Edited by Ann & Jeff VanderMeer



960pp/$25.99/March 2014

Time Traveler's Almanac

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

Containing seventy-two stories about travel through time, Ann and Jeff VanderMeer’s The Time Traveler’s Almanac is an essential book for anyone who has an interest in time travel.  Reading the book involves its own sort of time travel, since it takes the reader from 1881, when Edward Page Russell published “The Clock That Went Backward,” to 2012, when Adrian Tchiakovsky’s “The Mouse Ran Down” was published.  Along the way, the reader is introduced to flights of time by such luminaries as Michael Moorcock, Connie Willis, Nalo Hopkinson, and the granddaddy of  time travel authors, H. G. Wells.

While the quintessential time travel story may involve a character climbing into a time machine and traveling to the future or the past, as happens in Wells’ The Time Machine, many of the time-slipping tales included by the VanderMeers are more subtle in their nature.  In some cases, the question of whether a person actually traveled in time or is merely hallucinating is left open, or not even addressed, as with Gene Wolfe’s “Against the Lafayette Escadrille” in which the hobbyist narrator builds a replica World War I Fokker triplane and encounters a balloon, possibly out of time, during one of his flights.  Although Wolfe’s narrator believes the balloon, and its female passenger, are from the Civil War, the possibilities that she is a similar hobbyist or even a figment of the narrator’s imagination are just as likely.

In other cases, time travel is achieved through strange natural phenomenon, such as the recurring storms in Tony Pi’s “Come-From-Aways,” which posits a shipwrecked man on the coast of Newfoundland, possibly an ancient Celtic mariner.  Pi explores the ramifications of such a person showing up with the reactions of the police, scientists, and linguists called in to determine who the man is and where he comes from.  In the end, the linguist is convinced, not only of his authenticity, but of his identity as the Welsh Prince Madoc, who disappeared on a voyage in 1170.

Pi’s Madoc slips through time without his own volition, something that often happens in these stories.  Rosaleen Love’s “Alexia and Graham Bell” is an intriguing story of cause and effect as Alexandre Graham Bell fails to invent the telephone, although his descendent, Graham Bell, does.  The belated invention reverberates through time, causing people to lose track of their own history, eventually coming to believe that the telephone did exist since Bell’s time.  Richard Matheson presents “Death Ship.”  Given Matheson’s close relationship with The Twilight Zone, it isn’t surprising that his time travel story about the crew of a spaceship feels like it could easily have been an episode of that show.

Although Theodore Sturgeon’s story “Yesterday Was Monday” predates The Truman Show by 57 years, the two stories both take Shakespeare’s dictum from As You Like It, “All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players” and took it literally. In Sturgeon’s tale, one of the players, the mechanic Harry Wright, accidentally misses his cue and learns what is going on behind the scenes, in the process skipping from Monday to Wednesday.  Not entirely a time travel story, but rather an existential look at our lives and how we interact with our world.

One of the themes often explored in time travel stories is the question of “What If,” which also provides the title for Isaac Asimov’s included story, in which a husband and wife have the opportunity to explore how their lives would have been different had they not met.  While their occasion comes from a chance encounter during a dull train ride, Harry Turtledove’s look at the same theme is much more planned.  Turtledove’s two stories, “Forty, Counting Down” and  “Twenty-One, Counting Up” were originally published simultaneously in Asimov’s and Analog and both tell the story of Justin Kloster, who is trying to improve his life.  One of the stories is told from the point of view of the 21 year old Kloster whose whole life is ahead of him, the other from the same character’s point of view 19 years later, as he comes back in time to try to fix the mistakes he believes he made. Although the stories can be read separately, they work best when read together, and the VanderMeers, fortunately, had enough space in this massive anthology to include both.

Time travel is a trope that can be used for a variety of types of stories and to explore different themes.  Tamsyn Muir’s “The House That Made Sixteen Loops of Time” could have been written as a horror tale in the hands of someone like Matheson or Bloch, but Muir uses the story of a possibly sentient house that creates a time loop to explore relationships and the question of whether the main character, Dr. Rosamund Tilly, has made the best possible choices for her, by allowing her multiple chances to look at her history, her current situation, and make the “right” choice for her future.

The remaining stories in this anthology offer a variety of takes on time travel, running the full gamut of the science fiction, fantasy, and horror fields, allowing any reader to find something of interest and even the most widely read reader to find something previously unknown.  The VanderMeers include classic time travel stories, including an excerpt from Wells’s book, as well as stories from up-and-coming authors, reaching beyond the borders of America to Canadian, British, Australian, and even French writers for their tales through time.

Richard Matheson Death Ship
Geoffrey A. Landis Ripples in the Dirac Sea
Robert Silverberg Needle in a Timestack
Ursula K. Le Guin Another Story, or A Fisherman of the Inland Sea
Alice Sola Kim Hwang's Billion Brilliant Daughters
Eric Schaller How the Future Got Better
Michael Moorcock Pale Roses
William Gibson The Gernsback Continuum
C.J. Cherryh The Threads of Time
Michael Swanwick Triceratops Summer
Steve Bein The Most Important Thing in the World
Cordwainer Smith Himself in Anachron
H. G. Wells The Time Machine
Douglas Adams Young Zaphod Plays It Safe
Ray Bradbury A Sound of Thunder
Henry Kuttner & C.L. Moore Vintage Season
John Chu Thirty Seconds from Now
Harry Turtledove Forty, Counting Down
David Langford The Final Days
Connie Willis Fire Watch
Kage Baker Noble Mold
George R. R. Martin Under Siege
Steven Utley Where or When
Ellen Klages Time Gypsy 
Garry Kilworth On the Watchtower at Plataea
Rosaleen Love Alexia and Graham Bell
Kage Baker A Night on the Barbary Coast
Elizabeth Bear This Tragic Glass
Georges-Olivier Châteaurenaud The Gulf of the Years
Max Beerbohm Enoch Soames: A Memory of the Eighteen Nineties
Edward Page Mitchell The Clock That Went Backward
Theodore Sturgeon Yesterday Was Monday
Kim Newman Is There Anybody There?
Joe Lansdale Fish Night
Gene Wolfe The Lost Pilgrim
Peter Crowther Palindromic
Karin Tidbeck Augusta Prima
Barrington J. Bayley Life Trap
Greg Egan Lost Continent
Adrian Tchaikovsky The Mouse Ran Down
Langdon Jones The Great Clock
David I. Masson Traveller's Rest
Vandana Singh Delhi
Tony Pi Come-From-Aways
Dean Francis Alfar Terminós
Norman Spinrad The Weed of Time
Eric Frank Russell The Waitabits
Isaac Asimov What If
Tanith Lee As Time Goes By
Geoffrey A. Landis At Dorado
Karen Haber 3 RMS, Good View
Harry Turtledove Twenty-One, Counting Up
Bob Leman Loob
Tamsyn Muir The House that Made the Sixteen Loops of Time
Gene Wolfe Against the Lafayette Escadrille
Carrie Vaughn Swing Time
Richard Bowes The Mask of the Rex
Nalo Hopkinson Message in a Bottle
Adam Roberts The Time Telephone
Kristine Kathryn Rusch Red Letter Day
Rjurik Davidson Domine
E. F. Benson In the Tube
Molly Brown Bad Timing
Pamela Sargent If Ever I Should Leave You
Charles Stross Palimpsest

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