11 Time Travel Novels That Will Transport You
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Time travel novels have the amazing ability to, well, straddle time. What I mean is that because they feature characters who travel between at least two different time periods, they inherently bring those time periods together. It can be really stimulating and entertaining.
This unique ability of time travel novels means that these books refer to the past or project into the future (or, sometimes, both). If you want to spend a little more time thinking about this, give the essay “Time Travel Books: Historical Fiction or Speculative Fiction?” a lecture.
And while many time travel novels often feature complex time travel mechanics (like Charles Yu’s fascinating How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe), not all time travel requires a machine. to time travel. Take Octavia Butler’s Kindred, a true classic! Butler’s protagonist finds herself unwittingly thrown into the past at unpredictable times in her life…an extremely perilous situation for a black American woman who repeatedly finds herself in the pre-war South.
The future of literary time travel is just as exciting as its past and present. You Can Expect Stephen Graham Jones’ ‘Historical Slasher’ Comic Series land divers at the premiere in October. (Incidentally, some of Jones’ other books — like Ledfeather and The Bird is Gone — also tackle time travel.) No matter when you’re looking for it, there’s always a good time travel novel to be found.
Kiese Laymon Long Division
Originally published in 2013, Kiese Laymon’s time-warping novel about racism through the decades was republished in 2021. It’s the story of “City” Coldson, a teenager who fails spectacularly at a nationally televised spelling bee. His timeline begins in 2013, but soon after he’s sent to his grandmother’s house in a small southern town, things get…weird. Things take a metafictional turn for the character when he discovers a book called Long Division written in the 1980s by an author of the same name. And then 1964 rolls around, and before you know it, Laymon has taken you on a wild ride spanning half a century and confronting racism over the years.
The Mexican Flyboy by Alfredo Véa, Jr.
Simon Vegas acquired a time machine in Vietnam…and he’s been trying to get it working again ever since. Once he gets it working things get really crazy real quick. Simon’s time machine has one goal: to seek out injustice and deliver its victims to a utopian afterlife. There are a lot of famous names sprinkled in there, but the real focus of this novel is the issues of power (or, perhaps more aptly, powerlessness), compassion and humanity, trauma and justice. . Since Alfredo Véa, Jr. is writing, there’s a masterful blurring of genre lines and the larger question at the heart of time travel: is it real or is it all in his head? Simon?
An Ocean of Minutes by Thea Lim
It’s a time travel novel that feels oddly timely. It’s a book that has already given readers a lot to think about, but given its release a year before the COVID-19 pandemic, the global context adds another layer of meaning. It’s 1981 and the United States is in the midst of a deadly pandemic. (Sound familiar?) Frank is sick, but people from the future have mastered time travel in an attempt to reverse the pandemic. So Polly contracted her future in order to save him. Of course, when love and time travel happen, nothing ever goes smoothly – their plan to reunite at a specific time in a specific location is ruined when Polly is sent too far into the future. As Polly tries to find Frank, Lim’s novel asks deep questions about love, connection, and these troubled times we live in.
The girl from everywhere by Heidi Heilig
Nix is the daughter of a time traveler, and she’s been seemingly everywhere and every time. It’s been a great adventure…but then her father navigates an uncertain past: the year before Nix was born in the place where she was born. The problem is that Nix’s mother died in childbirth. The big question, then, is what his father plans to do when they arrive when they leave. And Kash, Nix’s mischievous lover, throws another spanner in the works. Heilig’s novel is very difficult to ask, and if you want The girl everywherethe second book in the duology, The Vessel Beyond Time, is also available!
This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone
It’s almost impossible not to be at least mildly interested in a semi-epistolary novel co-written by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone. Their improbable protagonists are at the antipodes of a war: technology against biology (obviously, I’m a bit reductive). And even…to like. Despite the improbability of it all, despite the war in which they are caught, despite the very real danger that their correspondence represents for each of them. To like.
The Perishing by Natashia Deon
It’s an unconventional time travel novel, for sure. For starters, the protagonist Lou is immortal. She is also, apparently, amnesiac, having woken up in an alley with no memory of her past. Set in Los Angeles during the Great Depression, The death follows Lou as she makes a name for herself and breaks down all sorts of obstacles as a professional journalist. But then she makes a new friend and is shocked to find that his face is the one she’s been drawing for years. Deón creates a compelling mystery that will have you pondering all sorts of ideas, big and small, long after you finish the last page.
Here and Now and Then by Mike Chen
How can you go wrong with a time travel novel starring a secret agent protagonist? I would say you can’t. Kin Stewart lives the suburban life in San Francisco, but it’s not the suburbs he needs to be rescued from. It’s his life, which is just a facade waiting for someone to pick him up and bring him back to his real life more than a century and a half later. But help takes nearly two decades to come along, and in the meantime, Kin has lived his life — with a wife and a daughter. Chen’s novel is engagingly deep, exploring the many dynamics that define the self while entertaining with its novel take on time travel.
Miko Kings: A History of Indian Baseball by LeAnne Howe
Miko Kings is the oldest book on this list, but it’s a fascinating read. Howe’s novel follows an intriguing cast of characters as Oklahoma’s Native American baseball team, the Miko Kings, strive for the championship. The year: 1907. Yes, that was the same year that Oklahoma (the majority of which was officially known as Indian Territory) gained statehood from the United States. With this political history looming in the background, Hope Little Leader is caught up in events much bigger than his role as pitcher for the team. And then there is the strange and brilliant Ezol Day, whose theories of time are intertwined with Indigenous linguistics and epistemologies. This book has it all: conspiracy, romance, and political intrigue. To top it off, you’ll find some wonderfully non-standard text elements here, like newspaper clippings and handwritten journal entries.
A Bubble of Time by Pepper Pace
What would you do if, in your 50s, you suddenly found yourself reliving your high school days as you were at 16? That’s Exactly What Happens To Kenya Daniels In Pepper Pace’s Hilarious And Clever Time Travel Novel A bubble of time. She’s 16 again, but with all of her half-century of lived experience alive in her memory. There’s a really comedic element here for anyone who lived through the 80s, as it’s quite fun to follow Kenya as she’s forced to revisit the wild decade as a youngster. But Pace’s time travel novel is also at once thoughtful, heartwarming, and unexpected.
Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi
What would you do if you could time travel? What if you could time travel, but only for a very short time and without being able to change the present? In Toshikazu Kawaguchi’s time travel novel, there is a cafe in a basement in Tokyo where this is possible. But only coffee. With these interesting time constraints, cafe customers (and staff members) time travel for small but profound reasons. It’s a strikingly beautiful meditation on the little regrets we carry with us throughout our lives. If you’re a fan of this book, you’ll be happy to know that this is the first part of a trilogy; Tales from the Cafe came out two years ago and the third book, Before Your Memory Fades, is due out in November!
The Kingdoms of Natasha Pulley
The Kingdoms is a wild ride! It’s as much historical fiction as it is a time travel novel. It opens with the confused arrival of Joe Tournier in 19th century England, but it is a very different England from the one you may have heard of in the history books: this England is a French colony. Shortly after his arrival, a mysterious postcard arrives. Not only is it written in English (a forbidden language in this alternate reality), but it’s addressed to her. As Joe searches for answers, he travels to Scotland (which is also an alternate Scotland) and beyond. It’s a captivating read – if you’ve read Pulley’s other works before, this won’t surprise you.