‘The Mammoth Book Of Time Travel SF’, as editor Mike Ashley points out in his introduction doesn’t rely on the older time travel stories but has a selection that represents material from the past few decades that have also not been reprinted too often. Well, unless he’s used his own time machine into the future to ensure that will remain true. Time travel stories are very the intellectual exercise of the SF genre because you do end up having to think through what the SF authors are saying and how valid or flawed their logic is and how they play with causality. As someone who has been noted as a heavy thinker, let battle commence. With twenty-five tales, there’s enough variation for everyone. Here’s a sampling.
Sean McMullen’s ‘Walk To The Full Moon’ is an interesting take on time travel. It isn’t humans that are travelling but pre-man or rather pre-woman. Set in Spain, linguist Carlos is sent in to talk to her to startling revelations. A beautiful twist and a demonstration to other writers not to write the expected.
‘The Truth About Weena’ by David J. Lake follows HG Wells’ time traveller after he returns to the future to rescue the Eloi girl. This is Lake’s second version of this idea but considering that the future changes with each attempt maybe this should be seen as just another version. Nevertheless, it hits on a lot of problems with time travel and how culture changes aren’t always created by the time traveller.
Elisabeth Malarte’s ‘Darwin’s Suitcase’ somewhat addresses the problem of someone watching an event in the past only to see a physical time traveller arrive there. In this case, it is to persuade Darwin that one of his unfound evidence was found decades after his death and to continue with his book on evolution. A clever premise but a little confusing as the observer is a nun. I do like the idea that no technology can be brought back before it is invented though which sorts out a causality problem but doesn’t explain how the time machine makes it there.
‘Needle In A Timestack’ is a classic Robert Silverberg tale of a love triangle being manipulated by time travel. An ex-husband is trying to disrupt his ex-wife’s marriage to her current husband. Every time he changes something, they each have a fuzzy moment and an hour to note changes before they forget about them, although you would think the notes would vanish as well. The ultimate solution is nicely thought out with an added twist. A lesson in intelligent SF writing for all neo-SF writers.
In contrast, ‘Zero’ by Simon Clark where people in the past are awaiting for time travellers to come back to a particular point in time feels flawed in comparison. Mostly because knowledge they bring back, not even intentionally but just proving time travel is possible is likely to change the future and that being so, would they still be there to come back to?
Ellen Klages’ ‘Time Gypsy’ felt odd initially as her time traveller protagonist Caroline McCullough didn’t feel female, even when she developed a relationship when in the past with time travel expert Sara Baxter Clarke. However, the problems of the future are explained in the past and ends up being a rather neat story.
Probably of all contemporary SF writers, the late Kage Baker is the one most commonly associated with time travel. Oddly, the resolution of her story, ‘The Catch’, wasn’t as satisfactory to me. The Company are seeking out Bobby Ross, one of their first and failed experiments in making their people immortal because he was too old at ten years of age. Developing the ability to time travel independently, they have been seeking him ever since. I would have thought Ross would have been a lot harder to capture.
‘The Chronicle Protection Case’ by Paul Levinson examines how the universe itself prevents the development of time travel by creating accidents killing the people who were prepared to make the attempts. This is nicely played out as investigator Phil D’Amato puts the clues together.
Something that can often mess the flow of reading a themed anthology is having consecutive stories being too similar. It tends to do a disservice to both and you can’t help feeling one is better than the other. Case in point is Molly Brown’s ‘Woman On The Brink Of A Cataclysm’ where rich artist Joanna Callahan tests her friend Toni Fisher’s time machine to go a couple minutes into the future. Instead, she goes somewhat further ahead and messes the controls to return to her original present and into the past, creating alternative realities by doing so. Trying to get home, she bumps into different variants of herself and Toni, some of which are clearly homicidal. This is an absolutely brilliant tale and if you’re of a particular age, her descriptive detail of the 50s and such is so spot and the confusion of our presents or rather that of the mid-1990s with a wry sense of humour.
In comparison, Michael Swanwick’s ‘Legions Of Time’ where Ellie Voigt is told to keep watch on a door on her shift for her weird employer, Mr. Tarblecko, finally opens it and finds herself transported into the future and meeting her future self and enlisted into a war to stop people manipulating time, although that really is where the story ends. Although you might not think Swanwick’s story is that similar to Brown’s, other than multiple selves popping up, and a decade between them, Molly Brown’s story is so superior it really does seem dull in comparison.
The last third of the book is more metaphysical time travel in that there is less concern about the travelling and more the consequences. As much as I admire Ashley wanting to show the wide range of Science Fiction, I’m more hard-tech and these didn’t keep my attention as much. However, as with all anthologies, you have to scattershot to ensure that there is something for everyone and in that regard Ashley does cover the range. So if you can’t run to powering up a TARDIS, there’s a lot of stories to appeal to you here at a decent price.
(pub: Constable Robinson. 532 page small enlarged paperback. Price: £ 7.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-4721-0025-2)
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