Six Riveting Time-Travel Escapes
Updated: Aug 21, 2020
In Blake Crouch's Recursion, Barry Sutton is a NYC cop looking into a suicide. Helena Smith is a neuroscientist creating technology to preserve memories and allow people to relive them.
People like the victim Sutton is investigating are told that their vivid recollections of their life’s memories are not real, and that they’re actually mentally ill, suffering from False Memory Syndrome. When they encounter loved ones from their memories who are now living alternate lives, in many cases they are unable to cope with their conflicting realities.
While Sutton begins digging into what’s real and what’s a lie, Smith works feverishly to preserve memories and reality. Together, they have to identify and confront dark forces that might be manipulating—and destroying—the minds and the framework of society as we know it.
I cared so much about Sutton and Smith and their mission. Blake Crouch writes character-driven science fiction that I love (Dark Matter is another of his that I found fascinating.) This was sooooo good, unexpected, sweeping, and compelling.
02 Here and Now and Then
Kin Stewart was a time-traveling secret agent in 2142. He was stranded in the 1990s when a mission went wrong. Now he lives life as a regular guy; he works in IT, he’s happily married, and he has a beloved daughter. They have no idea about his past, which is just how he wants it.
When he begins to have memory loss and other odd symptoms, he realizes it’s linked to his past time travel. Then a rescue mission arrives decades too late, to bring him to 2142 and back to another life with another family.
Stewart would have to break all the rules of time travel to attempt the impossible: preserve the existence of his daughter in his current reality without destroying everything else.
In Here and Now and Then Mike Chen masterfully explores: Is the past set in stone or is it malleable? Which half of Kin’s dual life is most true or immediate or valued? How much physical turmoil can one body take before giving in? What does a hero do when honesty requires putting his life at risk, yet is also essential to save it?
I loooved this. Chen writes a deeply felt warring of emotions and conflicting responsibility and duty. I adore a character-driven science-fiction tale. Also, time travel! This totally hit the spot.
03 In Five Years
Dannie is on the path to achieving her five-year goals in spectacularly efficient fashion. She goes to sleep satisfied, but wakes up in another life: a strange apartment, a different boyfriend, and an alternate set of choices behind and before her. And perhaps most confusingly of all, in this second life she's lost some of her original, lifelong, rigid plans for her future, yet she's happy. Very very happy.
She returns to her original reality, but Dannie can’t shake the possibilities and uncertainty created by what felt like an actual, temporary shift in her existence. What happened? But more importantly: What does that vastly different set of circumstances and her satisfaction within it mean about how she can and should live her life?
Serle's In Five Years totally hit the spot for me, and it also wasn’t exactly what I expected. The setup seems like it’s a romance, but it’s really a story about loyalty and devoted friendship without easy or saw-it-coming resolutions, and not everything is as it seems. I loved it.
04 The Ten Thousand Doors of January
January has lived with Mr. Locke as his ward since her beloved, offbeat father disappeared during a trip to acquire artifacts for the wealthy man’s collections. Her father has since been presumed dead, and Locke keeps her safe and cared for, if without affection.
But she is growing older and is looking for answers about her father’s disappearance. When she finds a mysterious book her father had acquired, it shows January unlikely possibilities about her existence and the world at large that it’s difficult to process. When she uncovers unwelcome truths about Locke and her circumstances, she has no choice but to forge into the frightening unknown.
Alix E. Harrow has crafted a lovely adventure through different wonderfully imagined worlds (including the early 1900s home base). The Ten Thousand Doors of January also explores the wondrous bravery but sometimes dark and destructive forces surrounding the explorers and collectors venturing through worlds and the wanderers desperately searching for home.
Also, let's all please stop and admire this gorgeous cover for a moment.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
05 The Bone Clocks
Teenager Holly Sykes is suddenly drawn into the world of “the radio people,” people whose voices she heard as a child. She disappears from her family and leaves behind a tragic mystery, while in her forays through new worlds she attracts dangerous powers to her.
David Mitchell's The Bone Clocks is a set of six intriguing tracks through time that are full of surprises and interconnected through Holly and her various threads of reality. There are links to other Mitchell books and characters if you're paying attention, but the book can stand alone.
I can say with certainty that I've never read a book quite like this before. A full genre shift around page 400 would normally make me want to throw a book through the window. But here it works somehow. This was strange and compelling.
06 All Our Wrong Todays
There are flying cars in the alternate reality of this book. Flying cars. I think you should know that going in, because it’s not the only awesome thing, but it is one of the awesome things in Elan Mastai's All Our Wrong Todays.
Our main protagonist Tom makes a decision that strands him in our version of the world, which feels like a dystopia to him. He encounters alternate versions of his loved ones and universe, which are jarring but grow on him. He strikes out to explore time and place in an effort to figure out which reality to preserve.
Mastai provides a fascinating story with time travel, alternate realities, love, loss, humor, bravery, and moments that made me laugh out loud. I didn't always follow the logic as laid out in the book--the supposed development of time travel itself and how time travelers affect realities--but I loved suspending my disbelief to be part of it. I loved this!
What are your favorite time travel books?
I had trouble narrowing down this list, and I love a time travel book in any genre. I'd love to hear about others you love!