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The Best Time Travel Stories of All Time
edited by Barry N. Malzberg
iBooks, 440 pages

The Best Time Travel Stories of All Time
Barry N. Malzberg
Barry N. Malzberg began working in SF as an agent for the Scott Meredith Literary Agency in New York in 1965. He began publishing short fiction in 1967 and novels in 1970. Pehaps he is best known for his books Beyond Apollo (1972) which won the first John W. Campbell Award, Herovit's World (1973), Guernica Night (1975) and The Remaking of Sigmund Freud (1985). His essay collection, The Engines of the Night: Science Fiction in the Eighties (1982), won a Locus Award. He lives with his wife in Teaneck, New Jersey.

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Past Feature Reviews
A review by Steven H Silver

I looked at the name of Barry N. Malzberg's new anthology, The Best Time Travel Stories of All Time, and thought: What a great title. I opened the book up and was quickly disappointed. Sure, the stories included are wonderful, but I noticed that all of the stories in the book were published before 1996. Surely a book about time travel purporting to the best of all time should include stories from 2013, 2395 and 3641. However, since Malzberg has elected to greedily keep those stories for himself, I shall review the book he has deigned to allow those of us living in 2003 to see.

While the ideas in Nancy Kress's "The Battle of Long Island" are intriguing, they are blunted by the disassociated voice of the narrator. Kress looks at a wormhole which opens between the Battle of Long Island during the Revolutionary War and the modern day. Her protagonist, Susan Peters, is an army nurse who tries to treat the wounded soldiers who occasionally fall through the Hole, eventually having to deal with the fact that the Revolutionary War opening of the Hole appears to be moving through a variety of different time-lines. At the same time, Susan must come to terms with the unknowability of her own past.

While Kress's tale of time travel is entirely set in the present, Poul Anderson's time traveler goes back 1000 years in "The Man Who Came Early." A response to L. Sprague de Camp's Lest Darkness Fall, Sergeant Gerald Robbins finds himself in tenth-century Iceland, trying to fit into a culture he knows a little about and hoping to be able to rely on his engineering knowledge. Instead, he finds our how much his knowledge is really worth when he does not have a support system to rely upon and doesn't fully understand the land in which he finds himself.

James Tiptree, Jr. provides a rather interesting set of relationship dynamics in "Forever to a Hudson Bay Blanket," in which the time traveling Loolie uses time hopping to meet her true love. As the story progresses, Tiptree reveals that there is much more to the story than first meets the eye. Unfortunately, Loolie's personality is sufficiently annoying that the reader keeps hoping that she'll meet a time paradox and disappear from existence.

Damon Knight doesn't create a time machine so much as a time viewer in "Anachron," about two eccentric brothers, one of whom invents a time viewer and then vanishes and the other, a collector of art, begins to play around with the device to see the past and future. Knight plays around with paradoxes and other traditional problems of time travel in his reclusive tale.

Bill Pronzini provides his own take on the classic "Grandfather Paradox" in which someone travels back in time to kill their own grandfather before they were born in his very short "On the Nature of Time." The story offers an effective and haunting explanation for the avoidance of paradox, which could have appeared in a straightforward manner, but which Pronzini handles well.

Many science fiction authors have compared the idea of time travel to the space travel, notably the idea of a government organization researching and funding. Philip K. Dick uses this model in "A Little Something for Us Tempunauts" about an attempt at time travel that went wrong and the methods the tempunauts use to correct their errors and get themselves out of a temporal loop. Geoffrey A. Landis looks at the physics behind time travel "Ripples in the Dirac Sea," in which a scientist slowly builds his theory about time travel and how it works. Subjecting himself to it before it is completely understood, he finds himself in a partially hellish existence as he realizes what his ultimate fate will be, although he can successfully postpone it for an unknown period of time and live in a happier period.

Fredric Brown is known for his quirky sense of humor and his skill with very short stories, both exhibited in "Hall of Mirrors," which focuses on the mathematician Norman Hastings. The true situation dawns upon the reader long before Hastings figures it out, but the power of the situation comes not from Hastings's (or the reader's) discovery, but the questions Brown raises about the uses to which Hastings will put the knowledge he seemingly suddenly has acquired. Karen Haber responds to the housing crisis in San Francisco with "3 RMS Good View," which uses time travel as a means of finding affordable housing. Unfortunately, the main character's solution doesn't work out quite as well as she might have wished and, when she finally does settle in her own time, it leaves her wondering about the events and people who were left in the 60s.

The Charles L. Harness story, "Time Trap," demonstrates one of the problems with theme anthologies like The Best Time Travel Stories of All Time. Although it is a powerful story about fighting a repressive regime, because of its inclusion in a theme anthology, the reader knows that time travel must be involved, which causes the conclusion to be telegraphed and some of the power of the story dissipated. The best reading of this story would be in a collection such as An Ornament to His Profession (published by NESFA Press) in which the tale appears as just another of Harness's stories without foreknowledge of the science fictional element.

William Tenn presents a nightmarish version of the United States in "Brooklyn Project," in which concerns over security trump everything and lip service to civil rights and freedom of speech only serve to illustrate how little of both exist. The setting is at Pike's Peak, where the titular scientific project is about to demonstrate time travel to a select group of journalists, who are given freedom to write whatever they like within the prescribed boundaries of the Secretary of Security and whose every question is scrutinized for possible traitorous intent.

Jack M. Dann offers "Timetipping" about a man who appears to remain stable in a single time-line while those around him flit in and out at random intervals. Paley Litwak remains the same and in the same place while those around him are substituted, apparently by similar versions from other timelines. Litwak accepts all this in stride, without curiosity, noting the variations in his wife, Goldie, as she changes practically daily. The story serves as a metaphor for the way we see ourselves (generally stable and unchanging) and the way we notice differences in the people around us.

Paul Levinson's forensic detective Phil D'Amato discovers why time travel may be possible, but not practical in "The Chronology Protection Case." D'Amato finds himself involved with several physicists who are exploring quantum mechanics and have begun to die seemingly random deaths. D'Amato gets too close to the case, which causes him to pursue the information he is finding and almost getting himself killed. The idea of a malevolent universe that arises from the story is unsettling, but at the same time distant.

In "Hawksbill Station," Robert Silverberg postulates the use of time travel for establishing an inescapable prison for political dissidents one billion years ago. The arrival of Lew Hahn, a new prisoner, brings into stark clarity the various psychoses suffered by even the most sane of the prisoners. If the organization of Hawksbill Station seems a little too organized, it may because all the detainees are political prisoners, although it would still seem that more political discourse and violence would take place between the competing ideologies.

Jack McDevitt takes a look at paradox solving in much the same manner it was dealt with in "Back to the Future" in "Time Travelers Never Die." McDevitt's main characters are a pair of time-traveling entertainment seekers who spend their journeys meeting the great men of history and dabbling in art acquisition. McDevitt handles the writing and details with exquisite aplomb which makes the story enjoyable even if the outcome is somewhat predictable.

Mentioned on the cover, but not on the table of contents page, is a 1993(?) comic adaptation of Ray Bradbury's seminal "A Sound of Thunder." While it is an interesting idea to include the illustrated version of the time travel story, it would have been nice if Malzberg would have explained why he chose to include this, rather than the original prose version, although it is a nice and true depiction of Bradbury's tale.

The question, of course, remains whether Malzberg provided the superlative stories promised in the title. Although most of the stories work, and in many cases are memorable, Malzberg has left out many classic stories, such as Robert A. Heinlein "By His Bootstraps," of the more recent Hugo-winning "Scherzo with Tyrannosaur," by Michael Swanwick, although such omissions may have been due to inability to gain the rights rather than lack of recognition on Malzberg's part. In any event, Malzberg provides several quality stories in the anthology which serve as both an introduction to time travel and a reacquaintance with the genre.

Copyright © 2003 Steven H Silver

Steven H Silver is a four-time Hugo Nominee for Best Fan Writer and the editor of the anthologies Wondrous Beginnings, Magical Beginnings, and Horrible Beginnings (DAW Books, January, February and March, 2003). In addition to maintaining several bibliographies and the Harry Turtledove website, Steven is heavily involved in convention running and publishes the fanzine Argentus.

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