Updated: Jul 29
Timey Wimey Wibbly Wobbly
Ever heard the saying “A Trip in Time Saves Nine?” No? Oh, well, I must have accidentally altered the timeline… oh, rats, it’s now “A stitch in time?” How does that make sense?
Well, that’s what happens when you mess with the timeline, I suppose!
This blog post has been written in the past to be viewed by you so that you, lovely future-reader, can select your time-bending, time-twisting, multiverse madness read of all time!
It’s time spent wisely, I promise you…
Let’s go through the common time-travel tropes. I promise this list won’t be massively exhaustive, but it won’t be exhausting to read. If it is, just use a time turner and nap for three hours. Done!
Jump in my time machine with me!
The first epoch
I tried to go back in time to the first instances of time travel being used in stories.
Some ancient myths depict a character skipping forward in time. In Hindu mythology, the Vishnu Purana mentions the story of King Raivata Kakudmi, who travels to heaven to meet the creator Brahma and is surprised to learn when he returns to Earth that many ages have passed. The Japanese tale of "Urashima Tarō", tells of a young fisherman named Urashima-no-ko who visits an undersea palace. After three days, he returns home to his village and finds himself 300 years in the future, where he has been forgotten, his house is in ruins, and his family has died (gaaaaasp!)
Time travel is usually associated with sci-fi, but it’s much broader than that. Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol (1843) has early depictions of mystical time travel in both directions, as the protagonist, Ebenezer Scrooge, is transported to Christmases past and future. Other stories employ the same template, where a character naturally goes to sleep, and upon waking up finds themself in a different time.
One of the first stories to feature time travel by means of a machine that I found was "The Clock that Went Backward" by Edward Page Mitchell, which appeared in the New York Sun in 1881. However, the mechanism borders on fantasy. It's about an unusual clock, when wound, runs backwards and transports people nearby back in time.
For me, once we got into special relativity era in physics, boy howdy, now every man and his dog is into closed timeline curves (spacetime loops, don’t cha know, where you can return to a point in your past), and that really starts to fire the imagination for time travel!
Types of Time Travel
In my journey, I’ve come across a few time travel methods (aka sub-genres). I’ll give you the run down of a few of my favourites and, just like I can, you can skip forward in time to the tropes that interest you the most for a run down of the best Young Adult and New Adult books I've found for this feature!
CHOOSE YOUR ADVENTURE!
Probably the most automatically recognisable as time travel because there's a machine or mechanism that enables the travel, and off the characters go. Usually the tropes we find here are about the ethical questions around time travel: is it right to mess with the timeline? If you know what's going to happen, can you even avert it without messing up everything like a kitten with a ball of yarn? Can you even change anything, or will the timeline reset itself?
There's sometimes a juicy ethical dilemma or two, about saving lots of people versus one or two special ones. Many times it's about struggling to get back, in true Back to the Future style!
Most of all, the prevailing trope is "fish out of water": the characters are confronting new things for the first time and getting to grips with how things used to be or how they function now.
Sometimes the mechanism of how they time travel is just as interesting as the journeys they make (anyone else think the Tardis is practically its own character?)
Shows that feature this sort of trope include Dr Who and Back to the Future.
The Oxford Time Travel Series by Connie Willis
An oldie but goodie, the Oxford Time Travel series is about an Oxford College (Balliol, of course) who allow their students to go for jaunts in time to learn more about human society and anthropology. The characterisation is absolutely superb, and I highly recommend them for people who like tongue-in-cheek British humour and a less romantically-driven storyline. But what really sets this series apart is the research. I genuinely felt like I was in London during the Blitz and, even though the students know what's going to happen when, they still can't be prepared for every eventuality...
Connie Willis has won more major sci-fi awards than Philip K. Dick, Arthur C. Clarke, and Isaac Asimov combined. You know, just saying...
You can read them in any order (apart from Blackout and All Clear). I highly recommend starting with "To Say Nothing of the Dog," then "Fire Watch." "Doomsday Book" is a lot darker (it is about the Black Death, after all). "Blackout" and "All Clear" are some of my all-time favourite books, (Binny! Oh my gosh).
The Girl from Everywhere - Heidi Heilig
This sounds more like a fantasy time travel adventure!
Nix has spent her entire life aboard her father’s ship, sailing across the centuries, across the world, across myth and imagination.
As long as her father has a map for it, he can sail to any time, any place, real or imagined: nineteenth-century China, the land from One Thousand and One Nights, a mythic version of Africa. Along the way they have found crewmates and friends, and even a disarming thief who could come to mean much more to Nix.
But the end to it all looms closer every day.
Her father is obsessed with obtaining the one map, 1868 Honolulu, that could take him back to his lost love, Nix’s mother. Even though getting it—and going there—could erase Nix’s very existence.
For the first time, Nix is entering unknown waters.
She could find herself, find her family, find her own fantastical ability, her own epic love.
Or she could disappear.
Maybe the characters don't know how they time travelled, and that doesn't matter one jot to the story. Usually it'll be a "we found this thing and touched it, and now we're back in the past!" And probably involves some Celts somewhere. We're big on leaving those time-travelling stones lying around.
These stories will often feature a wonderful "dilemma" around whether time should be changed or even can be changed.
A fairly okay movie featuring this trope is "Timeline," which I enjoyed but seemed to be a bit of a flop at the theatres!
Waterfall - Lisa T. Bergren
What do you do when your knight in shining armor lives, literally, in a different world?
Most American teenagers want a vacation in Italy, but the Betarrini sisters have spent every summer of their lives among the romantic hills with their archaelogist parents. Stuck among the rubble of the medieval castles in rural Tuscany, on yet another hot, dusty archaeological site, Gabi and Lia are bored out of their minds...until Gabi places her hand atop a handprint in an ancient tomb and finds herself in fourteenth-century Italy. And worse yet, in the middle of a fierce battle between knights of two opposing forces.
Suddenly Gabi's summer in Italy is much, much more interesting.
The Ancient Future - Traci Harding
Late one evening, a car accident leaves Tory - a daughter of a prominent history professor - stranded near a ring of stones in the English countryside. She resolves to spend the night at the sacred site; a black belt in Tae-kwon-do, Tory holds little fear for her safety...
But across the vortex of time and space, she is being watched. The Merlin knows of the legend Tory is to become, and through the wisdom of the Old Ones, teleports her back to the Dark Age.
Prince Maelgwyn of Gwynedd and his band of knights stumble across this mysterious woman dressed in jeans and a leather jacket. Believing she is the witch of the stones, they threaten to kill her. Rising to her own defence, Tory challenges the Prince's champion to unarmed combat. With her superior fighting skill she easily overwhelms the warrior, winning the admiration of the Prince, and changing the course of British history forever.
This takes time travel more toward fantasy, with an inherent ability that the characters use to travel through time. These stories will definitely veer toward amazing locations, difficult questions, and heart-rending ethical dilemmas. Man, I love bending the timeline.
The Timecaster Chronicles - R. L. Perez
A fall through time. A reckless witch. A war of monsters.
17-year-old witch Desiree Campbell tries to cast a spell to go to Miami for spring break.
But she ends up in Cuba a hundred years in the past.
The year is 1898. The Spanish-American War rages. Demons thrive in the city, preying on humans. Desi is caught between the war of mortals and the war of monsters.
In her efforts to return home, she is hunted by a demon vampire who is desperate to learn the secret to time travel.
Then Desi meets Oliver Gerrick, a handsome American soldier and warlock. He offers to help her fight off demons and find a way home. But the closer Desi gets to Oliver, the more secrets she uncovers . . . and the harder she falls for him.
Dive into the Timecaster Chronicles, and follow Desi's journey from Cuba to the Philippines to New York City as she faces love, death, and the darkest magic imaginable.
Ruby Red Trilogy - Kerstin Gier
The Ruby Red Trilogy: Ruby Red, Sapphire Blue, and Emerald Green
This internationally bestselling series follows Gwyneth Shepherd, a girl with a time-traveling secret. Traipsing through past centuries, juggling a potential romance, and unlocking her destiny, Gwen has her work cut out for her.
Ruby Red: Gwen has always known that her family is different—the women, in particular. As time travelers, they are no strangers to the possibility of the impossible. But even they are't expecting it when Gwen shows signs of being a time traveler rather than her cousin Charlotte. Thrust into a world she should have been excluded from, Gwen is introduced to Gideon, a fellow traveler. Although the two don't get along, something other than annoyance might be brewing under the surface. As Gwen masters her new ability, she learns more abou therself than she ever could have imagined.
Stealing Infinity - Alyson Noel
These days, I’ve been killing it when it comes to letting people down. Now I’ve been kicked out of high school, arrested, and accepted into a remote, off-the-grid school owned and operated by an inscrutable billionaire tech guru. Gray Wolf Academy is looking for a certain kind of student. Ones that no one will miss. Like me.
Then there’s Braxton. The beautiful, oddly anachronistic guy who showed up right when the trouble started. And he’s a total enigma—which means that I definitely can’t trust him, even if there’s something about him that makes me want to.
They all tell me I have a gift. A very rare gift. And Gray Wolf Academy wants me to learn it. To use it. Because if what they say is true, I have all the time in the world.
And that makes me the most dangerous high school student you’ll never know…
The Last Magician - Lisa Maxwell
Stop the Magician. Steal the book. Save the future.
In modern-day New York, magic is all but extinct. The remaining few who have an affinity for magic—the Mageus—live in the shadows, hiding who they are. Any Mageus who enters Manhattan becomes trapped by the Brink, a dark energy barrier that confines them to the island. Crossing it means losing their power—and often their lives.
Esta is a talented thief, and she’s been raised to steal magical artifacts from the sinister Order that created the Brink. With her innate ability to manipulate time, Esta can pilfer from the past, collecting these artifacts before the Order even realizes she’s there. And all of Esta’s training has been for one final job: traveling back to 1902 to steal an ancient book containing the secrets of the Order—and the Brink—before the Magician can destroy it and doom the Mageus to a hopeless future.
But Old New York is a dangerous world ruled by ruthless gangs and secret societies, a world where the very air crackles with magic. Nothing is as it seems, including the Magician himself. And for Esta to save her future, she may have to betray everyone in the past.
Time Mavericks - Fiona Synckers
Jasmine Bear has one goal in life - to stay out of trouble until she turns eighteen so she can be released from the California foster care system and start living life on her own terms.
This does not include being kidnapped by a secretive couple calling themselves the Controllers. They recruit Jasmine to save the world, but what if she wants to save herself first?
Then Jasmine gets to know the rag-tag group of misfits who are her new teammates and wonders if this is what it feels like to belong somewhere.
Fans of time-travel adventure will love this exciting four-part series from an award-winning novelist.
Like any time travel to the future, this involves the fish out of water trope, but along with the heartbreaking reality that you really cannot go back to where you were before; there is no machine or ability to take you back. These stories are usually more about the "culture shock" of time travel, that the future really is like a different place, and dealing with homesickness that can never be allieviated.
The Welsh have a word, hiraeth, meaning:
"A longing for a time and a place that no longer exists."
Having said that, if you want some laughs with your hiraeth, this trope definitely delivers. Many of the classic sci-fi movies and some newer ones with this trope have their laugh out loud moments.
(Just think Demolition Man: "He doesn't know how to use the three seashells...")
Medair - Andrea K. Host
The complete epic fantasy "Medair" duology, containing the Aurealis Awards finalist "The Silence of Medair" and the heart-rending conclusion "Voice of the Lost".
Time stole Victory.
Medair an Rynstar returned too late to drive back the Ibisian invasion. Centuries too late.
When friend and enemy have become the same thing, what use are the weapons Medair planned to use to protect her Empire? There is no magic, no artefact, no enchanted trinket which can undo the past.
But no matter how Medair wishes to hide from the consequences of her failure, there are those who will not allow her the luxury of denying the present. Her war is already lost, but she carries weapons which could change the course of new battles.
With the skirmishes of war beginning, and hunters in near pursuit, it is her conscience Medair cannot escape. Whose side should she be on? What is she really running from?
From the Aurealis Awards judges' report: "You can read Silence of Medair for its strong, conflicted heroine, its playful subversion of fantasy tropes, or its deep, detailed analysis of the nature of racism. If not, just read it for the beautifully crafted prose."
Across the Universe - Beth Revis
A love out of time. A spaceship built of secrets and murder.
Seventeen-year-old Amy joins her parents as frozen cargo aboard the vast spaceship Godspeed and expects to awaken on a new planet, three hundred years in the future. Never could she have known that her frozen slumber would come to an end fifty years too soon and that she would be thrust into the brave new world of a spaceship that lives by its own rules.
Amy quickly realizes that her awakening was no mere computer malfunction. Someone—one of the few thousand inhabitants of the spaceship —tried to kill her. And if Amy doesn't do something soon, her parents will be next.
Now Amy must race to unlock Godspeed's hidden secrets. But out of her list of murder suspects, there's only one who matters: Elder, the future leader of the ship and the love she could never have seen coming.
Is this time travel? It certainly shares a lot of the "should I change the timeline / can I make changes to the timeline" elements, so, I say it goes in!
The Girl Who Talks to Ashes - Rachel Rener
Dealing with some pretty heavy feels from the get go, this book jumps back and forth in the narrative around Lilah’s early life. Lilah was nice enough for me, easy to get along with and kind of making choices I probably would have at that age. Willow’s lost but muddling through attempts at parenting warmed me to her, but she’s easily led by her mother who knows what’s best for her, and they abandon the baby when it becomes too much of a problem for them to deal with. Then, they disappear.
The first half was better than the second half in my opinion, but it kept me gripped and turning those pages. I wasn’t totally convinced by the love story, but the main man for me was Stan. What a show-stealer.
I enjoyed it, pick it up if you like a bit of murder mystery and family life with your fantasy, and I hope there is a sequel in the works!
Multiverse / parallel universes
Now this one is a doozy.
So… did you know there’s another version of you in another universe? No one is as special as you though ;)
That person will have had something subtlety different happen in their life to make them a slightly different person though, so you’re still just as special.
Questions that plague me occasionally are things like:
What if I had gone to Japan to study?
What if I had chosen a different university course?
What if I didn’t get the first job I interviewed for?
Each of those choices represented at least two different paths my life could take. And also, we can’t know the consequences of those choices!
If I had gone to Japan to study for my masters, I would have missed being by my mother’s side through the most difficult time of her life.
If I had studied a different course, would I have made the lifelong friend I did? (We graduated as the only two people doing that course hahaha)
If I didn’t get the job, I would have been devastated, but maybe I would have gotten the second job… and then I would be living in an entirely different city.
I’m not sure whether any of those choices, though, would change me. That’s what I was interested in exploring. What type of choices and life chances would I have to experience to mean I would be completely unrecognisable?
Enter: the multiverse.