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What Are The Best Time Travel Stories?

And what are some of the worst? How does the genre go wrong? Is Looper a success or failure? *Updated*

PJ Lifestyle Pop Culture Debates!


May 8, 2014 - 2:00 pm

In partnership with the new fiction publishing platform Liberty Island, PJ Lifestyle is going to begin promoting and co-hosting a series of debates and discussions about popular culture. The goal is to figure out what works and what doesn’t so that in the future we can promote and create better fiction and culture of our own. These are public brainstorming sessions for writers and culture advocates interested in developing a more vibrant popular culture. You’re invited to submit your answers to any of these questions — or a related one of your own! — that interests you:

A) in the comments

B) Via email to PJ Lifestyle editor Dave Swindle.

C) at your blog, then let us know in the comments or via email. 

The most interesting answers may be linked, crossposted, or published at PJ Lifestyle. 

John Boot: Time-Travel Thriller Looper Should Make Its Director a Hollywood Player

Hannah Sternberg: 5 Reasons I Don’t Want to Travel Back in Time

What pop culture questions do you want to debate and discuss? Please leave your suggestions for upcoming Pop Culture debates also in the comments or submit via email.

Updated May 9, 2014: A very helpful, thorough primer from a reader:

Hi Dave!

If you want to start with the written Time Travel Stories:

We must start with Robert Heinlein.

“By His Bootstraps” was his first attempt at a Time Travel Story.

“All You Zombies” — Classic story in only six pages. Brilliant!

His novel “The Door into Summer” —  it’s both a time travel novel AND a robot novel. (Even though “IRobot” is named after Asimov’s short story, the robots work like Heinlein’s.) Heinlein was an engineer, so his robots make more sense.

All books from “Time Enough for Love” on…(Which is really the ULTIMATE Time Travel/Parallel Timeline/Parallel Universe series.) “The Number of the Beast” anyone? ;-)

Asimov’s “The End of Eternity” is actually an alternate Timeline novel with Time Travel elements. Alternate from the Empire and Foundation timeline before he merged his robot novels into it.

H. Beam Piper – “Paratime”.  The “Federation Books” are really alternate Timeline books from “Paratime”. (Including the “Little Fuzzy” series.) (Yes, I realize that Paratime is just passing into parallel universes, but…)

“Star Trek” – numerous episodes and Movies, and when you consider that the new movies are actually in an alternate timeline. Not a “reboot”. They won me over when they mentioned “Admiral Archer”. (He’s from before the split.)

“Back to the Future” – When you think about this series, it’s really both Time Travel and Alternate Timelines.

“Doctor Who” -  I just started getting into him.

So this idea is not just Time Travel, but Alternate Timelines.

These are just the big ones.

There was the “Time Wars” novels in the 80s and 90s. I remember the author talking about that third season “Star Trek:TOS” episode with the Wyatt Earp saying that that episode was the closest anyone ever came in Hollywood to making the look of the Earp’s and Doc Holliday “Look right”.

Hope this helps.


PS The ultimate conservative science fiction books – “Starship Troopers” and H. Beam Pipers “A Planet for Texans”, also known as “Lone Star Planet”. Look it up, the paper back is only 87 pages long. A quick read. I’d like to see Glenn Beck make this one into a movie with his studio. (Piper has the BEST court room stories.)

PJ Lifestyle Pop Culture Debates Features a new prompt each weekday to weigh the good, the bad, the overrated, the unbelievable, and the amazing throughout the worlds of books, film, and TV. We can't figure out how to build a greater pop culture until we dissect the mess we already have. Want to contribute your perspective to the debate? Email PJ Lifestyle editor Dave Swindle with your take: DaveSwindlePJM [@] Image via shutterstock/ DarkGeometryStudios

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All Comments   (27)
All Comments   (27)
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"The Return of William Proxmire", by Larry Niven.
41 weeks ago
41 weeks ago Link To Comment
How has nobody mentioned Tim Powers yet?
His "Anubis Gates" and "Three Days to Never" are two of the best time-travel stories ever written.
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
Oops! I almost forgot the most original of all novels that employ communication with the past: Gregory Benford's __Timescape__. Dr. Benford, a respected physicist, is the first writer in my knowledge to locate the past IN SPACE, such that the use of a signal encoded onto a stream of tachyons -- no, no, they're NOT quarks with bad manners and low fashion tastes! -- can be aimed at it.

__Timescape__ is alternately grim and hopeful, in that it depicts a collapsing future world that struggles, and ultimately succeeds, in teaching the unruined past what errors to avoid. Also, Dr. Benford's theoretical model for a "one origin, many timelines" physics is unique and refreshing.
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
Don't forget "The End of Eternity" by Asimov. Travel between societies in different times with the intention of eliminating various defects: war, drugs, debauchery. The result is… surprising, and fascinating to anyone interested in free will or freedom in general.
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
Allow me to submit Alfred Bester's classic "The Men Who Murdered Mohammed," and not for its title. Also, I greatly enjoyed Poul Anderson's rather unusual time-travel fantasy novel __There Will Be Time__, in which Anderson makes time travel a personal psi power rather than something accomplished technologically. Finally, enjoy Robert Silverberg's novels __Up The Line__, which is mostly a lark, and his earlier, darker book __The Masks Of Time__, about a very sinister visitor from the future.
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
"All the Myriad Ways", by Larry Niven, and "Thrice Upon A Time", by James P. Hogan. It explores the way in which any time travel story MUST be fantasy; time travel is impossible. Here's why.

1. The future is fixed and unchangeable. Predestination. Nothing we do will make any difference. If we invent a time machine and go back to change our past, we'll cause what we tried to change.


2. The past is malleable, that our actions can affect things, but no time travel is ever possible.

Because if time travel to the past is possible and if a time machine is ever invented, then somebody will go back in time and change things. Again and again, and again. The only STABLE timeline will be the one in which no time machine is ever invented.
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
Heinlein's "By his Bootstraps". For longer novels, still Wells' classic "The Time Machine".
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
"By his Bootstraps". No question.
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
I've always had a special fondness for Robert Heinlein's The Door Into Summer.
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
Novella: "The Man Who Folded Himself," David Gerrold. Ahead of its time - so to speak.
Short story: "All You Zombies," Robert Heinlein. Even further ahead of the same time (both explore the same speculation).
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
"The Man who Folded Himself" is very good, though the F-word in the title should really be a different one.
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
HEY! No spoilers! :)
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
One of the best time travel story is also arguably one of the first to get widespread attention.

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, written under the pen name "Mark Twain"
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
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