The best time travel stories that have stood the test of… er… time

John Beresford Author Of Gatekeeper: Planetary Colonization meets Elemental Fantasy
By John Beresford

Who am I?

I’m a British author with a lifetime’s love of science fiction, fantasy, and horror. I have a particular love for stories that explore both sides of the fantastical abilities they introduce us to, where the heroes battle with their own personal demons alongside the actual bad guys, and where the invented science is so plausible that I can lose myself in the strange world and not be popped out of the story thinking “well, that couldn’t work, because…” The potential for disastrous consequences is ever-present in time travel stories, one of the main reasons they hold such fascination for me. 


I wrote...

Gatekeeper: Planetary Colonization meets Elemental Fantasy

By John Beresford,

Book cover of Gatekeeper: Planetary Colonization meets Elemental Fantasy

What is my book about?

Jann Argent has no memory of committing the murder that landed him in prison. So when he’s offered a chance at freedom, he accepts the price of exile to humanity’s first colony planet. But when the ship crash lands on the new world, he’s shocked to discover an indigenous population and a strange sense of familiarity.

Stunned when he and several other shipmates develop mystical powers, Jann discovers previous colonists have all joined one of two rival native houses. And with a tyrant’s power-play set to devastate the realm, he’s about to become the lynchpin in a magical war that could destroy him.

The books I picked & why

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The Time Machine

By H.G. Wells,

Book cover of The Time Machine

Why this book?

The first time-travel book I read, which is kind of appropriate, since it’s widely regarded as the first one written, and inspired many later works. It showed me that a great science fiction story, at its heart, is simply a great story set in a world that is somehow “other.” As a budding writer, I loved the freedom that a far distant future gave the author to imagine what might happen to the human race over the course of several hundred thousand years, and present a picture of an apparent utopia that had a hidden, and much darker, side. 


The End of Eternity

By Isaac Asimov,

Book cover of The End of Eternity

Why this book?

I found the breadth and depth of invented science in Asimov’s work breathtaking. The idea of a group of engineers who live outside time, calculating the “Minimum Necessary Change” in any situation to allow them to reset the passage of history in ways they believed benefited mankind is strangely compelling. The powerful lesson, that social engineering undertaken for the best of motives can have unforeseen and devastating consequences, has stayed with me my whole life. Lovers of science fiction often dream of setting off to explore the stars, yet here was a story of how our own naïve “cleverness” would ultimately defeat that dream and leave humanity alone in a dead universe.


The Time Traveler's Wife

By Audrey Niffenegger,

Book cover of The Time Traveler's Wife

Why this book?

I loved this book for so many reasons. Not normally a reader of romance, I picked it up because of its title, and immediately became lost in the story: the very epitome of a “great story in an unusual setting.” I was delighted with its fresh take on time travel, when I had thought the subject had nothing left to surprise me with. I found the characters well-drawn and easy to like, and the trials they face, as a result of the randomness of Henry’s time slips, are described with humour, pathos, wit, and high drama. The ending, with its poignant uncertainty, would normally have left me annoyed at the lack of resolution, but instead seemed to me to be the perfect way to close what is an extraordinarily original story.


The Many-Colored Land

By Julian May,

Book cover of The Many-Colored Land

Why this book?

Perhaps more of a “portal” story than strictly time travel, May’s Saga of the Exiles spurred my imagination from the very start, and was at least partly responsible for inspiring my own work. The scale is vast, and I found the mental (“metapsychic”) powers the Exiles develop cleverly categorized and utilized in the stories, both here and in the following Galactic Milieu trilogy. I was so wrapped up in these stories that, perhaps more than any other series I’ve read, I was sorry to leave them behind and have returned to reread them many times.

The time-travel aspect of the story – the Pliocene Gateway – is given an interesting set of temporal and geographical limitations which I found refreshingly realistic when compared with other tales of time travel.


11/22/63

By Stephen King,

Book cover of 11/22/63

Why this book?

What I loved about this is the way King, an acknowledged master of horror who is equally at home with SF thrillers, takes two long-standing tropes of time travel – that “the universe” will resist any attempt to change the course of time; and the law of unintended consequences that will trip up the unwary time traveler – and gives them a unique twist. Once again the time travel element has a limitation which both helps and hinders the protagonist as the stakes ratchet up throughout the story in ways I found both thrilling and entertaining, but the story is so much more than that, cleverly weaving in historical elements, a love story, and sub-plots that see the hero trying to solve multiple problems during his final trip to the past.

I have returned to reread this many times, finding something new in the story on each occasion. And after recommending it to my book club it currently sits in 21st place in their league table of 176 books read over more than 15 years.


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