Who doesn’t love a good time-traveling adventure? Although more serious time-travel stories — 12 Monkeys [the film], Ray Bradbury’s classic short story “A Sound of Thunder” (1952), the TV series Continuum (discussed in a prior post) or the film Primer — can break your brain (especially Primer!), time travel has enchanted audiences since H.G. Wells published The Time Machine in the 1890s. My own introduction to time travel, nearly a hundred years later, arrived with the lone season of Voyagers!, a 1982 TV series that starred the ill-fated Jon-Erik Hexum and Meeno Peluce (aka Punky Brewster’s older brother) as a time-traveling duo putting history aright. This same concept was revisited later in the 1980s with… you guessed it: Quantum Leap, starring Scott Bakula and Dean Stockwell in a successful five-season series that, along with Star Trek:The Next Generation, Unsolved Mysteries, and Designing Women, was a mainstay of my childhood. (One episode even had Bakula’s character influencing a young Stephen King). Quantum Leap deserves its own post, but if it’s in syndication anywhere, or on DVD, I highly recommend it.
Philosophically and scientifically, there is much discussion over whether time travel is even possible. Check out the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy‘s entry on time travel, which will give you some starting points — especially if you like reading about time travel, and/or you want to write about time travel. If you really want to break your brain, let me point you toward a copy of Paul Horwich’s 1975 article entitled “On Some Alleged Paradoxes of Time Travel,” published in a 1975 issue of the Journal of Philosophy, in which Horwich defends Kurt Godel’s time travel theories. And then you can ruminate on free will, determinism, the purpose of life, and other big questions.
But if you don’t really want to do any of that stuff, or if your brain.exe program has stopped working, and all you want to do is curl up with some tea, a pet, and a good time-travel romp, then read on to discover three of my favorite time travel stories (I promise it is a coincidence that they’re all set in Great Britain).
Just One Damned Thing After Another (2016). Jodi Taylor’s first entry in her Chronicles of St. Mary’s series is a rip-roaring ride to the Cretaceous (yay dinosaurs! …. Oh, wait–uh-oh, dinosaurs) and back again. Originally self-published, Taylor’s story lives up to its name. Historian Max is recruited to a secretive think tank called St. Mary’s Institute, and the secret is St. Mary’s uses time travel to observe and verify the big (and little) historical questions. Max and her fellow recruits are trained within an inch of their lives for every eventuality before they begin making forays back in time, from modern Britain to the Cretaceous to World War I and back again. But all is not well in Timetravelerville; there’s always the possibility of not coming back alive. Then Max discovers a competing set of time travelers profiting off their adventures (including caging dinosaurs, which never ends well, people) — and wouldn’t you know it, they have spies bent on taking over St. Mary’s! Just One Damned Thing After Another is a fast-paced yet balanced roller coaster ride of a tale complete with British humor, intrigue, backstabbing, sex (oh myyyy!), and madcap adventure.
To Say Nothing of The Dog (1997) is Connie Willis’s second novel in her Oxford Time Travel series (following The Doomsday Book), which won the Hugo and Locus Awards, and was nominated for the Nebula. That said, it’s a standalone, madcap story about Ned Henry, a time-lagged (think jet-lag) time traveler on assignment from a demanding sponsor (the aptly named Lady Schrapnell) to find the Bishop’s bird stump (aka MacGuffin), which disappeared after the World War II bombing of Coventry Cathedral. Unfortunately, a fellow time-traveler brought back an object which has to be returned to its proper time, or time itself will come apart, and Ned is the only person who can return it. But he has zero understanding of what he’s supposed to return — and when he and his colleague, Verity, do return the item (a cat — in 2057, cats are extinct), it doesn’t fix the timeline. Ned and Verity have to figure out what the bird stump is and rescue it, hoping that will put the timeline right. To Say Nothing of the Dog combines science fiction, fantasy, romance, adventure, and humor. In doing so it tips its hat to to classic books by Jane Austen and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, among others.
Time Bandits (1981). I rewatched this movie constantly as a kid, although I was put off by scenes with the Big Giant Head (to borrow Third Rock from the Sun parlance). Time Bandits was conceived and directed by Terry Gilliam and the Monty Python crew (and funded by George Harrison). When I was a kid, I didn’t know Terry Gilliam was weird; as an adult, having seen every one of his films, I know better. It’s Terry Gilliam, so of course it’s weird. For the uninitiated, Time Bandits is a fantasy-comedy that follows a boy who falls in with a group of time-traveling dwarves. Ostensibly they’re supposed to be repairing rifts in spacetime, employed by the Supreme Being who created the Universe (who admits there are issues, since he did it all in six days), but instead they stole the spacetime map and started stealing historical treasures. Kevin and the Dwarves are pursued by Evil, who wants to steal the map and redesign the universe. Kevin gets stuck in Ancient Greece, becoming the adopted son of King Agamemnon (Sean Connery); the dwarves “rescue” him only to land on a sinking Titanic. Evil traps them in his realm, steals the map and locks them up. The dwarves and Kevin must find a way to escape and steal the map back before they are discovered by the Supreme Being. Time Bandits has (as fans of Gilliam’s Brazil know) a head-scratching ending. It’s a wild ride but definitely worth a viewing. See: Sean Connery, Kenny Baker (RIP sir!), Shelley Duvall (in her first role after The Shining), Michael Palin, John Cleese, Katharine Helmond, Ian Holm, Peter Vaughan, and Jim Broadbent.
Do you have more? Please share! Tell us your favorite (or newly-discovered) time-travel stories and keep the chain going in the comments below!