Must-Read Time Travel Books

I’m not actually very keen on time travel, which is a trope that I approach with some reluctance. Once I get into it, though, I sometimes really like a time travel story. So sure, I’m willing to click through to Book Riot’s post:


Let’s see whether these choices overlap at all with any of the time travel stories I’ve both read and liked …

Ah, here’s Kindred by Octavia E Butler. Well, I haven’t read it. I will eventually. I’m reluctant because after I read it, I will have read absolutely everything by Butler, there won’t be anything else. I’m sure it is beautifully written and a great novel.

Interestingly, I find I haven’t read a single book on this list. If you are into time travel, maybe you have, you can click through and see.

This one sounds the most interesting, and almost sort of nonfictional: How to Invent Everything: a Survival Guide for the Stranded Time Traveler.

Here’s a laudatory quote from Randall Monroe, whom you may know as the guy who does XKCD and wrote What If:

How to Invent Everything is such a cool book. It’s essential reading for anyone who needs to duplicate an industrial civilization quickly.”

Ha ha ha! Well, hopefully I will never be in that position, because I’m sure I wouldn’t remember nearly enough about how to re-invent everything. But doesn’t that sound like a fun book?

[T]ime-travel enthusiast Ryan North shows you how to invent all the modern conveniences we take for granted–from first principles. This illustrated manual contains all the science, engineering, art, philosophy, facts, and figures required for even the most clueless time traveler to build a civilization from the ground up. 

I bet there are a lot of pictures. I’m not sure I want this one in ebook format. Paper would probably be better.

Moving back to fiction, though, what are a handful of time travel stories I have in fact both read and liked?

1)Well, first, obviously, Blackout and All Clear by Connie Willis. “Enjoyed is a strong term. I admired this duology very much, but I did give it away because I knew I would never read it again. But wow, the research that went into it. It’s an ambitious work that I think succeeded very well at what it was trying to do.

2) Second, and one I liked a lot, Lightning by Dean Koontz. this one tends to get overlooked, partly because it’s getting older by this time but probably mostly because Dean Koontz wrote it. Horror fans know about it, but time travel fans may tend not to notice it. Clever use of time travel all through this novel, though. Koontz’ writing is catchy and very readable.

3) The Extracted trilogy, which is to say, the first two books, which I actually suggest reading as a duology because that provides a better ending point. The link goes to my review. Great page-turner. I liked it a lot, though as I say, I do suggest stopping after the first two books because of problems with loose threads and so on in the ending of the third book.

4) I mentioned I was not that keen on time travel as a thing, but I will end by saying that “Groundhog Day” is one heck of a movie.

5) Your choice here.

Really, not that familiar with the vast literature of time travel out there. If you’ve got a time travel story you especially admire, drop it in the comments!

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6 thoughts on “Must-Read Time Travel Books”

  1. I was unable to finish How to Invent Everything.

    On the list, I think at least one of Poul Anderson’s Time Patrol works should be included. If not the whole thing

  2. My favorite time travel novel has to be Clare Bell’s Tomorrow’s Sphinx. It’s part sci-fi and part history novel, as it’s about a cheetah living in a human-free Earth of the future, who shares dreams/memories with a cheetah from ancient Egypt who belongs to King Tut. It’s interesting to see their journeys parallel and the twist at the end.

  3. The cheetah one sounds like something I MUST TRY.

    I don’t really plan to read straight through How to Invent Everything, but I’m enjoying dipping into it.

  4. Surely either Kage Baker or Willis’s “To Say Nothing of the Dog” belongs on this list. Surely there is room for one ridiculously funny time travel book.

  5. I don’t usually like time travel books, but I really liked Devon Monk’s “I House Immortal” trilogy. It was very exciting and had a fun romance.

  6. I haven’t read any of the books on the list, but recognize a couple I sampled and rejected. (Ridgeway’s and Taylor’s).

    Does Replay by Grimwood fit as a time travel story? Glimpses by Shiner, wherein the main character gets music that wasn't actually written but the composers recognize as what they tried and failed to write years ago?

    i guess Connie Willis has to be there, but she doesn't work for me the way Spielberg movies don't – I feel like the victim of a used car salesman.

    how about some Tim Powers, like Anubis Gates?

    Or that one that used to always be held up as a masterpiece, Man who Folded Himself? which I didn’t like, but…
    And Jack Finney’s Time after Time, come to think of it.

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