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Best Time Travel Stories of the 20th Century, edited by Harry Turtledove, Martin H. Greenberg Book Review | SFReader.com
Best Time Travel Stories of the 20th Century, edited by Harry Turtledove, Martin H. Greenberg Genre: Science Fiction Anthology Publisher: Ballantine Published: 2004 Review Posted: 5/9/2005 Reviewer Rating:
Reader Rating: 10 out of 10
Best Time Travel Stories of the 20th Century, edited by Harry Turtledove, Martin H. Greenberg
Book Review by Jack Mangan
Have you read this book?
The The Best Time Travel Stories of the Twentieth Century
compilation is in itself a journey through time, ordering the stories by
publication date, starting with Sturgeon's 1941 short story, "Yesterday was
Monday" and finishing with Ursula K. Le Guin's 1994 novella, "Another Story
or The Fisherman of the Inland Sea."
While there are a number of brilliant stories here, none entirely transcend
the eras in which they were written and published; all bear telltale
stylistic indicators, devices, and signs of their times. (Interestingly, the
most-represented decade in the book is the 1950s.) Contrasting the stories
in the latter third of the book against the earlier ones, the reader can get
a sense of just how the craft of writing science fiction has progressed -
and also remained the same - over the sixty-three year span of covered here.
The cleverness and creativity and wonderment of the old guys are all on
display, but then so are the aspects of the boldness and the post-modern
awareness and cynicism of the men and women in the last sections. If nothing
else, it's a fascinating study of the progression of the art.
But that's not why you'd read this book. If you picked up The Best Time
Travel Stories of the Twentieth Century anthology, you'd be looking for
some entertaining, thought-provoking Time Travel yarns. The list of authors'
names in the table of contents reads like a roster from the Science Fiction
Hall of Fame. All of these authors have earned their esteemed places in
Sci-Fi history, so there'd be no reason to expect anything less than
greatness here. Well, here's my take, in order from best to worst:
1. "Sailing to Byzantium" by Robert Silverberg - not really a time travel
story at all, but it still somehow fits in this collection. A man with a
mind from the 1980s finds himself drifting amongst a compressed,
highly-evolved humanity in the far-future. The people exist as tourists,
visiting mechanically-reconstructed cities from all points in history. He
struggles to define himself and his place amongst these people, struggles to
bond with the woman amongst them whom he loves. Wow, the writing skills on
display in this story are amazing. The prose is on par with any 20th century
literary big-name; the ideas are fleshed out with thoughtfulness and devoted
attention to detail.
2. "The Man Who Came Early" by Poul Anderson. Flawless, thoroughly
believable tale of a time traveler from the 20th century, yet told from the
perspective of an Icelander in the 10th century.
3. "Fire Watch" by Connie Willis. The most touching, human story of the
bunch. A historian travels back in time to visit a church targeted by the
Nazis during World War II, and finds a deep attachment to the people, the
place, and even the stray cat, all imperiled by the bombing raids.
4. "Rainbird" by R.A. Lafferty. Lighthearted, extremely witty of a man whose
Thomas Edison, Benjamin Franklin, Nikolai Tesla, Albert Einstein, and
everyone else rolled up into one, who keeps revisiting his younger self to
improve on his life's accomplishments.
5. "A Sound of Thunder" by Ray Bradbury. Extremely dated, but still highly
relevant and engaging story. This story is the origin of the famous
"Butterfly Effect" theory.
6. "Time Locker" by Henry Kuttner. Whatever you put into the locker travels
into the future; the object still remains visible inside the box to us in
the present, but adopts the properties of the universe of its future time.
This is the pleasant surprise of this anthology. Unique, cool idea,
intelligently constructed story, with a clever twist ending (I bet you won't
7. "A Gun For Dinosaur" by L. Sprague du Camp. A more entertaining, more
action-packed, more Hemingway-esque version of "A Sound of Thunder". Dated,
for sure; but a good read.
8. "Another Story or The Fisherman of the Inland Sea" by Ursula K Le Guin.
Too long, too dense, too slow to develop for most readers, but I enjoyed its
depth and its resolution. Don't let your TV-destroyed attention span mar
your appreciation of this one.
9. "Leviathan!" by Larry Niven. A man is sent back into the past to collect
various extinct creatures. But are the animals he retrieves the real
historical thing? Or creatures from alternate fantasy timelines? The action
sequence in the water is hard to follow, but this is a satisfying, ingenious
story with a great punchline.
10. "Yesterday Was Monday" by Theodore Sturgeon. The oldest story in the
book, it's incredibly dated, but very clever and stylishly written.
11. "The Price of Oranges" by Nancy Kress. Starts off great, but loses me a
little while bashing in my head with the PC message. I agree with the
message, OK? The story and idea are really good - please lessen the
self-important social commentary and stick to the storytelling! Still,
overall, a very good read.
12. "Death Ship" by Richard Matheson. I kept thinking of the Twilight Zone
as I read this one - and look - - Turns out it WAS a Twilight Zone episode,
one I'd never seen. Creepy idea, with a Serling-esque head-scratcher ending.
Execution: OK. A little too dated for me though.
13. "Trapalanda" by Charles Sheffield. Well-written, with an interesting
lingering question. I didn't dislike it, but. . . it felt over-long and some
elements felt contrived.
14. "Time's Arrow" by Arthur C Clarke. I'm sure this story was a thrilling
read in the 50s. The man's a genius, but he has other works that have far
better withstood the test of time.
15. "The Pure Product" by John Kessel. The best idea in this entire
anthology: a bored, deathless superhuman from the far future lives in the
present; he and others from his era travel back in time mainly to screw with
us. On page 3 of this story, I thought I was reading the best in the book.
The whole thing falls apart though, and ends up way down here in my list.
16. "I'm Scared" by Jack Finney. Maybe this was cutting-edge in the 50s, but
I found it almost unreadable. A man tells of a bunch of weird, seemingly
unrelated temporal anomalies he's seen in the world around him, as evidence
of some unraveling of time.
17. "Timetipping" by Jack Dann. The world around him is in constant flux,
changing from second to second as everyone else "Timetips" except for Paley
Litwak and so he keeps going to shuls or synagogues and I still have no idea
what the hell happened in this story.
18. "The Anniversary Project" by Joe Haldeman. This story is a mess. I get
it, but I just didn't get it.
I don't think these are the 18 Best Time Travel Stories of the Twentieth
Century. There are better ones that have been omitted ("Mozart in
Mirrorshades" by Bruce Sterling immediately comes to mind). But I can
forgive the title. After all, who'd buy a book called A Bunch of Time
Travel Stories from the Last 59 Years of the 20th Century, Some Great, some
OK, Some Not So Good, even if that is a more accurate description?
The top eleven stories in my list here are all good, and worth your time.
Click here to buy Best Time Travel Stories of the 20th Century, edited by Harry Turtledove, Martin H. Greenberg on Amazon