My Favorite Time Travel Stories

Time travel is one of my favorite science fiction sub-genres.  Such stories are by nature filled with paradoxes and weirdness. Since there is no such thing as a time travel story that made perfect sense a measure of suspension of disbelief is required in order to enjoy such stories. I'm fine with it as long as a story sets its own rules and play by it consistently enough.

They are fiction after all. You want to be a killjoy, go watch a friggin' documentary!

I recently saw the movie 'Looper' and thought of some of my personal favorite time travel stories in the form of movies and prose. You might think some of these aren't the best or greatest stories (and you'd be right) but they are enjoyable for me nonetheless.

Here they are listed as a countdown but in no particular order of awesomeness. Except for number one that is.

I consider that the best.

Warning: Might contain slight spoilers.

14. Groundhog Day -
Not really a time travel story as it is a movie about Bill Murray stuck in a time loop. In the mainstream psyche permanently because of the performances and the moral lesson on living life the best you could the first time around.

(Related honorable mention: movie - The Source Code)

13. The Time Machine -
A seminal work by the father of modern science fiction H.G. Wells. The work that influenced all the others that come after it with the concepts that time is just another dimension and you can travel through it with the help of a machine (as opposed to using hibernation, hypnosis, or other new agey techniques).

Unfortunately, the latest math theorists are proposing it is more useful to think of time as not another dimension, but as an illusion. Time seems to be more likely just a symptom of entropy/measure of chaos. Deep stuff but I shouldn't get into that discussion here. :)

Nevertheless, this novel sets the foundation for almost all modern time travel stories.

12. Back to the Future -
This is probably the most mainstream time travel story and it's a fun ride! Mainly because of that it has popularized the concept of time travelling to the average person on the street.

11. The Girl Who Leapt Through Time -
This Japanese anime film tells a sweet coming of age story of a schoolgirl. It's a well told story of boy-girl-romance and the power of responsibility.

10. Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure -
A movie that's wacky and stoned as heck! Interestingly enough, it feels as if it's the most 'realistic' time travel story told through its sheer mad-capness. I miss the cheerful Keanu Reeves. He's too mopey these days.

9. The Final Countdown -
This is not a great movie by any means but as a geek-kid growing up in the 80s, it was a wet dream seeing F-14 Tomcats do battle against Japanese Zeroes hours before the Pearl Harbor attacks.
Though unrelated, somehow this movie also reminds me of the song of same name by Europe. Imagine the synthesizers playing as jet fighters blast WWII airplanes out of the skies.

8. A Sound of Thunder -
A short story by Ray Bradbury. Science fiction has offered many reasons for the hazards, and therefore, impossibility of time travel. Namely, it messes up our beloved concept of causality. Whatever changes you made to the past will 'ripple' through the timeline thus changing the present future in great unexpected ways. It is a testament to Bradbury's poetry that he used a butterfly as trigger for this exponential cascade in changes. That's why it's called the 'Butterfly Effect' today. He invented the term! Fucking genius!

7. The Brooklyn Project -
A short story by Philip Klass.  I consider this a companion piece to 'A Sound of Thunder'. The scientists attempt to change the past as little as possible by sending just a probe. Nevertheless, the mere existence of the probe displaces a whole lot of space itself. Change is inevitable, again illustrating the Butterfly Effect but this time to truly horrific results.

6. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home -
Probably the funniest timey-wimey fish-out-of-water tale after Twain's Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court. I'm already a Trek fan so this movie was a pleasant surprise. It was directed by Mr. Spock himself, Leonard Nimoy, whose character is always straight faced and yet it turned out to be the funniest movie in the series by far.

5. Twelve Monkeys -
Terry Gilliam's movie is bleak but with a sense of whimsy and mystery. As far as I know it coined the term 'Cassandra Effect' for a psychological disorder about being able to prophesize or see the future but going crazy because nobody believes you. One of the few time travel stories that feature an immutable universe. Meaning, you have information about the future but the universe will not allow you to change it.

4. The Terminator franchise -
I do not consider this a time travel story as much as it is a war story that features time travel. However it is an enjoyable saga with an almost anti-technological warning. If we aren't contemplative enough about our technological advancement it will outpace us and we might really have to fight the future!

3. Somewhere In Time -
A movie in which Christopher Reeves falls in love with a photograph of a long gone stage actress (Jane Seymour) and travels back in time meet her. I saw this movie on TV back in the late 80s and couldn't forget how teary eyed I was at the ending.

(Related honorable mention: Novel - The Time Traveler's Wife)

2. Slaughterhouse-Five - I love me some Kurt Vonnegut. His cynicism of humanity is tempered by some of the darkest tragicomedy that made me laugh so loud I felt quite silly afterwards!

1. All You Zombies... - a short story by the luminary Robert A. Heinlein.
In my humble opinion, the best time travel story ever written.

If you think 'Inception' was twisty, wait till you read this screwy baby! I have often recommended it on the sci-fi USENET newsgroups whenever someone asks what is the most incredible time travel story they have ever read. As luck would have it, you can read it here. Quick! Before the copyrighters take it down!

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