Time travel is a fascinating thing. H. G. Wells first popularized the concept in his 1895 novel The Time Machine. Einstein even theorized that it was possible, but only in one direction. You could go forward in time, but you couldn’t go back. That doesn’t stop talented writers with coming up with a seemingly endless variety of plots involving time travel, and I love them.
Some of the first shows I remember getting really into all on my own were Quantum Leap and Highlander: The Series. I’ll admit that a lot of the appeal was costuming. Scott Bakula in drag? Endlessly entertaining. Adrian Paul in just about every period costume ever? Yes, please! These days, I’m a Doctor Who fanatic (can we talk about that series finale? I mean, really). One week, it’s historical drama. The next, it’s an adventure in outer space. Time travel allows a story to be so much more than it could be if confined to one place and time.
If you’re jonesing for some time travel escapades while you wait for the Doctor Who Christmas special, or if you’re new to the genre, I’ve made a list for you of some of my favorites. Happy travels! And be careful not to kill your own grandfather!
A Swiftly Tilting Planet by Madeleine L’Engle
This is the third book in L’Engle’s now classic Time Quartet, but it can really stand on its own if you haven’t read the first two yet (but you really should). Charles Wallace, the youngest--and arguably most interesting--of the Murry clan, finds himself on a midnight quest astride a talking unicorn/Pegasus through time and space to fight an evil dictator/cosmic evil bent on destroying the entire universe. He communicates psychically with his older sister, Meg, back home. While it may sound like there’s a LOT going on here, L’Engle deftly handles the complicated subject matter. Not to oversell it, but this is one of my favorite books of all time (pun definitely intended).
Paper Girls. Volume 1 by Brian K. Vaughan
If you combined Stranger Things, The X-Files, and Doctor Who with a cast of kick-butt teenage girls, you’d get Paper Girls. This latest graphic novel series from Vaughan (Saga, Y the Last Man) takes place in the early hours of Halloween 1988, as a group of girls ride around on their paper routes. At first, it seems like the only drama they’ll encounter is unfriendly cops, mean older teens, and the intricacies of their own families, but then strange, mummy-like creatures start lurching through the dark streets, and a wormhole over the football field is disgorging warriors riding dinosaurs, and there seem to be space ships as well. Or are they time machines?
Billy Pilgrim lived through the fire-bombing of Dresden during World War II, and now he’s living as an exhibit in a zoo on the planet Tralfamadore, having been kidnapped by aliens. He, and the narrative, jumps between past, present, and future. Vonnegut wrote this book during the Vietnam war to point out the futility and destructive repetition of war. At times horrifying (it is partially based on Vonnegut’s own experiences in Dresden) and at others darkly comical, this book is imaginative and unexpected.
The Peripheral by William Gibson
When Flynne agrees to stand in for her brother Burton one night at his slightly illegal job, she thinks she is just testing a new virtual reality game. Then she witnesses a murder and realizes she’s not playing a game but seeing the future. Flynne’s timeline takes place in our near future, but she’s soon interacting with people in a more distant future, after the Earth has suffered some great catastrophe. The twists and turns in this novel are labyrinthine, and Gibson incorporates many of today’s emerging technologies—taken to logical extremes—into Flynne’s world.
The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
When Claire first meets Henry, she is six, and he is thirty-six. When they get married, she is twenty-three, and he is thirty-one. Henry has Chrono-Displacement Disorder, which means he randomly gets transported to other times, over which he has no control, and he can’t take anything with him, meaning he suddenly finds himself in an unknown time period, completely naked. This novel is much more love story than science fiction. It is utterly heart-breaking and extremely beautiful.