There’s No Time Like the Past

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by Dana Grimaldi
eHarlequin Copy Editor

I am not a competitive person. But when it comes to time travel, I’ll put all reservations aside.

Let me explain. Every Tuesday morning, I go to work looking forward to the Carina Press acquisitions meeting. I love discussing the manuscripts I’ve read with fellow team members, and I love hearing about the new books we’ll be publishing. One of my favorite parts of the meeting comes when Angela goes through the list of books we’re going to look at for the next week. If I hear that a manuscript we’re considering involves time travel, the competitive spirit awakens within me, and I’ll jump at the chance to read it.

So far, I’ve read two time travel manuscripts for Carina Press, and I’ve been thrilled to recommend that we acquire both of them. Reading these books only served to remind me of how much I love a good time travel story, which got me to thinking…what makes a time travel story good? The best time travel stories make the most of the genre’s unique strength: characters who travel in time can do things characters in your average story could never imagine. I’ve made a list of the top three things that are (for the most part) unique to time travel stories.

1. Characters can reunite with someone they’ve lost.

One of my favorite moments in time travel stories is when a character runs into an older/younger/alternate version of someone they’ve lost. One of the best examples of this occurs in the story Days of Future Past. For those of you not familiar with the comic book heroes known as the X-men, I’ll give you some background. At the beginning of the story, Kitty Pryde, the newest and youngest member of the X-men, finds herself struggling to find her place among the superhero team. She’s particularly frightened by the mutant Nightcrawler, whose demonic appearance once made him the target of a violent mob in his native Germany. When the future Kitty Pryde travels back in time to inhabit the body of her younger self, she finds herself surrounded by the loving adoptive family who, in her time, were almost all killed—including Nightcrawler, whom she’d grown to love and trust. The future Kitty’s reaction to seeing her friends is heartbreaking. Especially when she embraces Nightcrawler and calls him by his given name: Kurt. The ability of time travel to bring people into contact with those they’ve lost is a compelling storytelling device. I think the reason I find it so interesting is that in a way, it’s like time traveling gives characters the ability to defeat death.

2. Characters can fix a past mistake.

In the movie Timecop, police officer Max Walker is unable to prevent his wife and unborn child from being killed in a violent home invasion. The 20th century cop is no match for the group of thugs with futuristic weapons who surprise him in the night. Years later, he gets the chance to go back and make things right; he saves his family using his knowledge of the past as well as impressive kicking skills. We’ve all wondered what life would be like if we could go back and change something in the past, which is why it’s so satisfying to see characters get the chance to do so.

3. We get to see what life might be like in the future or what life was like in the past.

For years, writers have created compelling visions of what the future might be. Anyone who remembers what life was like before cell phones and the internet knows how fast technology is changing, and how much those changes affect our everyday lives. The chance to see what these changes might be is always interesting.  One of my favorite parts of Back to the Future part 2 is Marty’s experiences in the future Hill Valley. I’m still disappointed that hover boards haven’t been invented yet!

The flip side is equally interesting—looking back to see what life was like in the past and how people lived. One of the time travel manuscripts I read for Carina Press is a great example of this. In Ruth A. Casie’s time travel story, a woman travels back to 17th century England. I loved seeing what everyday life in an English manor house was like. The story shows how some aspects of our lives haven’t changed that much, while others seem very strange to a reader with “modern” sensibilities. The heroine found out just how different things were when she was attacked by a band of assassins: she was expected to cower in fear while the men took care of things. I don’t want to spoil the story, but I will say that this didn’t go over well with the feisty Rebecca, who holds a black belt.

While I was writing this post, I couldn’t help but remember a few of my favorite time travel stories. I love all three Back to the Future films, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure and especially Primer. My favorite time travel books include The Singing Stone by O. R. Melling, A Handful of Time by Kit Pearson, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J. K. Rowling, Once a Gambler by Carrie Hudson and a new favorite, Ruth A. Casie’s soon-to-be-retitled Carina Press book.

Did I miss any great time travel stories? What are your favorite time travel books and why do you like them?

Comments

  1. “Be excellent to each other.” I just watched Bill & Ted last weekend, and it holds up very well!

    (And Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is my favourite Harry Potter book because of the time travel. No contest.)

    Good post, Dana!

  2. Dana, perhaps you may be interested in a certain CBC series called “Being Erica”! ;) I loved “A Handful of Time.” Excellent post!

  3. Some of the most popular episodes of Star Trek (whatever series you prefer) are time travel stories. The City on the Edge of Forever (original series) and Yesterday’s Enterprise (The Next Generation) are classic.

    Great post!

  4. Loved Timeline by Michael Crichton. Also Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife is quite the crowd pleaser.
    P.s. One of these days I’ll read Days of Future Past all the way through!

  5. The Time Traveler’s Wife. I love this book because it’s so romantic. That scene near the end where Clare waits to meet Henry one last time…I’m tearing up just thinking about it.

  6. I can’t believe no one has mentioned the Outlander series yet…so I will. I love those books–so big and sprawling and rich with detail and appealing, believable characters.

    Though I’m also a fan of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, not to mention Doctor Who. I have any number of fantasies that begin with “the TARDIS appears,” and I’ve lost count of how often I’ve wished for Hermione’s Time-Turner.

  7. There’s Connie Willis’s DOOMSDAY BOOK. Anything and everything you wanted to know about Bubonic Plague in detail.

    Otherwise, I’m all for the various Star Trek time travel episodes, as well as the fourth movie to save the whales.

  8. I so love that you mentioned Timecop. The opening scene of that movie, where the guy appears in the Civil War era double-fisting submachine guns, is awesome.

    Doctor Who is always a good one for me, and I really enjoyed Crichton’s “Timeline.”

  9. I’m with Susanna on Outlander–after Clare leaves and then returns in the next book–all those years lost! SOB!!

    The other one I liked (not the whole movie, just part) was Peggy Sue Got Married. When she goes back and sees her grandparents. Bigger SOB!!!

  10. Vicki: I LOVE the Star Trek time travel episodes, particularly the ones featuring Mark Twain. The best part is when Picard and Guinan meet in the past: there’s this moment of recognition and she looks at him and says “Do you know me?” and then “Do I know you?” It’s amazing!

    Mel: Days of Future Past is definitely worth a second try. Any comic book store can direct you to the correct two issues. :)

    Susanna: Although I’ve heard of Outlander—I think that’s the origin of “There can be only one!”—I’ve never read it. I’ll have to add it to my to-be-read list.

    Thanks to everyone who posted comments!

  11. I’m with the Outlander gals PLUS I love Karen Marie Moning’s Highlander series. (Oh my God, Drustan!) The Highlander series, then the Fever series are must-reads if you like time travel and the Fae.

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