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So What's The Time Travel Story You Love Most?

I don’t usually have a single favourite anything, but for this one there actually is a definite answer. Book, movie, radio broadcast, cave painting, whatever.... what’s yours?

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There’s been so many that I’m a fan of. Some are done better than others. Some standouts for me would be Primer, Somewhere in Time (from Bid Time Return also by Richard Matheson), Time Bandits, Donnie Darko, Slaughterhouse Five and Timequake by Vonnegut, Lightning by Dean Koontz, Predestination (and of course - All You Zombies - by Heinlein which inspired it), and quite a few others.... but the one that stands above all others for me is Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife.

Chicago librarian Henry De Tamble suffers from a rare genetic disorder that causes him to drift uncontrollably back and forth through time. On one of his sojourns, he meets the love of his life, Claire, and they marry. But the problems and complexities of any relationship are multiplied by Henry’s inability to remain in one time and place, so that he and his beloved are continually out of sync.

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Illustration for article titled So Whats The Time Travel Story You Love Most?

It gets written off all too often as “chick lit” which is both wrong and more than a little condescending. Yes, a relationship is at the center of the story, but it’s hardly a Harlequin Romance novel (and even if it was, why is that only the purview of women? I’ve known more than a few dudes into those as well.) What it is is a solidly constructed sci-fi story that focuses on what the psychological effects and ramifications would be for the people involved in that scenario.

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I think Niffenegger must’ve had a a giant spreadsheet somewhere because there’s a great deal of complexity involved with the jumps that Henry makes and who’s how old at what point in history and how many versions of a character might be present. And the very impressive trick she pulls off is making it very easy to follow and keep track of despite that complexity. Primer is the only other story I’ve come across that handles the intricacies of time travel at this level without making a mistake, and I believe that’s quite a bit more difficult to follow.

She also does an excellent job of fleshing out the characters out with real, multi-faceted personalities and reactions as well as various little details that you can guess are the things that interest her in life like papermaking and the music choices. They’re not always likable, just like people tend to be. And it’s very realistic in its depictions of how things like separation and absence can affect a relationship as well as the effects of repeated trauma.

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She says she’s working on a sequel now, which I’d love to read just to see which direction she chose to go in because of the way the story ends. It’s definitely doable. And there’s the movie that Brad Pitt produced after quickly scooping up the rights when he read it. Eric Bana and Rachel McAdams (in her third time travel movie) do a good job as Henry and Claire, but the movie is far better enjoyed after reading the book so your mind fills in all the missing details. Otherwise, it’s just an okay movie at best.

It’s not for everyone (though I have noticed in all the years it’s come up in conversations I’ve been around that its detractors are almost always from one particular personality type,) but I’ve enjoyed the hell out of it multiple times. I think it’s an enjoyable read and well thought out sci-fi story with a substantial emotional payoff.

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Illustration for article titled So Whats The Time Travel Story You Love Most?
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Also, if you’d like a variety of stories then check out this collection of stories edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer.


And Charlie Jane had some excellent suggestions in here as well:

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