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REVIEW: The Best Time Travel Stories of All Time

REVIEW SUMMARY: A better-than-average anthology.


BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Anthology of 15 time travel stories.

PROS: Some memorable stories that use time travel to very good effect (and not just a plot device to relocate a story)
CONS: Some glaring, but understandable, omissions. Mostly useless story intros.
BOTTOM LINE: Recommended for anyone who likes a good time travel story.

With a bold title like The Best Time Travel Stories of All Time, you can bet that the book will fail to live up to the hype. For one thing, the term “best” is purely subjective. What’s great for me might not (and most likely will not) be great for you. Secondly, the editor of such a collection would need to secure publishing rights to all of those stories. Thirdly, the sum of printed pages cannot exceed a reasonable amount if only one book is to be published.

So it’s no surprise that, to anyone other than the editor, not all of these stories are the best of the best. However, even with the marketing fluff title, this book does contain more science-fictiony goodness than your average anthology.

SF author Barry N. Malzberg has collected a fine assortment of tales, although there are some obvious omissions, most notably “By His Bootstraps” by Robert A. Heinlein, a story absence made all the more glaring sine Malzberg mentions it in the book’s introduction. Thanks for the tease, Barry. And one other thing: The story intros, alas, add almost nothing to the collection. In fact, sometimes they were incomprehensible.

Standout stories in the collection include “The Battle of Long Island” by Nancy Kress, “Hall of Mirrors” by Fredric Brown, “3 RMS, Good View” by Karen Haber, “Brooklyn Project” by William Tenn and “Hawksbill Station” by Robert Silverberg.

Reviewlettes follow.


  1. “The Battle of Long Island” by Nancy Kress [1993 short story] (Rating: 4.5/5 ) [Read 10/07/04]
    • Synopsis: An army nurse of 2001 helps victims of the 1776 Battle of Long Island between American colonists and the British. Wounded soldiers arrive through “the Hole”, an unexplained anomaly that mysteriously appeared in the park. The nurse must work with her estranged father who was put on truial for child molestation of his 4-year-old daughter.
    • Review: Excellent and poignant story. The writing style is both powerful and very palatable. The time travel aspects of the story deal with altered timelines, but only in an ancillary fashion. The historical aspects of the story did nothing for me.
  2. “The Man Who Came Early” by Poul Anderson [1956 novelette] (Rating: 3.5/5 ) [Read 10/08/04]
    • Synopsis: A US Army sergeant stationed in Iceland is transported back to the 10th century and the time of Vikings.
    • Review: Good story entirely set in the past and told from the point of view of the land owner. Time travel is just used a gimmick here for this fish out of water story. Eventually, a rival for affections of the farmer’s daughter forces the use of the sergeants’ gun.
  3. “Forever to a Hudson Bay Blanket” by James Tiptree, Jr. [1972 short story] (Rating: 1.5/5) [Read 10/09/04]
    • Synopsis: Dov Rapelle is visited by Loolie, a time jumper from the future who says she is in love with him.
    • Review: Disappointing because Tiptree (real name: Alice Sheldon), who is usually a first-rate writer, has the characters suddenly saying things that have nothing to do with the strange situation in which they find themselves. One interesting idea is the time jumpers being able to occupy their own bodies from another time.
  4. “Anachron” by Damon Knight [1954 short story] (Rating: 3.5/5 ) [Read 10/10/04]
    • Synopsis: A scientist invents a time bubble allowing him to retriev items from the past, but they disappear when the bubble becomes cloudy. When the scientist disappears, his brother uses the time bubble for his own personal gain.
    • Review: Interesting story, reads like a Victorian-style Shakespeare novel with its verbiage and tragedy. A lot of paradox talk.
  5. “On the Nature of Time” by Bill Pronzini & Barry N. Malzberg [1981 vignette] (Rating: 4/5 ) [Read 10/10/04]
    • Synopsis: A man invents a time machine in order to study the nature of the paradox, an experiment he carries out by killing his father before he himself was conceived.
    • Review: Good story, but short.
  6. “A Little Something for Us Tempunauts” by Philip K. Dick [1974 novelette] (Rating: 4/5 ) [Read 10/10/04]
    • Synopsis: Three time travelers become stuck in a time loop, forever repeating the same sequence of events. This story deals with a single traversal around the loop.
    • Review: Great premise, excellent writing, but I’m not sure how ensuring the deaths of the tempunauts will break the loop since they died within the loop that they are in – they are not changing anything.
  7. “Ripples in the Dirac Sea” by Geoffrey A. Landis [1988 short story] (Rating: 3/5 ) [Read 10/11/04]
    • Synopsis: A scientist tests his time travel on himself before the rules are completely understood (can travel only to the past; nothing can be brought forward; you cannot change the future). He is fated to die in a hotel fire except he postpones if repeatedly with the machine, forever inching closer to his doom.
    • Review: Good story, structured in three threads that slowly fit the puzzle pieces together. Even with the enjoyably dark mood of the piece, the time travel rules seem a bit contrived to support the situation.
  8. “Hall of Mirrors” by Fredric Brown [1953 short story] (Rating: 5/5 ) [Read 10/11/04]
    • Synopsis: Math professor Norman Hastings suddenly finds himself in a dark closet – a time machine that has transported him 50 years into the future (from 1954 to 2004). He learns that he is to be come caretaker of the machine until humanity is ready to use it properly and without harm.
    • Review: Excellent, well-written story even though the surprise about who sent him to the future was a bit predictable.
  9. “3 RMS, Good View” by Karen Haber [1990 short story] (Rating: 4.5/5 ) [Read 10/13/04]
    • Synopsis: Christine rents a San Francisco apartment in downtime (the past). She signs an agreement to not interfere with history; to do so would break the law.
    • Review: Excellent, well-told story. It had some cool time travel situations. Christine commutes to “realtime” to work and goes back to downtime to live. While in her 1960’s apartment, she meets her hippie neighbors who have a young daughter named Rainbow. Eventually, Christine must decide if she is to interfere with Rainbow’s life.
  10. “Time Trap” by Charles L. Harness [1948 novelette] (Rating: 3/5 ) [Read 10/13/04]
    • Synopsis: Troy is enlisted by a band of rebels to kill someone, is tried for the crime, is found not guilty with the help of a mysterious lawyer, and is subsequently kidnapped to help protect the life a creature known as the Outcast.
    • Review: Strong start with the courtroom scene, the secret plots and the mysterious stranger (although not really so mysterious since we know from the title and the anthology theme that this is a time travel story). But then the story turns into some sort of biological diatribe about why Troy has a “life aura” around him (things cannot die in his presence – an intriguing idea that leads to a weird scene with an un-decapitated cat). His aura stems from his “vitons”. Vitons? Maybe this is where Lucas got the idea for midichlorians. Overall a good story, but could have (and should have) been way better.
  11. “Brooklyn Project” by William Tenn [1948 short story] (Rating: 5/5 ) [Read 10/17/04]
    • Synopsis: At a press conference in the security conscious future, a scientist begins a time travel experiment in which two devices (“chronars”) pendulum into the past and the future; the past chronar takes pictures, the future chronar is there for balance. The theory that the past cannot be changed is tested.
    • Review: Excellent story and quick read. The reader finds that the past does indeed change by the fact that the scene keeps morphing with every bounce of the chronars as they reconnect in the present before heading off again, pendulum style, in the less-distant past/future.
  12. “Timetipping” by Jack M. Dann [1975 short story] (Rating: 2/5) [Read 10/19/04]
    • Synopsis: A Jewish man resists the urge to go “timetipping” – time travel initiated by sheer will – as people around him are periodically replaced by versions of themselves from other time lines.
    • Review: Some really great time travel ideas: time is treated like a flowing river, passing by the steadfast Paley Litwak as things change. But the story didn’t seem to go anywhere and had not much to say. So, it did not do much for me.
  13. “The Chronology Protection Case” [Phil D’Amato] by Paul Levinson [1995 novelette] (Rating: 4/5 ) [Read 10/19/04]
    • Synopsis: A hard-boiled, noir-ish detective story in which New York City forensics detective Phil D’Amato investigates the mysterious disappearance of a physicist who was working on a secret project. The physicist was working on a wormhole that allowed communication through time. But, by Stephen Hawking’s Chronology Protection Conjecture, the universe will prevent anything which might cause it’s own destruction.
    • Review: Very good and engrossing story. Time travel does not play a prominent roll in the picture other than to make a bad guy out of the anthropomorphic “Universe” which will apparently stop at nothing to protect itself, not even causing the multiple deaths of the physicist team working on the secret project. The solution to avoiding the same fate, while logical, was a bit anticlimactic.
  14. “Hawksbill Station” by Robert Silverberg [1967 novella] (Rating: 4.5/5 ) [Read 10/23/04]
    • Synopsis: Political prisoners from the late 2020’s are sent to Hawksbill Station, a prison camp created 2 billion years in the past. The daily drudgery of the camp is dislaced by the arrival of a mysterious newcomer.
    • Review: Excellent and dark story. Slow to get going, but worth the time it took to build the world. Fortunately light on politics. The portrayal of Barrett, leader of the prison camp who is slowly losing his hop and his sanity, was also very well done.
    • Note: Finalist for the 1968 Hugo and Nebula awards.
  15. “Time Travelers Never Die” by Jack McDevitt [1996 novella] (Rating: 4/5 ) [Read 10/24/04]
    • Synopsis: A pair of time travelers use their secret time travel watch devices to experience famous historical happenings. Thanks to the causality of time travel, one of them dies…twice. The other, with the help of a woman who completes a love triangle, must fix the paradox before the current time line is destroyed.
    • Review: very good and well-written story. The first part of the story is more of a murder mystery with no time travel. Then, when the time travel parts kick in (various jaunts into the past) with the paradox cleanup that follows, you feel like your getting three stories in one.
About John DeNardo (13012 Articles)
John DeNardo is the Managing Editor at SF Signal and a columnist at Kirkus Reviews. He also likes bagels. So there.

4 Comments on REVIEW: The Best Time Travel Stories of All Time

  1. They don’t have H.G. Wells in there? The granddaddy of them all, the touchstone, the primal ooze of all time travel stories?

    False advertising!!!!

  2. there is a short story somewhere out there about a guy who is caught in a storm on lake st. clair, in michigan; he washes up on the shore 75 years earlier and thru some process is involved with henry ford in a car versus horse race; at the same time he falls  in love with a girl who he then loses in a  storm on lake st. clair and when he washes up on the beach after the storm he is back in his own time and meets the great grand daughter of the woman he had fallen in love with in the past. anyway i loved the story, it was published in an anthology of short stories but i can’t remember the title. anybody have a clue as to the title? i have been to numerous sites and nobody seems to know of this book.


    I read a book maybe as long as 20 years ago about a girl who saw “crying ladies” as a portent to the death of someone she cared about. I don’t recall the particulars, but she went back in time to when these ladies were the mothers of two soldiers, one norman and one saxon and if I’m not mistaken they were both killed in the battle of hastings. Any clue who wrote it or who published it? Its been making me nuts for at least 10 years.V

  4. Harry Blanchard // December 31, 2009 at 1:48 pm //

    I too think Wells is an obligatory choice for best time travel, but his story is a novel not a short story. I can think of many novels that would / should make anyone’s list, e.g. David Gerrold’s The Man Who Folded Himself and Stephen Baxter’s The Time Ships, but also, I assume the book has no room for a full novel.

    What I’d be dismayed or surprized as not in the list is Ray Bradbury’s The Sound of Thunder – a short story – the grandfather of the major theme of most all time travel stories (time stream changes). And a good story to boot.

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