20+ Best Time Travel Books for Science Fiction Fans!

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Great Scott! Since enjoying Back to the Future as a kid, I’ve loved the idea of time travel. And, to feed my science fiction addiction, I’ve made it a point to read some of the best time travel books over many years.

Here a list of 20+ of my favorite books about time travel! Some are old classics; others are more recent 2018 / 2019 releases. All of them are great sci-fi fun!

Note: I’m flexible in how I define ‘time travel’ (e.g. involving a machine, reliving past memories / days, time as a meta-narrative, and so on). However, a common thread for all these books is the treatment of time as non-linear – with characters who try to shape its flow.

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My list of the best time travel books!

11/22/63
(Stephen King)

Best Time Travel Books Stephen King
Image credit: Gallery Books

11/22/63 centers on Jack Epping. He’s your typical Average Joe – an English school teacher just trying to get by.

That is, until his friend Al shows him a secret storeroom that, lo and behold, is actually a time traveling portal.

This time portal brings Jack back to one very specific day in 1958 – an era of Elvis and big American cars.

Here, Al assigns Jack a huge history-changing task. His mission? To stop the assassination of J. F. Kennedy!

Why this time travel book is great:

I love Stephen King – so much that I wrote a full list of my favorite King books! I believe this novel marks King’s true return to his peak writing form, after a few lull years.

11/22/63 is a long read. However, I barely noticed since I was fully sucked into King’s lovingly detailed historical fiction. He made me feel I was actually living in the 1950s!

In addition, 11.22.63 sets up very concise time travel rules from the start. The story thus isn’t tied down with your typical sci-fi paradoxes. In other words, you’ll be able to focus on the sci-fi plot without too much science getting in the way.

Overall, this is easily one of the best time travel books I’ve ever read!


Recursion
(Blake Crouch)

Books About Time Travel Recursion
Image credit: Crown

Recursion follows New York City cop Barry Sutton as he investigates a strange phenomenon known as False Memory Syndrome. This mysterious affliction causes seemingly random people to ‘remember’ entire lifetimes they’ve never actually lived. Many end up killing themselves, unable to cope with the flooding trauma of these foreign memories.

And then there’s Helena Smith – the genius scientist who’s committed her life to inventing a technology meant to help us preserve our most cherished recollections. Unfortunately, she ends up creating a machine far more powerful – and dangerous – than she ever intended.

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Why this time travel book is great:

Where do I even begin?! Recursion is among the best books about time travel I’ve ever read. It’s also my Top Three favorite reads of 2019 so far.

Recursion‘s characters never physically travel into the past. Instead, memories create reality. Thus, in essence, bringing their minds back ‘into’ past recollections creates new and separate timelines. A genius premise that plays with Cartesian duality!

In addition, the book is very well-paced. The first half is about character development and set-up. The second ups the suspense with fast-paced action on a truly epic scale, no holds barred.

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Recursion: A Novel
728 Reviews
Recursion: A Novel
  • Hardcover Book
  • Crouch, Blake (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)

The Time Machine
(H. G. Wells)

Best Time Travel Books The Time Machine H G Wells
Image credit: Penguin

A scientist builds a time machine. He tests it, first traveling five hours into the future. It works! He pushes the gears further, soon finding himself all the way in A.D. 802,701!

The Time Traveler soon comes across two distinct groups – the garden-loving, ineffectual Eloi, and machine-building, ape-like creatures known as the Morlocks.

A thrilling ride unfolds as the Time Traveler tries to recover his seized time machine, so as to continue on his space-time bending journey.

Why this time travel book is great:

The Time Machine is a true classic. While Wells didn’t invent the concept per se, this book was crucial in popularizing the idea of time travel. In addition, he was the first author to coin the term ‘time machine’ as we know its meaning today.

I loved the book’s sociological aspects. At its heart, The Time Machine is Wells’ social commentary on real-world class division, told through the lens of science fiction.

Overall, The Time Machine might seem stylistically dated for some. However, to me, it’s still one of the best time travel books ever written – and certainly, among the most influential for the genre.

Fun fact: Hard sci-fi author Stephen Baxter offers his own sequel to The Time Machine called The Time Ships. It’s really good!

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The Time Traveler’s Wife
(Audrey Niffenegger)

Best Time Travel Books About Time Travel
Image credit: Scribner

Henry DeTamble is an adventure-seeking librarian who’s also an accidental time traveler. Meanwhile, Clare Abshire, his artist wife, lives at an unaffected temporal pace.

Together, the two of them take turns to tell a fantastical time traveling story. The hook here is the love they share – a romantic bond that stretches across a beautiful expanse of space and time.

Why this time travel book is great:

I’ll be honest. Audrey Niffenegger’s prose isn’t the best. Her writing style can get a bit clumsy.

Regardless, I absolutely love her addictive plot! Henry and Clare’s relationship is both euphoric and melancholic, in all the right moments. So much so I’m happy to overlook the book’s writing flaws and more implausible time travel moments.

In short, The Time Traveler’s Wife is a great read if you enjoy mixing your time travel story with heartfelt romance.

You might also want to give Time After Time by Lisa Grunwald a try, written in the same romantic spirit of The Time Traveler’s Wife.


Slaughterhouse-Five
(Kurt Vonnegut)

Slaughterhouse Five
Image credit: Dial Press Trade Paperback

Note: Slaughterhouse-Five isn’t about time travel in the strictest sense. However, the book definitely leans on – and breaks – many temporal tropes as an embedded part of its story.

This is a challenging novel to describe due to its intentionally polysemic nature.

On the surface, it’s a story about Billy Pilgrim, a war veteran who seems to suffer from PTSD and mental damage. Billy is also ‘unstuck in time’, traveling to different points of his life in no particular order, without control. One moment he’s at his daughter’s wedding, the next he’s being abducted by… aliens from the planet Tralfamadore?

Why this time travel book is great:

Again, the ‘time traveling’ in Slaughterhouse-Five is not meant to be taken literally.

Rather, as stated by fans, time travel is in itself used as a narrative device. I feel it helps to illustrate the decaying state of the author’s mind – a jumbled, erratic chaos caused by trauma.

Yet, even without ‘actual’ time travel, Slaughterhouse-Five bubbles with gorgeous sci-fi absurdity. This is purposely done, especially when aliens are brought in to explain time as a non-event that’s already happened.

I know I’m being vague. But, trust me, Slaughterhouse-Five is one of those books about time travel that is better read than described. Pick it up and see what I mean!


Unhappenings
(Edward Aubry)

Unhappenings
Image credit: Curiosity Quills Press

Back to more traditional time travel books!

Nigel Walden’s life is plagued by ‘unhappenings’. Many of his relationships – particularly romantic ones – always seem to suddenly cease to exist, despite him knowing they occurred.

It isn’t until Nigel meets two mysterious time travelers that the impact of his future actions dawn upon him. He then struggles to undo the bad choices he has yet to make to avoid the catastrophic effects still to be.

But does he really have the free-will to do so?

Why this time travel book is great:

Unhappenings is equal parts time travel novel and classic tragic opera. Like Recursion, the first half of the book is groundwork for character development and premise. Then, things really go nuts when Nigel meets Helen, fifty-two years into the future.

Some readers feel a bit letdown by the ending. However, I personally like how things wrap up. The book is an enticing blend of action, romance, and familiar time travel tropes done right.

Overall, Unhappenings is one of my favorites when it comes to books about time travel. A great page-turner!

Unhappenings
428 Reviews
Unhappenings
  • Aubry, Edward (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 362 Pages - 09/24/2019 (Publication Date) - Independently published (Publisher)

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August
(Claire North)

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August
Image credit: Redhook

Harry is caught in a time loop he can’t get out of. No matter the choice he makes, he always gets reverted back to his childhood. Only problem is he still persistently carries the memories of his many past lives – all eleven of them!

It isn’t until the final moments of his eleventh life that he meets a little girl who, strangely, knows what’s really happening. He soon gets caught in a dilemma of having to save a past he has no control over as he tries to stop a future that’s already happened. Mind-blown!

Why this time travel book is great:

This book presents a recurring Groundhog Day type narrative – except it’s more like Groundhog LIfe. While Harry isn’t a voluntary time traveler at the start, the novel thrives on many time travel themes (e.g. free will vs determinism) to weave its intricate tale.

I love Harry’s nuanced character arc. He begins as a man resigned to his endless life. However, he eventually discovers the key role he must play in stopping the end of the world as he knows it.

The book also explores tons of interesting ethical and existential queries – specifically, what it means to live longer than our natural life span. I think these moments are what help The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August shine with time traveling profundity.


Pilot X (Tom Merritt)

Pilot X
Image credit: Inkshares

Pilot X is an Ambassador of the Alendans, a time traveling race who protects the main timeline. They are caught amid a long conflict with the Sensaurians and Progons – two alien races who try to twist time to their own benefit.

Pilot X is soon forced to make a colossal decision: undo the entire existence of all three races, or let the Universe self-destruct.

Why this time travel book is great:

If you’re a Doctor Who fan, you’ll definitely enjoy this epic time traveling space opera! I think the two share obvious thematic similarities.

The book is very accessible to read. There’s also plenty of dry humor and nods to other classic sci-fi novels. I do feel the ending is a little predictable. However, this didn’t affect my overall enjoyment of the novel’s solid pacing and rich world-building.


A Wrinkle in Time series
(Madeleine L’Engle)

A Wrinkle in Time Quintet
Image credit: Square Fish

People often speak ill of Meg and her brother Charles, finding them odd or dumb. They also spread rumors about their scientist father, believing him to have abandoned their family.

In search of the truth, Meg and Charles – along with Calvin, their new friend – embark on an epic journey through space and time to find their dad. Their quest brings them face to face with a dark foe that threatens to unravel the very fabric of existence.

Why this time travel book is great:

I grew up adoring A Wrinkle in Time. Now, even as an adult, I still find the time travel plot beautifully whimsical. As usual, the books are way better than the film!

I enjoyed the first book of the series the most. The later novels don’t quite live up to the original, although I still find them extremely entertaining.

Overall, A Wrinkle in Time is a shoo-in for my list of best time travel books. Classic on all counts!


Some other great books about time travel!

Here are a few more wonderful time travel books I fully enjoyed! Some novels are targeted at adults, while the rest are suitable for all ages.


All You Need Is Kill

All You Need is Kill
Image credit: VIZ Media LLC

This is the manga source material of the movie Edge of Tomorrow. Aliens, recurring time loops, epic battles, and lots of attitude make All You Need is Kill a truly memorable sci-fi odyssey.


Gideon trilogy

Gideon Trilogy
Image credit: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Time is breaking apart – ironically, due to the act of time traveling itself! A rollicking good time through rich historical eras. The trilogy mixes in elements of Quantum Leap, Back to the Future, and Harry Potter.


Night Watch

Night Watch
Image credit: Harper

Sam Vimes finds himself helplessly jumping in time, no thanks to a bunch of time-meddling monks. A great cop time traveling story set in Discworld and filled with Pratchett’s trademark wit.


The Girl From Everywhere series

The Girl From Everywhere
Image credit: Greenwillow Books

A perfect blend of mythology and science fiction. The coolest part is Nix and her father’s abilities to travel to past and future lands, both real and imagined. All it takes is finding the right map. This two-book series guarantees a fun time.


Into The Dim

Into the Dim Time Travel Novels
Image credit: HMH Books for Young Readers

A daughter travels back to the Middle Ages to save her time traveling mother. Ideal for readers who love historical sci-fi and romance! There’s quite a bit of Outlander influence, too.


The Chronos Files series

Image credit: Skyscape

It begins with a murder – a past temporal alteration that sends ripples which impact Kate’s present-day. She must then travel back to stop this dangerous chain of events – or risk blinking out of existence altogether.


The Chronicles of St. Mary’s series

Image credit: Accent Press

Time traveling historians who only want to ‘observe’ – but wind up messing things up, big time. These books are packed with humor, a lively character cast, and hilarious “this couldn’t possibly get worse?” situations. Brilliant!


The Shadow Hunter

Image credit: Open Road Media Sci-Fi & Fantasy

A Neanderthal boy time travels to the future, only to be confounded by a culture he has no reference for. The Shadow Hunter is equal parts spiritual journey and science fiction.


Time and Again

Time and Again
Image credit: Open Road Media Sci-Fi & Fantasy

Smart sci-fi that combines time travel, interstellar exploration, philosophy, and cautions against anthropocentrism. I think this is one of the greatest time travel books ever written.


Synchronic: 13 Tales of Time Travel

Image credit: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform

A solid collection of short time travel stories. Each tale offers a unique take on the sub-genre that’s also different from the rest. This helps to keep things fresh and your pages turning!


The Accidental Time Machine

The Accidental Time Machine Best Time Travel Books
Image credit: Ace

Grad-school dropout Matt Fuller inadvertently creates his own time machine. Problem is… it only travels one-way into the future, not back. A fun sci-fi tale, reminiscent of Ray Bradbury.


Know of any more good time travel books worth including? Drop me an email and I’ll add them to the list!

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