Time travel fiction takes many forms, we list ten of the genre's most important worksby Jeremy Gordon / September 12, 2014 / Leave a comment
In his Prospect article “The rise of time machine fiction,” Sam Sacks identified that “once a sci-fi plot conceit, time travel fiction has become among the most popular structural devices in contemporary fiction.” There is a distinction to be made between time travel fiction, where there is a physical device such as a time machine involved, and the “time machine fiction” that Sacks discusses. In the latter, time travel—in many different forms which reject linear narrative—tends to be used less as a device to drive plot than as a means to explore universal human relationships and themes. Contrary to intuition, it might be seen as the very opposite of the specificity of historical fiction.
Here we present a potted history of time travel in literature from the best to the most original to the downright bizarre.
The obscure original
Enrique Gaspar’s El Anacronópete, 1887
Spanish writer Gaspar wrote El Anacronópete (meaning something that “flies backward through time”) in 1887, a full eight years before HG Well’s The Time Machine, making him the first literary inventor of the time machine. While Well’s novel has never been out of print, however, Gaspar’s fell into obscurity for over a century before being rescued by a Spanish science fiction club in 1999. The protagonist Don Sindulfo García, wh…