Books About Time



It’s surprising that there aren’t more books written about time, and the changing way in which we perceive it.

Martin Amis wrote ‘Time’s Arrow’, a reverse-time chronology of moral compromise and Auschwitz, a powerful, bleak, and of necessity ugly read that nevertheless catches the sense of time being ultimately irreversible. Far lighter was Jack Finney’s ‘Time and Again’, in which illustrator Si takes part in a top-secret programme, stepping out of his twentieth-century New York apartment into January 1882. What makes this unusual is that Si has photographed his adventures, lending an already involving book greater veracity. At the end the hero elects to remain in the past, but in the belated sequel he is required to return to what is now the future.

In ‘Life After Life’, Kate Atkinson tells us the story of Ursula through the first part of the 20th century, and we see the various fates which may or may not have befallen her, including death from influenza and a bad marriage. It’s a very feminine tale (there are few male characters) but refreshingly so, and Atkinson delineates each change in her heroine’s life with immense clarity.

In Ken Grimwood’s wonderful fantasy novel ‘Replay’, the hero finds himself waiting for the past to catch up, as he keeps falling in love with the same woman at the wrong period in their lives, and you wonder if they’ll ever be in synch.

Time usually concerns itself with choices made, and time travel, which in turn leads to longing and regret. There are romances, from ‘The Time Traveller’s Wife’ by Audrey Niffenegger to ‘The Watchmaker of Filigree Street’ by Natasha Pulley, in which a Japanese man appears to have broken the linearity of time travel.

Short fiction lends itself rather well to time travel fiction, the best volume of which is ‘The Best Time Travel Stories of the 20th Century’ chosen by Harry Turtledove and Martin H Greenberg. While I wanted to enjoy ‘The Time Traveller’s Almanac’ by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer, I found the same problem recurring with these editors that I’ve experienced before – namely that the gigantic tomes they produce favour size over discerning choices.

In many ways, Ray Bradbury is the finest time author because he has such a clear grasp on past, present and future, and how they interrelate – you can pick up any of his collections and find melancholic tales of pasts lost and future not explored.

9 comments on “Books About Time”

  1. Vivienne says:

    There’s Orlando, and a book I remember from my childhood called, I think, A Traveller in Time, by Alison Uttley. Here a young girl goes back into the Middle Ages, perhaps through some Narnia-like portal. I recall it taught me a lot about marzipan.

  2. C Falconer says:

    Vivienne – the girl goes back in time and is involved with the Babbington plot / Mary Queen of Scots – but there were quite a few children’s – well probably be called YA now – time travelling books when I was growing up:
    Charlotte Sometimes by Penelope Farmer (also inspired the song by the Cure – and a BBC TV adaptation I think?)
    Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippe Pearce
    Stig of the Dump by Clive King

    There was also the early 70s film The Amazing Mr Blunden with a truly terrifying Diana Dors although this is, perhaps, more of a supernatural / ghost story

  3. JackieHayles says:

    “All you Zombies”, by Robert A. Heinlein, was adapted as a film (“Predestination”); both are very confusing, but thought-provoking all the same. There was a wonderful children’s TV series, shown about 20 years ago, called “The Moon Dial” – very eerie.

  4. Helen Martin says:

    I remember the Babbington plot one and found Tom’s Midnight Garden when I was teaching. There were a couple of others that I didn’t care for because the travel was solely to provide a means of dishing out “painless” history. It’s alright to do it but have the kindness to at least try to hide it.
    The Watchmaker of Filigree Street was in the library and I’m looking forward to that.

  5. keith page says:

    ‘Fire in the Abyss’ by Stuart Gordon is pretty good.It features Elizabethan explorer Sir Humphrey Gilbert who is transported to the present day by the US Navy.

  6. Peter Dixon says:

    The Fury Out of Time by Lloyd Biggle Jr. is a corker. The Marathon Picture by (I think) Philip Hose Farmer. Behold The Man by Michael Moorcock in which the protagonist goes back in time to witness the Crucifiction and ends up on the cross himself.
    There’s lots when you look out for them – especially short stories like ‘The Very Slow Time Machine’.

  7. R Brown says:

    do you mean the marathon photograph by Clifford Simak?

  8. Wayne Mook says:

    Do we include dream time travel like Dickens’ A Christmas Carol?

    The Technicolor Time Machine by Harry Harrison is about using the past to make a film, cheap sets, says more about low budget film making than time travel really.

    Anubis Gate by Tim Powers is quite splendid, hearing ‘Yesterday ‘ is never quite the same again.

    There are plenty of time-slip stories, Helen Dunmore’s The Greatcoat, although I wasn’t a great fan of this one a little predictable.

    There is the sequel to Well’s The Time Machine, Time Ships by Stephen Baxter, which I haven’t read but has been recommended and then there are a myriad of pulp and series SF books, plus all the TV tie in & film like Sapphire and Steel; Time tunnel; Time Cop; Trancers (a rather good low budget SF, don’t bother with the sequels.) and so on


  9. Michele Slung says:

    To quote myself (Washington Post “Book World,” 30 Sept 1990):
    “Before there was Harold Pinter there was Elizabeth Jane Howard. That is, those of you familiar with his play, “Betrayal,” and the subsequent film version, in which a marriage is dissected in a startling backwards progression that begins with the armor of current cynicism and winds up, years before, at the fresh skin of love’s early innocence, should know that Howard perfected this perverse scenario in her 1956 novel, The Long View.”

    The Howard was ’56, the Pinter ’78. And in both, time (as it always must be) is . . . everything.

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