December 8th is Pretend to be a Time Traveler Day. (Yes, this is an actual day people celebrate). Essentially, you dress up as someone from the past or the future and go about your day pretending you don’t belong. You know, stare in awe at automatic doors or lament over the lack of hover cars.
Don’t feel bad if you, like the rest of the world, had no idea about this important holiday, because now’s your chance to celebrate—with reading! If you would like to be a part of this magical and Doctor Who-esque celebration, but have no real desire to run around your office or campus garnering a questionable reputation, I have some good news: you can let others do the time-traveling for you and enjoy it all from a safe distance! The literary Delorean awaits!
You can’t talk about time traveling novels without mentioning Outlander. For those of you living under a rock, Diana Gabaldon’s behemoth of a novel (first published about twenty years ago) features a 1940’s World War II nurse, Claire Randall, who is transported almost two hundred years back in time to 18th century Scotland thanks to some sketchy standing stones (think Stonehenge). There she deals with feuding Highlander clans, vicious redcoats, antiquated medical practices, and Jamie Fraser, a Scotsman she (of course) ends up falling in love with.
Warning for potential time-travelers: be careful of your accent when you choose your time-travel destination. Claire’s English lilt in a country of Highlanders suspicious of anything English certainly gets her into some trouble.
This one is another throwback (shout out to my roommate for sending it my way!) Kindred, by Octavia E. Butler, is the story of Dana Franklin, an African-American woman who periodically goes back and forth through time without any warning, from the year 1976 to the 1800s where she meets up with her ancestors—a black slave and a sadistic, entitled white slave-owner. Unfortunately, Dana gets mistaken for a slave while in the past, which does not bode very well for her, as you can imagine. When her husband, who happens to be white, gets sent back with her as well, things really become a mess.
Warning for all potential time-travelers: when selecting your time-travel destination, please take heed not to wind up in a dangerous place! We want to see you back in 2014 unscathed, all right?
Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict
Unlike the other novels on this list, our time traveling heroine does not only find herself suddenly thrust into a new time, but also a whole new body. A great lover of Jane Austen’s novels, Courtney Stone wakes up in the body of Jane Mansfield, the unmarried daughter of an affluent family in the England of Austen’s era. With the threat of an insane asylum looming, Courtney must play her role carefully to blend in with her new world, all the while trying to figure out how to return to her own time—and what happened to the woman whose body she’s in, anyway?
Warning to potential time-travelers: consider all the hilarious calamity that will ensue when you thrust a 21st century woman in 19th century England…and perhaps reconsider a trip to the future instead of the past. At least somewhere they don’t require corsets.
I’ve yet to find any other novel like Myra McEntire’s Hourglass, which takes a unique perspective on time travel. The past has a tendency to pervade heroine Emerson’s present. Since she was thirteen, Emerson has seen what she considers to be ghosts of people from the past strutting about in the modern world as they had during their times. Of course, everything sort of implodes when Emerson runs into Michael, who explains to her that these visions are not ghosts but time rips where the past bleeds through. Throw in a secret society of people who also have a varied assortment of time-related powers and a damaged space-time continuum thanks to some greedy antagonist, and so ensues a trilogy’s worth of time-related chaos.
Warning for potential time-travelers: tread carefully in the past. As Emerson learns, changing the future can bring about some calamitous consequences.
Jennifer Donnelly writes such massive and heavily researched historical fiction novels that it only made sense for her to dally into the time travel narrative. Dealing with her own depression and past tragedies, Andi Alpers locates the journal of Alexandrine Paradis, a girl who lived two centuries prior during the French Revolution and served the royal family. When she finally reaches the end of the diary, Andi is transported back to Alexandrine’s time to finish what the French girl started, in the process dealing with her own demons. Excuse the vagueness, but summarizing a Donnelly novel is like summarizing centuries’ worth of history in two sentences.
Warning for potential time-travelers: be careful with your twenty-first century technology while in the past. Had Andi’s iPod fallen into the hands of anyone besides a struggling musician willing to suspend his disbelief to listen to Radiohead, she could’ve gotten into some trouble—well, worse trouble than she did.
Time traveling is some risky business, as the travelers of these narratives have learned the hard way. I’ll be playing it safe and celebrating Pretend to be a Time Traveler Day—dressed in normal clothes, thank you very much—with Kerstin Gier’s trilogy of time traveling novels (in its English translation, since my German isn’t that good yet). Stay safe out there, potential time-travelers and novel-travelers! Viel Glück!