of some of my favorite time travel novels from the past.  I’ve always found time travel to be a curious literary device: not particularly believable and yet a very compelling way of introducing us into fantastic settings, as well as bringing up complex conceptual themes.  So if you’re waiting to get your hands on King’s newest, or have already read it and want to delve into other time travel novels, here are a few of my favorites.

1. The Time Machine by H.G. Wells (SF Wells)

ImageThe greater part of this short, fast paced novel tells the story of a nameless inventor who uses his time machine to travel to a far flung future where humans have evolved into two species: the subterranean Morlocks who barbarously feed on the gentle and innocent Eloi that live on the Eden-like surface.

There is always an abundance of ideas in any Wells novel. Some might read The Time Machine as a comment on class struggles in the early industrial age, as an exploration of Darwinian theory, or as a prophetic vision of dystopia and apocalypse. Personally, I think that the triumph of The Time Machine is that it is most compelling as a simple adventure tale.

2. The End of Eternity by Isaac Asimov (SF Asimov)

In a far future where time travel is controlled by a small group of experts who use it to change human destiny for the better, one time traveler becomes too closely involved in a particular time to make the necessary changes and decides to risk the entire framework of eternity in order to save just one life.

The End of Eternity stands apart from most of the prolific Asimov’s work. It is more slowly paced and more thoughtful than most of his novels, and also lacks some of his usual emphasis on hard science.  Instead Asimov focuses on the development of his time traveling protagonist, Andrew Harlan, a complex and well filled-in character.  Asimov also engages us in a sometimes clever examination of the limits of human influence on fate, and our inability to understand the full consequences of our actions.

3. Doomsday Book by Connie Willis (SF Matheson)

In a near future where time travel is inexpertly and tentatively used as a tool for historical research Kivrin, a young student at Oxford University, is mistakenly sent to a dangerous moment in the middle ages. As the narrative shifts back and forth from the near future to the 14th century, remarkable parallels between the two times develop.  Catastrophes occur in each timeframe, so that both Kivrin and her contemporaries find it difficult to concentrate on finding a way to bring her home.

Connie Willis won the first of her three best novel Hugo Awards for this complex, well-paced tale.  Both the near future and 14th century settings are convincingly and realistically portrayed.  Likewise, her characters are believable and fully fleshed-out.  The novel lacks some of the action or color you might expect from a story with a medieval setting (no sword fights, no jousting, no royal romances), but the narrative alternation from one timeframe to the other helps keep the novel suspenseful and captivating throughout.

Review by Matthew

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This entry was posted on March 26, 2012 by in Fiction, Lists, Science Fiction.
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