Time travel books and themes


Senior Member
Jan 2, 2008
Up the clum
So am currently contemplative time travel and how it is done in books and also TV. Mainly because of thinking about looking for new time travel books. So far as I can see time travel falls into several patterns
1. Deliberately traveling forward or back in time
2. Accidentally traveling forward or back in time.
And some have it that only backwards travel is possible.
Then there is
3. You can only observe the historical events though that often evolves into actually you naughtily change them and either mess things up or save the day
4. You have been sent there to fix historical events that are going off course
5 You are there/have been sent there to fix your own life not broader history
6. You can only go to a time once
7. You keep on turning up in the same time again and again and try doing things differently

I wondered if anyone had noticed other themes or had any comments on the above?

So far the main time travel I've read is

HG Wells Time Machine (and do not want to re-read....)
Jodi Taylor for 1 and 3 with the occasional bit of 4
Cage Baker (though lost interest) for 1 and 3
Ken Grimwood Replay for 2 and 7 (the original book behind Groundhog Day)
Then on the TV side there is Dr Who, bits of Star Trek, Timeless.

Any book recommendations on time travel? (And I really did not get on with the Time Travellers Wife.)

(Hope it is OK to have this mixed post here in book discussion rather than splitting it across books, book recommendations and TV.)
A Sound of Thunder a short story by Ray Bradbury is probably necessary in this list.

Apart from that:
An Alien Heat by Michael Moorcock, and numerous related books. Naive far future romantic goes back to Victorian England and has difficulty understanding the world he finds. Lots of time travel in Moorcock.

To Say Nothing of the Dog, and Domesday Book both by Connie Willis. Time travelling Oxford academics go back to Edwardian and Back Death era England respectively. The first is a clever comedy, the second a rather harrowing tragedy.
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E for Effort by TL Sherred --The ability to see and record the past, but not interact with it.
Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut --The protagonist is unstuck in time.
Time Lapse movie --Protagonists have a camera that takes a picture of a scene twenty four hours into the future.
Movie but can't recall the title. --Characters can send there consciousness back in time, but it arrives into a newborn child.
Two Minute Time Machine -short film -character's consciousness goes to an alternate reality and inhabits own body with memory of two minutes into the future. Original body dies in original reality (as it has no consciousness).
A version of King Arthur has Merlin living time backwards.
Gibson's The Peripheral, where a version of the past after the rise of the internet is available through an internet type connection. As soon as the connection is made this past diverts from history. My favorite TT story, since it involves no actual travel.
Chris Marker's short film La Jetee
Don't miss Wilson Tucker's novel The Year of the Quiet Sun... for me one of the most haunting sf novels
Finney's Time and Again
Tolkien's unfinished novel The Notion Club Papers (in Sauron Defeated)
Moore and Kuttner's "Vintage Season"
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I would recommend The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes, about a time traveling serial killer. There's a TV series, but I haven't seen that.

The Final Countdown (1980) by Martin Caidin is another. I haven't read it since then, but it left a good impression. It's about a nuclear aircraft carrier that goes back to 1941. There was also a film, but not sure if I saw it or not. It obviously didn't resonate like the book.

My first novel was also a seafaring time travel adventure in which a 1790s convict ship travels to the 21st century via the title (TimeStorm). It would fit into #2 on your list.

From a writing viewpoint, going into it I thought I wouldn't have as many time elements to resolve, but that was wishful thinking. While the going back and changing history thing wasn't obvious initially, I soon realised bringing characters (and a ship) from the past also left a hole back there that needed to be filled. Time travel is a minefield to write!
Thank you everyone. :)

I have read a couple of Connie Willis, forgot that. I've forgotten the title but it had excellent WW2 history and it all chimed with what my father told me about his experiences.

I realise I've left out a category I've thought of - are any time travel books ones that don't include immersive history lessons? (e.g. the sort of writing by Connie Willis and Jodi Taylor.)
Thank you everyone. :)

I have read a couple of Connie Willis, forgot that. I've forgotten the title but it had excellent WW2 history and it all chimed with what my father told me about his experiences.

I realise I've left out a category I've thought of - are any time travel books ones that don't include immersive history lessons? (e.g. the sort of writing by Connie Willis and Jodi Taylor.)
Any that take place completely in the future.
Dean McLaughlin's novella "Hawk Among the Sparrows"

The Twilight Zone teleplay "The Odyssey of Flight 33"

Connie Willis's Doomsday Book
Robert Charles Wilson's The Chronoliths might qualify -- objects from the future are sent into our time
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Bob Shaw's Who Goes Here? (1977) has a witty take on time travel, as well as other funny and clever ideas. I recommend it to anyone who likes comedy with their sci-fi (HHGTTG, Red Dwarf, etc.)
Heinlein's All You Zombies - filmed as Predestination - would, I thought, be high on any must read/ watch time travel stories.

Fritz Leiber's Change War series Rewriting history as a battlefield tactic.

A lot of people would suggest rhe Spanish film Timecrime as a clever logically consistent mindbending time travel film. It is. But the central character is such a repellent arsehole I don't ever want to watch it again.

Time is "what keeps everything from happening at once" - Ray Cummings.
Further thought on any time travel book/film that doesn't include immersive history lessons - Ken Grimwood's Replay as it is so focused on the main character's life. There is a bit of social history in the setting but nothing like travelling to experience the Battle of Bosworth, or World War 2. Groundhog day, which is based on Replay, just dials the clock back one day each time.
I really enjoyed "Lightning" by Dean Koontz. One of the concepts in it was that Time would always reassurt certain things. In the book, a wheelchair bound lady has a time traveller that keeps saving her, but she would always have an accident in which would paralyze her.

Neal Asher's Cowl was also a good time travel story.
I heard of this book thanks to a review by Moid. Its on my TBR list.
"Lest Darkness Fall" by L. Sprague de Camp is a very good example of accidental time travel. By contrast, "The Proteus Operation" by James P. Hogan is an example of planned time travel with the aim of changing history.

There are other types of time travel. "Island in the Sea of Time" by S. M. Stirling gave rise to the term ISOT where an area is shifted in time. Another famous example of this is "1632" by Eric Flint. An earlier more complex example, which may not be exactly time travel, is "October the First is Too Late" by Fred Hoyle.

Then we can move an individual or just their memories through time. "The Foresight War" by Anthony G Williams is a nerd's trip to WW2 and has inspired many imitations, not all of which have been conventionally published. I like And They Shall Reap the Whirlwind (WW2 Insert) but then I am a WW2 nerd.
Thank you folks, this all looks great.

Not strictly a SF time travel story, but I'd highly recommend The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August.
Huh. Gave me the thought about Katherine Kerr's Deverry fantasy series, where people are re-born and it's so long since I read it (can't find the first two books since the house move but there are MORE BOXES to empty still) that I can't now remember whether they can remember their previous lives, or it is just the immortal character who recognises them.
Moorcock's "Behold the Man" is one of my favorites.
Oh and the excellent "This is how you lose the time war" by Amal El Mohtar and Max Gladstone
I was also a fan of Julian May's "Many Coloured Land" back in the day.
Bear in mind I quite like The Time Traveller's wife as a different take on the genre

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