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Bewildering Stories

Harry Turtledove and Martin H. Greenberg, eds.,
The Best Time Travel Stories of the 20th Century

reviewed by Danielle L. Parker

The Best Time Travel Stories
of the 20th Century
Author: Harry Turtledove
and Martin H. Greenberg
Publisher: Del Ray, 2005
Hardcover: $17.95 US
Length: 303 pages
ISBN: 0-345-46094-4

Just in time for our “Time Travel” story contest here at Bewildering Stories, Turtledove’s new The Best Time Travel Stories of the 20th Century fell into my hands. It was too good of an opportunity to miss.

Turtledove interprets “time travel” in the narrow sense, which is to say, he excludes alternate history stories, which are apparently collected in a separate Del Ray anthology (see the companion volume, The Best Alternate History Stories of the 20th Century). Hopefully, both Randall Garrett’s classic Lord Darcy series and Orson Scott Card’s excellent Alvin Maker stories are represented in that latter volume, as otherwise I would seriously beg to differ with Turtledove’s definition of “best.” (I also highly recommend Andre Norton’s classic The Crossroads of Time and Quest Crosstime adventure novels).

But Best Time Travel Stories liberally represents other famous names, of course, most from the classic “golden age” of science fiction. In fact, so few new writers are represented in the anthology that it raised the question in my mind as to whether the perennially-popular time travel theme has lost its appeal for modern writers — or readers. Nancy Kress, Connie Willis and John Kessel are probably some of the more “recent” writers listed; others, such as Roger Zelazny, are already reposing in the crypt. Ah, there’s a time travel conceit for you: go back and time and beg another story from one of those R.I.P. favorite authors. Roger, Gregory Betancourt never did Amber as well as you! 1970, here I come!

The best stories in the collection exemplify those old adages of superior writing: good characterization and tight plotting. In these stories, the time travel twist is secondary and certainly never used as a gimmick (as it tends to be, in many of the humorous spins on the theme).

No particular story was especially outstanding compared to the others to me, but I’d like to draw attention to “Fire Watch,” by Connie Willis, which is a tale of heroism and heart. Equally good is Poul Anderson’s “The Man Who Came Early,” a bittersweet tale of a man who slips in the past and finds he really doesn’t fit in at all. My last favorite was Nancy Kress’s “The Price of Oranges,” which shows us that the real past is no more rosy than our apparently harsh present.

And of course any story by Ray Bradbury (“A Sound of Thunder”) has to be among the best in a collection; Bradbury also writes a dinosaur hunting tale, but it’s far more evocative than de Camp’s riff on the same topic.

Readers who like to sprinkle their fantasy with a little scientific leavening may wrap up their time travel expedition by perusing either J. Richard Gott’s Time Travel in Einstein’s Universe: The Physical Possibilities of Travel through Time or James Brennan’s Time Travel: A New Perspective. Gott is a Princeton astrophysicist, and if he can envision time travel in the Baedecker or Mobil Travel Guide format with a straight face, so can you. Crank up the computer and start your imagination engine. I’ll look for your story in our Time Travel contest!

Copyright © 2006 by Danielle L. Parker

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