Time Travel: A History by James Glick

The idea of time travel is so cool.  I’ve read sci-fi since I was a kid,  age 9 or so.  I know I read  “The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet” (1954) and the sequels by Eleanor Cameron when we lived in Winona,  so I know I was in the 2nd or 3rd grade.   I loved them and looked for others like that.   In the 5th or 6th grade I found “When Worlds Collide”  by Philip Wylie and Edwin Balmer (1933)  and loved it.   I kept looking and reading although I was mostly mysteries – Nancy Drew and then Agatha Christie.   My husband loved science fiction so from about 1968 I read some he recommended.


Time Travel: A History 
by James Glick
2016 / 352 pages
read by Rob Shapiro 10h
rating:  8  /nonfiction

Time travel is something else though – frequently not much science, but there’s a lot of inventive fiction in futurist scenarios and the imagination is set free.

I can’t remember my first time travel book – although it might depend on your definition of time travel. –  Does “Rip Van Winkle” count? How about Poe’s “The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket”?    I read those as a kid or YA, but I don’t think they really count.   I’ve never read The Time Machine by H.G. Wells.

I’ve usually  enjoyed the “time travel” books I’ve read,   but I haven’t read that many.   – The Time Traveler’s Wife,  11/22/63, The Doomsday Book,  A Wrinkle in Time, To Say Nothing of the Dog, Kindred,  11/22/63,  and a bunch of others.   I’m most interested in how the authors have their characters take this journey,  but what they find is sometimes pretty curious and well done.

Actually,  I’ve read a couple time travel books just recently –  this past year it was Remembrance of Death (a trilogy) by Liu Cixin (2016 – 2016 in English), The Lost Time Accidents by John Wray (2016) and, of course,  A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens (1843).    Remembrance of Death is more about space travel than time travel, but there is by necessity some Rip-Van Winkle type time travel in there.

So anyway,   along comes Glick to explain in his very entertaining way the history of time travel both as a concept and as a subject for fiction.   Yay!   The book is really about time,  what it is (and what it’s not),   who invented “time travel” as a concept, and what have authors,  scientists, and philosophers done with the idea over time.   I was familiar with quite a number of the books he referred to although missing several scientists and philosophers.

As to Glick’s question  I’d rather go back in time mainly because I don’t want to see how I die.  That said,  I wouldn’t pass up the opportunity to have a bit of advance knowledge about the stock market, etc.  (Or how our current prez-elect handles it all?)  But to see the Vikings set out for Greenland,  or get a peek at Robespierre – well … fascinating – and   the past sounds safer.

Many authors played with the idea of futurist stories in general prior to H.G. Wells.   That author though was fascinated by radio although he decried the pathetic use to which it was put.   After H.G. Wells the idea of using machines for time travel spread quickly and some scientists and philosophers were also interested.

Time can be loosely defined,  but not very specifically.  It’s highly unlikely (let’s call it impossible) we can ever achieve the reality of time travel because, scientifically,  there is no one cosmic clock – not of God and not of Newton.  This plus a couple of details also means there is no universal “now.”   All that plus the fact that cause and effect definitely seems to be in operation,   to say nothing of entropy.   In the long run,  bottom line,  we each have to appreciate our own “now.”

Still and yet,  it’s fun and freeing to imagine traveling in time.   I know I didn’t get all that’s packed into this book so I may be reading it again within the month.  🙂

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