Edited by Michael A. Ventrella

Fantastic Books


284pp/$16.99/June 2022

Three Time Travelers Walk Into...
Cover by Lynne Hansen

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

In 1989, Robert Silverberg published the anthology Time Gate, which invited authors to bring two historical personages together and imagine their interactions. Silverberg's book used the conceit of a computer that was able to create hyper realistic simulations of the individuals rather than actually bring them together physically. Michael A. Ventrella has a similar concept in his latest anthology, Three Time Travelers Walk Into..., in which each author has been invited to bring three historical figures together through the use of time travel to imagine their interactions.

One of the earliest stories in the book, Lawrence Watt Evans' "The Jurors," touches on many of the themes of time travel. Watt-Evans has selected to bring together Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, General William Tecumseh Sherman, and F. Scott Fitzgerald together at the end of the twenty-first century as representatives of individuals who have experience with revolutions, either military or cultural. Although he glosses over many of the details, his focus is on the idea of these individuals coming to terms with living in their own future, far from the times and individuals they knew. Watt-Evans also looks at the idea of the creation of paradoxes and branching time streams, covering a lot of ground in a relatively short space, but in a satisfing manner.

Some of the stories bring three famous people together, but it isn't really clear that time travel is a necessity for the stories. Allen Steele's "Star Rat's Tale," set during a a 1979 Grateful Dead concert, is inspired by the back cover of their album Skeletons from the Closet. The time travelers in Steele's story are Marlon Brando, Jesus, and Caesar Romero, whose likenesses he states are on the album cover, although they don't make an appearance in the story. Similarly, Louise Piper's "The Greatest Trick" shows Vicki dealing with her father's death and being helped by French poet Charles Baudelaire, Canadian con artist Cassie Chadwick, and Martin Luther King, Jr., all summoned through the use of a Hindu singing bowl. Aside from the story's appearance in this book, there is little to demonstrate that the characters are time travelers rather than some form of Vicki's subconscious helping her deal with her loss.

Perhaps the most personal story of the novel is David Gerrold's ""Unfolding Time." Gerrold has elected to have two of his friends, Harlan Ellison and Dorothy (D.C.) Fontana as the time travelers, accompanied by a time traveling future version of Gerrold himself. Gerrold's story looks at the concept of the ethics behind a time traveler proactively killing mass murderers and the concept of the alternate history. The younger Gerrold has not yet managed to make his mark on the world and the future and has to decide if he will take up the mantle that his heroes, who he hasn't really met yet, including himself, want him to take on. Gerrold raises a lot of interesting points and doesn't quite have the time to fully explore them.

Time travel can often be an exercise in wish fulfillment, as it is in Keith DeCandido's "What You Can Become Tomorrow." DeCandido has selected to write about Mary Wollstonecraft, Josh Gibson, and Katherine Johnson, three people who were not fully appreciated during their lifetimes, although Johnson's story was already being more fully disseminated before her death in 2020. DeCandido gives short vignettes of all of their lives before pulling them together in the far future so they can be shown how they are remembered long after their deaths. A feel good nostalgia story, the point seems mostly to fulfill the wish that people, particularly these three people, could know the real difference they made in the world.

Heather McKinney offers a different type of wish fulfillment with "Cornwallis' Gift. Following the end of the American Revolution, General Charles Cornwallis sends a well-crafted box to George Washington, who discovers that it contains a genie. Washington's wishes cause the genie to bring Erzsebet Bathory and Michael Jackson to Mount Vernon. Beside being a story that related the cliched idea that wishes must be handled carefully, McKinney's story more deeply explores the changing mores. While Bathory's own actions were never considered nromal or mainstream, and McKinney has a reasonably wattered down version of her, Jackson's choreography causes more profound problems when introduced into late eighteenth century society.

The authors in Three Time Travelers Walk Into... have included a wide range of historical figures. In some cases, like Jonathan Maberry's "The Adventures of the Confounded Writer," they have a common bond, most authors have selected characters who seem quite disparate, throwing in individuals who do not seem to have anything in common, like Zora Neale Hurston, the Queen of Sheba, and Tituba in L. Penelope's "The Eternal Library," and seeing what kind of interaction that can have. While some of the stories are relatively light weight, the strongest stories begin to address a variety of isses around time travel, sometimes in the form of exploring the theoretical paradoxes, but also looking at the ethical ramifications that would arise from time travel.

Jody Lynn Nye In the Chocolate Bar
Lawrence Watt-Evans The Jurors
Allen Steele Star Rat's Tale
Henry Herz A Vampire, an Atrophysicist, and a Mother Superior Walk Into a Basilica
Louise Piper The Greatest Trick
Gail Z. Martin The Mystic Lamb
Gregory Frost Episode in Liminal State Technical Support, or Mr. Grant in the Bardo
L. Penelope The Eternal Library
David Gerrold Unfolding Time
S.W. Sondheimer Punching Muses
James A. Moore Wednesday Night at the End Time Tavern
Peter David A Christmas Prelude
Heather McKinney Cornwallis' Gift
Keith R.A. DeCandido What You Can Become Tomorrow
Hildy Silverman Nostradamus' Angels
Adam-Troy Castro The Last Act of the Time Cabaret
Eric Avedissian Never Meet Your Heroes
Jonathan Maberry The Adventure of the Confounded Writer
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