Time travel has intrigued people for as long as, well, time. There are no hard and fast rules, but for over a hundred years writers have given us their take on how it works. Time travel allows us to imagine what it would be like to experience other worlds and consider what we would do if we could influence history or see the future.
We’ve picked out ten great ten time travel books take us through our own time – from Mark Twain’s Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court published in 1889 to Audrey Niffenegger’s Time Traveler’s Wife published in 2003.
Here are the first five on our list; stay tuned next week for five more time warping classics!
A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, Mark Twain (1889)
social satire, humor
Twain’s special gift for satire makes this story hilarious, fantastical and to the point. His comparative study and social commentary exposes his dissatisfaction of the romantic ideal of King Arthur’s world and faith in the scientific and social progress of his own time.
Twain starts by sending Hank Morgan, a self-reliant New Englander and engineer, back in time to King Arthur’s Court. Things go bad quickly and he is sentenced to death by Merlin. When Hank uses his knowledge of the nineteenth-century to save himself, he convinces the people, the King, and himself, that he is a magician greater than Merlin. He begins to transform King Arthur’s world where he transforms into the Boss.
Time Machine, H.G. Wells (1895)
science fiction, fantasy, Darwinism, socialism
A forerunner of the science fiction genre, this classic novel popularized the concept of time travel and introduced the term “time machine”. Written in 1895, it is couched in a Darwinian and Socialist parable about a time traveler who is sent into the year 802,701. The traveler finds himself in a society of two races, the Eloi, peaceful dwellers who live above ground and the Morlocks, ape-like creatures who live below ground. It is a cautionary tale taking on the themes of evolution, capitalism, and social class division.
A Sound of Thunder, Ray Bradbury (1952)
science fiction, fantasy
Time travel, safari hunting and the opportunity to take down a Tyrannosaurus Rex. That’s what Time Safari offers its customers when it sends them sixty million years into the past. But there are strict rules and real dangers to anyone who breaks them. All travelers must stay on the designated Path provided by Time Safari. Anyone stepping off of it could create a ripple in time that could alter the future, the concept known as the “butterfly effect”. Bradbury asks us to consider our actions and how they effect the world. (In The Stories of Ray Bradbury and A Sound of Thunder and other Stories.)
The End of Eternity, Isaac Asimov (1955)
science fiction, romance
Considered his best by many, this short fiction novel places time travel outside of linear reality. The non-linear world, Eternity, is a location outside of time and place where an elite few, the Eternals, monitor and alter time’s cause and effect relationships. Andrew Harlan is an Eternal. On one of his assignments, he falls in love with a woman who lives in linear time only to find out she will not exist after the next change. He risks everything to bring her to Eternity with him, but his actions create a paradox that threatens the existence of Eternity. To fix the problem, he is given his next assignment. He must kill the woman he loves.
The Door into Summer, Robert A. Heinlein (1957)
science fiction, fantasy
This short fiction book is one of Heinlein’s lighter novels and uses time travel in a limited way. It begins in 1970. Dan Davis is the successful inventor of a household robot, an automated “cleaning lady” called Hired Girl. With the help of his fiancée, Belle and their friend Miles, his new company is thriving beyond his wildest dreams. But Belle and Miles betray him, steal his patents, and trick him into spending thirty years in suspended animation. They thought that was the end of Dan.
What they didn’t expect was that time travel exists in the year 2000. When Dan wakes up from thirty years of sleep, he is able to go back to 1970 where he recovers his research and then returns to the year 2000 with his reputation, invention and fiancée.