This content contains affiliate links. When you buy through these links, we may earn an affiliate commission.
Time travel novels have the uncanny ability to, well, straddle time. What I mean is that because they feature characters traveling between at least two different time periods, they inherently bridge those time periods. This can be really stimulating and entertaining.
This unique ability of time travel novels means that these books go back into the past or project into the future (or sometimes both). If you’re interested in spending a little more time thinking about this, please turn in the essay. Time Traveling Books: Historical Fiction or Speculative Fiction? a reading
And while many time travel novels often feature complex mechanisms for time travel (such as Charles Yu’s fascinating book). How to live safely in a science fiction universe), not all time travel requires a time machine. Take Octavia Butler’s Family members A true classic! Butler’s protagonist finds herself unintentionally thrust into the past at unpredictable moments in her life…an extremely dangerous situation for an African-American woman who continues to find herself in the antebellum South.
The future of literary time travel is as exciting as its past and present. You Can Expect Stephen Graham Jones’ “Historic Slasher” Comic Series divers to premiere this October. (By the way, some of Jones’s other books, like Ledfeather Y the bird is gone – also venture into time travel). No matter when you look for it, there is always a good time travel novel to be found.
long division by Kiese Laymon
Originally published in 2013, Kiese Laymon’s novel about racism through the decades is republished in 2021. It is the story of “City” Coldson, a teenager who spectacularly fails a nationally televised spelling bee. His timeline begins in 2013, but shortly after he’s sent to stay with his grandmother in a small southern town, things get…strange. Things take a metafictional turn for the character when he discovers a book called long division written in the 1980s by an author with the same name. And then 1964 comes along, and before you know it, Laymon has taken you on a wild ride that spans half a century and confronts racism throughout the years.
the mexican pilot by Alfredo Vea, Jr.
Simon Vegas bought a time machine in Vietnam… and has been trying to get it up and running ever since. Once he gets it working, things get really crazy really fast. Simon’s time machine has one focus: to seek out injustice and deliver its victims to a utopian life in the afterlife. There are a lot of famous names sprinkled in there, but the real focus of this novel is on questions of power (or, perhaps more accurately, powerlessness), compassion and humanity, and trauma and justice. Since it’s Alfredo Véa, Jr. doing the writing, there’s a masterful blurring of gender lines and the biggest question at the center of time travel: is it real, or is it all in Simon’s head?
an ocean of minutes by Thea Lim
This is a time travel novel that feels incredibly timely. It’s a book that already gave readers a lot to think about, but given its release a year before the COVID-19 pandemic, the global context adds another layer of meaning. It is 1981 and the United States is in the midst of a deadly pandemic. (Sound familiar?) Frank is sick, but in the future people will master time travel to try to subvert the pandemic. So Polly has hired her future to save him. Of course, when love and time travel happen, nothing goes right: their plan to meet at a certain time in a certain place is ruined when Polly is sent too far into the future. As Polly tries to find Frank, Lim’s novel asks deep questions about love, connection, and these difficult times we live in.
the girl from everywhere by Heidi Heilig
Nix is the daughter of a time traveler, and has apparently been everywhere at all times. It’s been a great adventure… but then her father sails into an uncertain past: the year before Nix was born in the place where she was born. The problem is that Nix’s mother died giving birth. The big question, then, is what her father intends to do when they arrive and when they leave. And Kash, Nix’s mischievous love interest, throws another key in the works. Heilig’s novel is very difficult to go down, and if you want the girl from everywherethe second book of the duology, The ship beyond timeis also available!
That’s how you lose the time war by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone
It’s almost impossible not to be at least mildly interested in a semi-epistolary novel co-written by the likes of Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone. Its unlikely protagonists are on opposite sides of a war: technology versus biology (obviously, I’m being a bit reductive). And yet…love. Despite the improbability of it all, despite the war they find themselves in, despite the very real danger their correspondence poses to each of them. Love.
the perish by Natashia Deon
This is an unconventional time travel novel, to be sure. For starters, the protagonist Lou is immortal. She is also apparently amnesiac, as he woke up in an alley with no recollection of his past. Set in Los Angeles during the Great Depression, the perish Follow Lou as she makes a name for herself and breaks down all kinds of barriers as a professional journalist. But then he makes a new friend and is shocked to discover that his face is one he has been drawing for years. Deon creates a riveting mystery that will have you pondering all sorts of ideas, big and small, long after you’ve finished the last page.
here and now and then by Mike Chen
How can you go wrong with a time travel novel starring a secret agent? I’d say you can’t. Kin Stewart is living the suburban lifestyle in San Francisco, but it’s not the suburbs he needs to be rescued from. It’s his life, which is a front as he waits for someone to come get him and bring him back to his real life a century and a half in the future. But it takes almost two decades for help to appear, and in the meantime, Kin has been living his life, with a wife and daughter. Chen’s novel is compellingly deep, exploring the many dynamics that define the self even as he entertains with his new take on time travel.
Miko Kings: An Indian Baseball Story by LeAnne Howe
miko kings it’s the oldest book on this list, but it’s a fascinating read. Howe’s novel follows an intriguing cast of characters as Oklahoma’s Native American baseball team, the Miko Kings, battle to win the championship. The year: 1907. Yes, that’s the same year in Oklahoma (most of which was officially known as indian territory) received statehood from the United States. With that political history lurking in the background, Hope Little Leader gets caught up in some events that are far more important than his role as the team’s pitcher. And then there is the strange and brilliant Ezol Day, whose theories about time intertwine with indigenous linguistics and epistemologies. This book has it all: conspiracy, romance, and political intrigue. To top it off, you’ll find some wonderfully non-standard textual elements here, like newspaper clippings and handwritten journal entries.
a bubble of time by Pepper Pace
What would you do if, at age 50, you suddenly found yourself reliving your high school years as your true 16-year-old self? That’s exactly what happens to Kenya Daniels in Pepper Pace’s hilarious and clever time travel novel. a bubble of time. She is 16 again, but with all of her half-century of lived experience alive and kicking in her memory. There’s a truly comical element here for anyone who lived through the ’80s, because it’s quite entertaining to follow Kenya as she’s forced to revisit the wild decade when she was younger. But Pace’s time travel novel is also at times thoughtful, poignant and unexpected.
Before the coffee gets cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi
What would you do if you could travel back in time? What if you could time travel, but only for a very short period and without the ability to change the present? In Toshikazu Kawaguchi’s time travel novel, there is a basement cafe in Tokyo where this is possible. But only from coffee. With these interesting time constraints, the café’s patrons (and staff) time travel for small but profound reasons. It’s a strikingly beautiful meditation on the little regrets we carry with us throughout our lives. If you are a fan of this book, you will be happy to know that it is the first part of a trilogy; coffee stories It came out two years ago and the third book, Before your memory fadesis scheduled for release this November!
the kingdoms by Natasha Pulley
the kingdoms it’s a wild ride! It’s as much historical fiction as it is a time travel novel. It begins with Joe Tournier’s confused arrival in 19th-century England, but this is a very different England from the one you may have learned about in history books: this England is a French colony. Shortly after his arrival, a mysterious postcard arrives. Not only is it written in English (a forbidden language in this alternate reality), but it is addressed to him. As Joe searches for answers, he travels to Scotland (also an alternate Scotland) and beyond. It’s an engaging read – if you’ve ever read Pulley’s other works, this won’t surprise you.