Some of the best time travel books are not actually about the concept or technological mechanisms of traveling through time. They are about the characters, their human natures imbued with a desire for adventure, love and a sense of belonging.
While challenging our perceptions of time and its linear form, the best time travel books tend to confirm and reinforce our understanding of the human condition.
It is the stories of people, their struggles, triumphs, pain and overcoming that transport us through the best tales. Time travel is not a genre of its own, it can be science fiction, speculative fiction, or historical fiction.
Equally it can cross genres and blend many different styles to create something unique. The following are some of the best time travel books for you to read this year.
The Time Machine was a novella written by H.G. Wells and published in 1895. It is credited with popularizing the idea of time travel via a machine that can be used to move purposefully and selectively through time.
In fact the term ‘time machine’ has since been used as a popular term for any vehicle or device used for this purpose in literature. The story tells of a scientist and inventor who is unnamed and is referred to as the Time Traveler.
He uses his newly built time machine to go forward into the future, to the year A.D. 802,701. He encounters two races of people, the small, childlike adults called Eloi and the Morlocks who are described as ape-like troglodytes who live underground.
These creatures steal his time machine, and he has to steal it back in order to return to his own time.
The Time Traveler’s Wife is both a love story and a science fiction novel. Henry, a librarian from Chicago was born with a rare genetic condition that causes him to travel unpredictably through time.
He meets Clare, an artist, in the library where he works when she is 20 years old, and he is 28. However, Clare has known him most of her life as he had traveled to where she lived in Michigan when she was six years old.
During that visit he gave her a list of the dates when he would appear so that she could have food and clothes ready for him as he always arrived naked. He also let slip that at some point in the future they would be married.
The book follows their struggle to maintain their relationship and also to conceive a child during Henry’s long and unpredictable absences.
The End of Eternity was written in 1955 and is firmly in the science fiction genre but with elements of a mystery thriller and love story as well. The premise of the book is a causal loop, a kind of temporal paradox in which events and their causes form a loop.
Andrew Harlan is an Eternal, meaning that he is one of the few who live in Eternity as an elite whose job it is to make carefully controlled changes to reality.
All of these changes are very carefully calculated and all are intended to be for the betterment of mankind. However, despite this noble intention every change comes with consequences and costs.
During one assignment Harlan meets Noÿs Lambert, a woman who lives in the real world, and he falls in love with her. When he learns that during the next Change she will cease to exist he risks everything to smuggle her into Eternity and save her.
Timeline begins with a man wandering in the desert speaking an unknown language and miles from civilization. Taken to a hospital he subsequently dies. An autopsy reveals he had unexplained abnormalities in his blood vessels.
His body is soon removed by ‘associates’ and cremated. Meanwhile in the Dordogne region of France an archaeological dig is underway. Puzzled by the detailed knowledge of the dig’s backers Professor Johnston returns to New Mexico to learn more.
While he is away his team finds a message from him that appears to be over 600 years old. Informed that their backers are using time travel technology they decide to go back in time to find the professor.
After arrival, they discover that he is being held by an English knight and is embroiled in a feud between his captor and a French commander. The team has to find a way to rescue the professor and get them all back home.
A Wrinkle in Time is a young adult fantasy novel that was written in the late 1950s and published in 1960. It tells the story of Meg Murry, her brother Charles Wallace Murry, and Calvin O’Keefe, a popular high school student.
After a mysterious stranger arrives at their home they embark on a journey through time to find Meg’s father. He was a scientist who disappeared while working for the government on the tesseract problem. A tesseract is a wrinkle in time.
The story deals with the struggle between good and evil as they struggle to fight The Black Thing that has intruded into several worlds.
L’Engle struggled to get the book published, being rejected by more than 25 publishers. She feels it was because the book was science fiction and had a female protagonist which was rare at the time.
Time and Again has been described by Stephen King as ‘THE greatest time-travel story’. When an advertising executive, Si Morley is offered the chance to join a secret government time travel operation he doesn’t hesitate.
His boring 20th century existence is something he won’t be sad to leave behind. Further motivation is provided by a half burned letter which tells of a mysterious death. More intriguingly it speaks of a ‘fire which will destroy the whole world’.
Morley arrives in New York City in 1882 and is met with a landscape so different from what he is used to seeing. Horse drawn sleighs, open air markets and the waterfront devoid of skyscrapers.
He likes what he sees, but then he meets a woman whom he falls in love with. Now he has to decide whether to stay in the past forever or return to modern life.
The Girl From Everywhere is the first of two time travel books by the author. It is the story of Nix, daughter of a time traveler who sails everywhere with him on his ship, The Temptation.
As long as he has a map her father can take them anywhere in time, modern day New York, 19th century Hawaii and other places that only form part of other people’s myths and legends.
But now her father has found the map he has been seeking, 1868 Honolulu the year before Nix’s mother died in childbirth. But what will happen if her father goes back and changes the past, will it erase her future and destroy all her plans and dreams?
This story blends history and fantasy with modern sensibilities. It’s witty, exciting and charts an enchanting romance between Nix and the dashing, Persian thief Kash. The book is described as Outlander meets Rae Carson.
Timebound is the first in The Chronos Files series of books. When sixteen-year-old Kate’s grandmother gives her an odd blue medallion and starts talking about time travel Kate assumes she is delusional.
But then a murder in the past brings everything to a terrifying reality and Kate now finds her very existence is threatened. All of a sudden the weird blue medallion is the only thing keeping her alive.
The 1893 murder is a part of something much bigger and more sinister than she imagined. Now her genetic ability to travel through time means she is the only one who can change the future.
Traveling back to the Chicago World’s Fair she is torn between preventing the murder and its consequences and the cost to her personally. If she changes time, the boy she loves will have no memory of her. Besides, does she really have the right to manipulate the fate of the world?
Sea of Tranquility features the stories of several characters who come from different timelines but who are inextricably linked together. Edwin crosses the Atlantic by steamship having been exiled from polite society.
Entering a forest in the Canadian wilderness he hears a violin being played, but it’s coming from an airship terminal! Two hundred years later an author is on a book tour traveling the earth, although she lives on a lunar colony.
A passage in her book tells of a man playing his violin in the corridor of an airship terminal as forest trees grow up all around him.
Gaspery-Jacques Robert is sent to investigate an anomaly in the North American wilderness and finds several lives upended.
The exiled son of a nobleman driven to insanity, a writer trapped on a pandemic ravaged earth and a childhood friend from the Night City. He now has to do something that will change the timeline of the universe forever.
The Accidental Time Machine follows Matthew Fuller, an MIT research assistant who during the course of his work accidentally creates a time machine. He begins jumping through time first in small increments and then in increasingly larger ones.
He arrives in 2252 where he learns that the Second Coming of Jesus has happened. Society is now a theocracy and there is no place for technology. He is appointed professor at MIT and is given a female assistant, Martha.
Jesus tells him to destroy the time machine, but instead he flees and ends up in Los Angeles in the year 4346. Society here is wealthy to the point of apathy. An artificial intelligence called La rules the city.
Intrigued by the time machine and her own mortality La wants to travel to the end of time to see if she can die. A complex but intriguing tale of time travel.
This story by Connie Willis is a wonderful blend of a time travel tale, Shakespearean comedy and mystery novel. Time traveler Ned Henry has made a deal with a rich dowager who has invaded Oxford University.
She will fund his time travel research in return for the rebuilding of Coventry Cathedral, destroyed by a Nazi bomb.
Now he spends his days shuttling back and forth between the 21st century and the 1940s searching for something called the Bishop’s birdstump. Just the latest in a long list of assignments from the dowager he finds himself in Victorian England.
He’d like to stay and have a rest, but he’s here to correct an incongruity created in error by his colleague Verity.
Now everything is beginning to fall apart, and the space time continuum hangs on a seance, the battle of Waterloo, a butler, a bulldog and most importantly the Bishop’s birdstump.
An Ocean of Minutes is an imaginative thriller with a dystopian narrative but infused with a wonderful love story. America is in the midst of a flu pandemic and Frank is infected. Polly will do whatever it takes to save the man she loves.
With time travel now possible and a cure for the flu in the future she agrees to become a bonded laborer on a one way trip to the future. In exchange Frank will be given the treatment he needs. They agree to meet in Texas in twelve years time.
But Polly is re-routed to a further five years in the future and arrives in a changed and divided country with no money or status. She now has to navigate this new life and try to find Frank. Is he alive and has their love endured?
From the master of science fiction, Time Enough For Love follows Lazarus Long through a myriad of worlds and timelines. This is the story of a man so in love with life that he will not stop living it.
Lazarus is actually a beneficiary of an experiment to increase mankind’s natural lifespan, he is now two thousand years old. The structure of the book takes the form of several novellas, tales that Lazarus is telling one of his descendants.
Having recounted his tales, Lazarus’ story returns to a more linear narrative. He moves to a new planet and establishes a polyamorous family, two of whom are female clones of himself.
In the last tale Lazarus attempts to go back to 1919 but instead lands in 1916. In the trenches of northern France he is mortally wounded but saved and returned to his own time.
The Anubis Gates is one of a kind in the genre of time travel novels. No one can quite get the mix of complex plot and believable story as balanced as Tim Powers. As a result the book is rightly lauded as being in a class of its own.
Coleridge scholar Brendan Doyle is hired to act as a guide to a group of millionaires on a time traveling voyage by J. Cochran Darrow. The group is brought back to 1810 to hear a lecture by Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
Everything goes to plan until Doyle is kidnapped. Now he finds himself trapped in Regency London, penniless and with dark forces trying to track him down.
Pursued by Egyptian sorcerers, and bands of beggars who want to learn the secrets of time travel, he has to learn how to survive on his own.
On November 22nd 1963 an event in Dallas, Texas changed the world forever. The assassination of John F. Kennedy would be a monumental moment for America and the entire globe. What if it could be stopped? What if JFK was never assassinated?
Jake Epping, an English teacher living in Maine reads a harrowing essay by one of his students. Asking them to describe an event that changed their lives forever Harry Dunning writes about the night his father killed his mother, and siblings.
It affects Jake deeply. Later his friend, Al tells Jake that he’s found a portal to another time, a particular day in 1958 in his storeroom. Al asks him to go back and stop Lee Harvey Oswald from firing those fatal three shots.
Thus begins Jake’s new life as George Amberson in a world of Ike, big American cars, and Elvis. But can he really change history?
Harper Curtis is a serial killer but one that travels across time seeking out very particular victims, the Shining Girls. When Curtis finds a key on his latest victim he finds that it unlocks a house containing random objects with girls’ names on them.
He believes that the house is telling him to kill these girls. All he has to do is take a copy of one of the objects and the key, and he can travel to any time between 1929 and 1993. So he begins his killing spree.
First he visits each future victim and leaves a token object with them. Curtis then jumps forward in time and kills the girl leaving a different girl’s token at the scene.
But one girl, left for dead, survives and pledges to track Curtis down with the help of the journalist who covered her own story.
What The Wind Knows is the story of Anne Gallagher, a woman who is mourning the loss of her beloved Irish grandfather. Traveling to his childhood home to scatter his ashes she is overcome with memories of him and is pulled into another time.
1921 is a dangerous time to be in Ireland. The country is on the precipice of a war of independence from British rule. But this is where Anne has woken up. She is disoriented and hurt but is receiving care from Dr. Thomas Smith.
This man is guardian to a young boy that seems strangely familiar to her. Mistaken as his long missing mother Anne decides to take on that identity believing the woman is somehow connected to her.
Drawn into the struggle and conflict for the country’s independence alongside Thomas she must decide if she can let go of the life she knew.
As part of the fantastic Discworld series, Night Watch is another spirited adventure from Terry Pratchett. While chasing a psychopath across the rooftops of Ankh-Morpork, patrol man Sir Sam Vimes finds himself lying naked in the street.
He’s been sent back thirty years in time thanks to a group of time-manipulating monks. To add insult to his injuries the psychopath has been sent back with him. Sam remembers this time all too well.
It’s the eve of a fabled street rebellion that saw the demise of some good, and not so good, men. He has a chance to change history and prevent it. But the cost to him could be high.
He may lose his title, his wife and the child that she’s carrying. On the positive side he could steer a young novice watchman in the right direction, a certain young copper called Sam Vimes.
Beyond the edge of the universe is a library which contains an infinite number of books. This is The Midnight Library and each book tells the tale of another reality.
One book contains the story of your life as it is now while another describes your life as it would have been if you had made different decisions. If we could see these stories would we think that any of these versions of our lives would have been better?
Nora Seed is facing that dilemma. She is confronted with the possibility of changing her life for a better one. Perhaps if she changed careers or undid some old break-ups or pursued her dreams her life would be more fulfilling.
As she journeys through the Midnight Library she has to decide what it is that makes life truly worth living in the first place. But will she make the right choice?
The Time Ships is an authorized sequel to the Time Machine by H.G. Wells, given the go-ahead by the Wells estate to mark the centenary of the original story.
This book takes up where the Wells story ended, with the Time Traveler packing his bags for a return to the future. But when he arrives he discovers that someone has altered the future.
The Eloi are no more and the Morlocks have built a Dyson Sphere around the sun. The traveler and a Morlock take a trip through time to find out what has happened. The rest of the novel describes their stops along the way.
An alternate World War, the Traveler’s younger years, and lots more. Although the story can be a little meandering it is still enjoyable. At the conclusion, the Traveler destroys the time machine so that history cannot be changed.
A love story that spans centuries, A Knight In Shining Armor is the tale of a modern woman and a 16th century knight.
Abandoned by her lover and his spoiled teenage daughter in an English churchyard Dougless Montgomery is left weeping alone on a tomb.
Suddenly a man appears before her, it is Nicholas Stafford, Earl of Thornwyck but according to the tomb Dougless is crying on he died in 1564.
Having unjustly been accused of treason, Stafford has come back to clear his name as well as his reputation. Strangely drawn to him and equally as intrigued, Dougless agrees to help him, and she is briefly led back to the 1560s.
Their adventures also take place in the modern world with the Earl having to adjust to the strange world he now finds himself in.
Lightning is the story of Laura Shane, born in the midst of a strange lightning storm. With the intervention of a mysterious stranger she is safely delivered, although her mother does not survive childbirth.
Years later, her father’s convenience store is being robbed, and again the stranger appears to protect her, accompanied by lightning yet again.
Some time later her father dies, and she is sent to an orphanage only to become the object of desire for a pedophile working there. She ends up in and out of foster homes, eventually spending her childhood in care.
As an adult, she becomes a writer, falls in love and gets married. After their son is born the stranger reappears to warn Laura of an impending accident.
How does this stranger know what’s going to happen to her? Where is he coming from to warn and protect her? And will she ever find out the truth?
This Time Tomorrow is the story of Alice Stern who is just about to turn 40. Her life is not the most exciting, but she has a job she likes, an apartment of her own and independence. But her father is dying, and she is not prepared for that loss.
Turning up drunk at his empty house in the middle of the night on her birthday, she ends up sleeping in the supply closet.
When she wakes up she’s in her childhood bedroom, no longer 40 but 16, she knows that the supply closet was actually a portal to another time.
She can hear her father in the house, younger, healthier and more vibrant than she had ever remembered him being. And she wonders if things could have been different from him and for her.
With each trip back in time, trying out new lives she realizes that perhaps some things just can’t be changed.
This is a novel published in 1973 about a young college student, Daniel who inherits a time traveling device from his uncle. With the time-belt on he jumps forward to meet his future self.
He continues moving through time, always encountering different versions of himself. Soon he realizes that he is no longer meeting versions of himself and that he has erased his childhood and early life through using the device.
As a result he uses the time-belt to jump back millennia and meets Diane, a female version of himself and she gets pregnant. Both want a child of the same gender as themselves and use technology to ensure this outcome.
Shortly after, they separate and Daniel raises his son in 1950s America. He spends a lot of his time at a 1999 house party with different versions of himself. In the end he leaves the time-belt to his son who is left deciding whether he should use it.
The Door Into Summer follows protagonist Dan Davis who has invented a household robot that will revolutionize everyday routine. But just as he is about to realize his dreams of wealth and success he is tricked by his partner and scheming fiancee.
Drugged and put into a ‘cold sleep’ or suspended animation for thirty years Dan wakes up in the year 2000. He knows no one, has no money and no job, he’s even lost his cat.
Taking a job at the company that now owns his old company he hears from a colleague about time travel. Befriending the scientist with the time machine he persuades him to send him back to 1970 before everything in his life went wrong.
But can he change his future by altering his past? And will it turn out any better?
Blake Crouch masters the genre of speculative fiction with his incredible novel, Recursion. The believability of the technology used in the story is key to the quality of the story, and he does this brilliantly.
An epidemic is spreading but with no known cause. It drives people insane with memories of lives they have never lived. And this is just the beginning, the first shock wave that is not just altering minds but perhaps the fabric of time itself.
Dr. Helena Smith is hoping to use technology to help Alzheimer’s patients retain their memories. Barry Sutton is a cop whose life is defined by the memories of the death of his daughter.
Together they have to find out what is happening, confront their enemy and do everything they can to stop it. If not the world could be caught in an ever-growing loop of chaos.
The story of the deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle is difficult to pigeonhole into one particular genre. Is it an Agatha Christie type whodunnit, a science fiction novel or a period drama? Actually it’s a little bit of each.
The story is replete with atmospheric tension while still having a technically intricate plot. A locked room mystery full of suspense and intrigue. During a celebratory party a young woman, Evelyn Hardcastle is killed.
She was the young and beautiful daughter of Blackheath house, and she doesn’t die just once. The day of her death will repeat over and over until Aiden, one of the party guests, can solve her murder.
The problem is that Aidan wakes up every day as a different guest at the party. And the only way to break the cycle is to identify the killer. But someone doesn’t want Aiden to ever leave Blackheath.
Beyond The Highland Mist is the story of a 16th century Scottish laird and a woman from modern day Seattle who is transported through time to teach him a lesson.
He is known for being fearsome on the battlefield and irresistible in the boudoir, but will he win her over? Brought to this strange world by the Queen of Fairy’s jester, Adrienne de Simone is determined to resist this man’s advances.
She has already been deeply traumatized by the man she thought she was going to marry and has sworn off men. But Hawk is equally determined to win her over.
He has a reputation for being able to seduce any woman, and he will not give in until she is his. Despite being coerced into marriage Adrienne is keeping him at arm’s length. Will he be able to break her resolve and seduce her as he has so many other women?
It is the eve of Armageddon and seven pilgrims are making their way to Hyperion to seek answers.
The interstellar empire of Hegemony is about to go to war with the Ousters and these seven have been chosen for the Final Shrike Pilgrimage to the Time Tombs.
The Shrike is a creature of extreme power who legend says will make itself known to a group of pilgrims and will kill all but one of them. To the survivor the creature will grant a gift.
The book is in the form of six stories, each a tale of one of the pilgrims except one who does not share his story. Each tale is the explanation of who the pilgrim is and their motivation for the pilgrimage.
According to the author the book is meant to be read with The Fall of Hyperion as one story,
As she prepares to celebrate her 19th birthday and ring in the New Year, Oona Lockhart finds herself in her fifty one-year-old body. She is now thirty two years in the future and discovers that on every birthday she will randomly leap into a different age.
Still young on the inside but always changing on the outside she has to learn to live a life that is out of order. But not necessarily broken. She gets glimpses of what her future will be and thinks she knows what is coming but having a normal life is challenging.
Not knowing what the next year will bring makes having plans impossible. Will she be a world traveler, a nineties club kid or a wealthy philanthropist?
But isn’t that what not taking life for granted is about? Shouldn’t we live for the moment and not the future when we don’t know what or even if it will be?
Best Time Travel Books Buyer’s Guide
When choosing a good time travel book, look for an author that has written this kind of book before. Someone like Robert A. Heinlein who is well known for science fiction is a safe bet for a good read as is Terry Pratchett if you like your time travel achingly funny.
Authors dipping into time travel as a hook for a wider readership may not be the best choice but even debut novelists can get it right. The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger is a case in point.
Time travel stories typically fall into science fiction purely because of the nature of the subject.
A tale such as Recursion by Blake Crouch features technology that is so believable that it has been described as doing for memory what Inception did for dreams.
However, time travel can also draw on many genres to produce something special such as The 7 ½ Deaths Of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton.
Some books from the last century may seem redundant to the genre now in the face of increased knowledge of science, technology and its applications. But as we have seen it isn’t always about the science.
While scientific knowledge increases, human nature remains mostly the same and this is what draws readers in and keeps them interested.
Choosing the best time travel book is impossible as everyone will look for something different to draw from the story. But there is definitely at least one time travel tale that will satisfy most readers interested in this particular type of storytelling.
Nevertheless I hope this selection will inspire you to delve into some of these fantastic stories and that you will find one or two that will transport you far from your everyday life and time.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Is The Oldest Story About Time Travel?
Perhaps the oldest story about time travel is The Clock That Went Backwards by Edward Page Mitchell.
It appeared in the New York Sun in 1881. However, H.G. Wells’ Time Machine is probably the oldest and best known story of time travel. It was published in 1895.
What Genre Is A Time Travel Book?
Time travel books can fit into the genres of science fiction, fantasy, and mystery depending on the extent to which time travel features in the story.
How Many Time Travel Theories Are There?
There are three theories of time travel. The fixed timeline means that if someone travels back in time the future they left cannot be changed. The dynamic timeline allows for altered events in the past to affect the future. A multiverse supports alternate timelines.