The Best Time Travel Books

May 28, 2020

The Best Time Travel Books


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Time travel was always one of sci-fi storytelling’s greatest tropes. The ultimate fantasy of going back to relive history or seeing the world long after your time can be some of the most alluring tales told on account of their limitless possibilities.

Time travel books can go in any direction, from swashbuckling adventures to dark dystopian worlds. In these stories, you can find brave heroes seeking to set right what once went wrong. Or you find evil villains looking to bend time to their wills.

Whether you love time travel books with dinosaurs, robots, world wars, westerns, or old celebrities, these clock turning tales will have it all. Let’s not waste a second of time, and check out some of the best time travel books ever written. 

1. The Time Machine (1895)

This classic time travel story is what started it all. The Time Machine novel was the first mainstream use of a time machine, where the protagonist leaps to the future to witness events yet to transpire. He watches as humanity evolves into a race called the Eloi. Another race called the Morlocks hunts him relentlessly. As the hero travels farther, he witnesses the end of the sun itself and journeys back to recount his tale.

This story would go on to become the basis of almost all time travel tales that follow. No matter where you look, you’ll find something influenced by this story in some way.

Wells left a massive impact on popular culture with this book, and became known as the father of science fiction.

The Time Machine gives us an interesting look at how human differences can be irrevocably split, leading to a dark, eerie future. 

2. The End of Eternity (1955)

 Written by another pioneer of science fiction, Isaac Asimov, The End of Eternity is an influential tale with rich lore and world-building. Regarded as Asimov’s single best novels, it set a huge precedent for how complex a time-bending story can be.

Taking place far in the future where time traveling is already an advancement, an elite group known as the Eternals reign supreme in Eternity. They live outside of time and space, bending history and controlling reality. 

The story revolves around Harlan, a member of the Eternals tasked to make a change in time. He falls in love with a woman named Noÿs Lambent, who will disappear once his mission is complete. What follows is an intricate tale of many twists and turns as Harlan defies the Eternals and sets time back in motion.

This story remains influential to this very day, with the ripple effects of changing time, paradoxes, and manipulation of history being the groundwork to build from for many other stories.

3. All You Need is Kill (2004)

 This 2004 light novel is one of the most action-packed time travel stories out there.

When alien lifeforms known as Mimics invade the earth, a soldier named Kenji Kiriya is on the battlefield. There he killed in action. That’s when the story truly begins. Kenji suddenly wakes up the previous morning. He finds himself reborn each time he dies, again and again. Finding himself caught in an endless time loop and meeting with legendary soldier Rita Vrataski, Kenji must find a way to escape his eternal struggle. 

As the time loop rages on, readers see Kenji’s point of view, giving us everything in excruciating detail. We root for Kenji as he begins to unravel every little detail on the battlefield and use his do-overs to his advantage.

The author wrote the story as a parallel to playing video games, with repeating the same motions over and over until reaching the goal. You may have seen its major blockbuster film Edge of Tomorrow, directed by Doug Liman and starring Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt. It was the first time Hollywood has adapted a Japanese light novel in such a huge way, which only speaks to the enduring power of All You Need is Kill.

4. Here and Now and Then (2019)

 How far will you go to keep your family safe? That’s what Time Agent Kin Stewart is about to discover in this heartfelt novel about his journey home.

Kin is sent back in time to complete a mission, but ends up stranded there by mistake. His rescue team arrives, but almost two decades too late. Now stuck between a life he once knew, and one he had to build for himself, he must find a way to maintain both and save his daughter’s life. 

What makes this story stand out is the sheer emotion on every page. You’ll feel for Kin’s struggle as he finds himself pulled between two worlds.

NPR said:

At its core, Chen’s book is really about the prides and perils of parenthood, and I’m confident that’s what I’ll always remember about it…. The plot twists and turns…in a speedy, page-flipping style, defying me each time I thought I knew what was coming

With the intensity of Kin’s journey ramping up, you’ll find yourself hanging on every word.

5. 11-23-63 (2011)

 The day November 23rd, 1963, changed American history forever. President John F Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas, and the world was never the same. Stephen King poses the question, what if that day had never happened?

An average English teacher, Jake Epping, discovers a portal to the past in his friend Al’s diner and makes his way back through time to prevent the fateful moment. Living a different life, falling in love, and changing history spectacularly, Jake sets out to put time on a new track. 

The butterfly effect takes shape in this novel as changing fate results in a new future drastically different than anyone could have imagined. Fans of King’s other works will be right at home in this story that shows the consequences of meddling in history, with the bonus of featuring several cameos and locations from IT and The Stand. The story details that day’s events in great detail with King doing a hefty amount of research in making the time period as accurately as possible.

This time travel book was adapted into a series for Hulu starring James Franco as Jake Epping. 

6. The Time Traveler’s Wife (2003)

 When Harry is diagnosed with Chrono displacement disorder, he finds himself flung through time to moments in his past, present, or future, always without warning. Harry falls in love with art student Claire. The couple finds themselves attempting to lead everyday lives despite Harry being ripped continuously away.

This tragic tale is well regarded for depicting time travel without any other sci-fi elements. The storyline focuses purely on the effects it has on the two main characters, never losing focus of their personal story. Readers have praised its emotional stakes, well-developed characters, and originality. Time travel is not used as something that can be controlled, but as a tragic force of nature.

Claire and Harry struggle to find happiness. Despite their uncontrollable circumstance, they find hope in a hopeless situation. The novel pulls out all the stops in making you feel every emotion with them. Both characters feel like real living people, and that truly makes this book stand out uniquely.

This story was also adapted into a movie starring Eric Bana, and Rachel McAdams were the stars of this movie.

7. The Slaughterhouse-Five (1969)

 One of the more unique entries in the wide world of time travel fiction, this tale follows World War veteran Billy Pilgrim through his experience being chronologically displaced. Billy sees and lives events out of sequence and shifts throughout history. Using this time travel plotline as an allegory for post-traumatic stress disorder is what sets this book apart.

As Billy witnesses the horrors of war, again and again, the novel’s central theme of war being meaningless shines. Readers loved its thought-provoking messages and relatable main character, saying it

Can be read more than once and works on so many levels. Funny, beautiful, disturbing, quirky, cruel, bighearted, surreal, it is neither a fable, sci-fi, war novel, or autobiographical novel but all this plus a meditation about the human race and the futility of war

Setting itself apart from the rest of the genre earns this novel many more points, being one the darker takes on the list and not shying away from using time travel to go in-depth into a veterans psyche.

The time travel is fictional, but the horrors of war are certainly not. 

8. Timeline (1999)

 Thrust into the middle ages, a team of historians embark on a mission to rescue their professor. They find themselves battling for survival against knights and medieval rulers. These ordinary students must find their courage. They become stronger if they want any hope of surviving the trials and tribulations that await them.

This novel by Michael Crichton explores time travel in a more scientific way than others. The story offers detailed explanations into the quantum physics and multiverse theories of it all, while delivering a hefty dose of action, adventure, romance, friendship, and thrills. Crichton details each of the main characters, Andre, Kate, and Chris, well. They relatable on their own, having their unique takes on the plot as it unfolds. The characterization is believable for each of them. You’ll find yourself wondering where they’ll go and what they’ll do. 

The time period is well explored with enough variety to keep things interesting. With the fantastic Medieval times setting being given a unique twist as we see it through the eyes of characters who don’t belong there. We get to see some fall in love with the time period, and others try to do anything they can to escape it.

In 2003, this novel was adapted to a feature film by Richard Donner and stars Gerald Butler and the late Paul Walker. 

9. The Anubis Gates (1983)

 Literary scholar Brandon Doyle lives in a world where time travel is an everyday thing. While on a routine trip through time, Doyle finds his mission has become a lot more complicated when he gets stranded in 1800s London.

Featuring ancient Egyptian sorcerers, werewolves, and mutated clowns, this novel leans more into the fantasy side then the sci-fi side. Magic and time travel are woven together to make a stand out adventure, along with historical characters mixing with fantastic beasts. Thanks to this novel’s creative world-building, none of those elements seems out of place. They mingle perfectly with the rest of the world, no matter how crazy something may initially seem.  

Ancient mysteries begin to unfold before the hero’s eyes, and the part he plays will change history itself. Written by Tim Powers, who is no stranger to the adventure genre, this story also delves just as deeply into mythology to create some unique scenarios for Doyle to overcome.

Readers have praised this adventurous romp for its great characters, interesting locations, and thrilling action sequences. For fans of fantasy who want a fun, exciting trip through time, with crazy fantasy elements breaking loose, this roller coaster of a novel is just right for you. 

10. Toward Yesterday (2016)

 You’ve heard of stories where a person travels back in time? And you’ve seen stories where groups go through time? But have you ever seen a story where everyone travels time? The year is 2042, and after a science experiment goes wrong. All of humanity is sent back to the past. With society in chaos, some adults stuck in the bodies of children. Some dead people have come back to life. And scientist James Bastion must assemble a team to sort this mess out before humanity is extinct. 

This time travel book features a truly unique twist on time travel. The story makes it a shared experience amongst all living humans. It stands out as something unlike anything else. In terms of science fiction, science takes center stage in this book. This book features plausible explanations and theories for how such a monumental event could occur. And this without over-explaining. 

With interesting and strong plot development, the twists and turns will make you speed through the pages to find out what happens next. 

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