Just as Ursula K. Le Guin once said, authors help readers sail the river of time. The boarding pass for a story can take one deep into history, far into the future, or allow bibliophiles to bounce back and forth. Writers as various as Mark Twain and Diana Gabaldon have explored the idea of time travel, maintaining its popularity and giving the following books—and those like them—their moment to shine.
In The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August (Redhook: Hachette. 2014. ISBN 9780316399623. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9780316399630), the future needs the help of the past. As Harry August lies on his deathbed, a young girl appears, saying she was almost too late. She has a message for him, passed down from generations after his own. The world is ending, as of course it must, but it is ending too soon. Harry is a kalachakra, a human who is reborn over and over and able to bring all of his memories of each previous life with him. It is a fantastically smart and enthralling basis for a story, and author Claire North spins it out wonderfully, weaving Harry’s many histories into his mission to save the world.
The fantasy of being able to fix the present by going back in time forms the heart of Daniel Clowes’s Patience (Fantagraphics. Mar. 2016. ISBN 9781606999059. $29.99). Jack Barlow loves one thing in his wreck of a world: his wife, Patience. They are about to become parents, but early in this graphic novel, Patience is murdered. Her death spurs Jack to action, and he ricochets through different periods to prevent it from happening. Clowes writes with gritty fervor as he traces Patience’s complicated past and Jack’s ever-whirling quest. The story is supported by kaleidoscopic and intricate art, rendered in saturated colors and innovative panels. While the book has a dark undertow, it is all the while powered by the abiding core of Jack and Patience’s relationship.
Connie Willis’s Blackout (Spectra: Bantam. 2010. ISBN 9780345519832. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9780345519641), along with its companion All Clear, garnered Nebula, Locus, and Hugo awards and deservedly so. In this first installment, a group of Oxford historians transport back to the 1940s to research World War II, witnessing various elements of the conflict and interacting with a brilliantly drawn cast of characters. By the end of the novel, however, it is obvious that something has gone wrong as none of them are able to jump back to their own time. Shifting between each of the protagonists on individual assignments, Willis paints a vibrant portrait of the age. The story concludes in All Clear, which follows the historians as they try to find a way home.
Originally published in 1995, one of Isaac Asimov’s lesser-known novels explores time travel and its paradoxes with great acuity and verve. Andrew Harlan is an Eternal, someone who lives outside of time and place in Eternity. There he helps to manipulate upwhen and downwhen, modifying things in the centuries under Eternity’s control in order to create the most desirable outcomes (of course, the question is for whom). The fast-paced narrative, shaded with politics and philosophy, unfolds as Andrew falls in love with a woman who will be caught in one of the alterations. His attempt to grab her out of time triggers unexpected and profound changes in The End of Eternity (Forge: Tor. 2011. ISBN 9780765319197. pap. $16.99; ebk. ISBN 9781429970945).
In the early morning hours following Halloween 1988, 12-year-old Erin Tieng awakens from a nightmare and goes to start her paper route. Soon she has joined a pack of other delivery girls, one wielding a hockey stick for protection. They are going to need it as they encounter a mix of aliens, flying dinosaurs, and odd disappearances in Brian K. Vaughan’s trippy first volume of Paper Girls (Image. Apr. 2016. ISBN 9781632156747. pap. $9.99; ebk. ISBN 9781632158574). Artist Cliff Chiang brings a detailed and surreal aesthetic to the artwork, design, and page layout that perfectly matches the danger and disorientation that so richly flavors the tale. The girls struggle to figure out what has happened, what time period they are in, and who is after them.
Unlike the writer and comics masters above, James Gleick approaches the subject from a nonfiction perspective. He begins Time Travel: A History (Pantheon. Sept. 2016. ISBN 9780307908797. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9780307908803) with a study of the Time Traveller, the central character in H.G. Wells’s 1895 masterpiece The Time Machine. From there he proceeds through history, literature, culture, science, math, and philosophy as he investigates our human conception of, and confrontation with, time. Gleick paves much of the path through this loopy terrain using fiction and other creative designs in essay-like chapters that are engaging, eclectic, and intriguing. Readers are offered an open invitation to marvel.