12 Of The Best Time Travel Novels

by Shaun Fitzpatrick

I'm a time travel books, TV shows and movies fangirl. My favorite movie is the first installment of the Back to the Future series (and I quote it frequently). I have a Doctor Who tattoo. I get really worked up if you ask me why I thought Looper was terrible for not explaining the rules of time travel. If I had to pick a "thing," time travel would be my thing.

So, obviously, I've always found myself drawn to books that involve some sort of time travel element. It combines two of my favorite genres — historical fiction and fantasy — and lets me live out my fantasy of exploring some of my favorite historical events and time periods. While I'm partial to stories in which the protagonists travel back in time, I also understand the excitement of watching our hero leap into the future and discover a brand new world (though a lot of time travel writers don't seem to be too optimistic about the Earth's future). Basically, I like pretty much all types of time travel.

Rather than rewatch Back to the Future for the millionth time, or spend my day binge-watching Doctor Who, I decided to revisit some of my favorite time travel novels. Whether the protagonists are headed to the past or exploring the future (or wreaking havoc with their personal timeline), I love getting to travel through time and space with them from the comfort of my own Tardis, er, I mean couch.

1. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court by Mark Twain

Hank, our protagonist, gets hit on the head and ends up in King Arthur's Court. Determined to use his 19th century intelligence to take over the kingdom, he begins fashioning himself as a wizard to rival Merlin, using science to perform magical feats. But will his modern mentality clash with the superstitions of the court?

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2. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

Claire Randall is a World War II army nurse who has found herself transported to the 18th century Scottish Highlands. Though she has a husband back in her time, she falls in love with Jamie, a member of the clan who found her. Unfortunately, her present-day husband's ancestor, Captain Jack Randall, is out to wreak havoc on her new life with Jamie. Can we please have more time-traveling heroines shacking up with buff Scottish clansmen, please?

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3. The Time Machine by H.G. Wells

A canonical time travel text, our narrator is a gentleman from Victorian England who has built his own time machine. He travels to the future, where he discovers that the human race has split into two different groups: the childlike Eloi and the violent Morlocks. After fighting to gain his time machine back from the Morlocks, he continues traveling until he witnesses the end of the world.

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4. Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut

Billy Pilgrim is an American soldier who becomes "unstuck" in time while in Germany during World War II. He begins traveling into the future and past of his own timeline, reliving his memories or experiencing future events. Of course, he also claims to have been captured by aliens called the Tralfamadorians, so maybe Billy isn't the most reliable narrator.

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5. The River of No Return by Bee Ridgway

Lord Nicholas Falcott was just about to die in 1815 when he wakes up in the 21st century. He meets members of a secret organization called the Guild who inform him that he's a time traveler who instinctively jumped into the future to save himself. The Guild has a rule, though: no returning to your own time. Nick follows this rule until the Guild sends him back to 1815 to help them fight their enemies, where he reconnects with Julia, his lost love who knows a thing or two about time travel herself.

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6. To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis

In 2057 time travel exists, but due to its strict rules (no bringing anything from the future to the past or vice versa, no meddling in important historical events) few people utilize it. Time travel is mostly used as a tool to help historians. When one historian brings a cat from the 19th century to the present, however, time traveler Ned Henry must bring it back or risk changing history. Too bad bringing the cat back didn't seem to work, and now he still has to find a way to save the past so as to not disrupt the future (including World War II).

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7. The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

A lot of stories focus on time travelers, but what about the people who love them? Clare has known Henry, her future husband, since she was a little girl. Henry is a time traveler who can't control his powers and has shown up sporadically throughout Clare's life before they meet as adults. As Henry is constantly jumping in and out of Clare's life, she has to decide to wait for him or continue living her life without him.

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8. The Man Who Folded Himself by David Gerrold

Okay, this one gets a little weird. Daniel is visited by a man who calls himself his "Uncle Jim." After Uncle Jim dies, Daniel inherits a "timebelt" from him, which allows Daniel to travel into the future and past of his own timeline. Daniel begins interacting with dozens of different versions of himself (including a female version of himself with whom he has a child). He eventually realizes that Uncle Jim was just an older version of himself, and he eventually gives the timebelt to his younger self. Confusing, right?

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9. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle

Meg Murray and her little brother, Charles Wallace, don't know what happened to their father, a scientist who disappeared years ago. Then the two of them and a classmate meet a bunch of mysterious old women who turn out to be alien creatures in disguise. The women are helping to fight The Black Thing, an evil entity that takes over worlds. The women transport the kids through time and space to the planet where The Black Thing is holding the Murphy's father prisoner.

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10. The Clockwork Cathedral by Heather Blackwood

The fact that there are some definite Back to the Future-vibes here may be why I'm interested in this book. Felicia is a modern-day med student who accidentally falls through a time rift and ends up in 19th century New Orleans. She seeks the help of a mad scientist named Professor Seamus Connor to get her back home, but it's not exactly easy to find a random time rift to fall into. Plus, something fishy is going on in New Orleans, and Felicia may just be able to help.

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11. Kindred by Octavia E. Butler

Dana is a 26-year-old African American woman living with her white husband in the 1970s when she begins to travel back in time. She finds herself transported to 1815 and ends up on the plantation of Rufus, who she eventually realizes is one of her ancestors. Over a series of visits that encompass years on the plantation, Dana watches Rufus grow, enslave Alice, another of her ancestors, and eventually must escape from him herself.

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12. Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy

Connie Ramos has been unfairly committed to an insane asylum when she begins to have visions of an androgynous woman named Luciente. Luciente is a member of a future utopian society who believes that Connie must help them ensure that this utopia comes to be. We're never quite sure if Connie's trips to the future are real or a product of her mental instability, so technically this is only a "maybe" time-travel novel.

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Images: BBC