Ashley, Mike (ed). The Mammoth Book of Time Travel SF.

Philadelphia: Running Press, 2013.

The publisher’s “Mammoth Book of . . .” series, under a variety of editors, has included some pretty good anthologies and others that are painfully inept. This, happily, is one of the more successful ones. Even better, there are many authors among the twenty-five represented here with whom I’m completely unfamiliar, so I’ve made some discoveries to add to my “To Read” list.

Eleven of the stories were written in the 21st century and most of the remainder are from the 1990s; only a couple are truly classics, including Fritz Leiber’s “Try and Change the Past” (1958), Robert Silverberg’s “Needle in a Time Stack” (1983), and Christopher Priest’s “Palely Loitering” (1978). Ashley’s intent, he says, was to avoid work that had been over-anthologized, no matter how good it was. As I say, the result is some new discoveries.

Anyone who has been reading time travel stories for a few decades has learned to sort them into categories. There’s the accidental trip though time, either by sheer brain power or as a result of natural forces (being struck by lightning is popular), and there’s the deliberate journey, usually with the aid of a machine. There are stories in which the traveler can change the past and those in which reality rigidly rejects tampering (and you’d better watch out if you attempt it). And there are stories featuring a “time patrol” whose mission is to keep things from getting out of hand. All those themes appear here, and Ashley’s brief introductions will tell you which is which. In fact, he groups the stories by type.

One of the best things here is “Century to Starboard,” by Liz Williams, about a luxury liner coming unstuck in time; an old trope but very nicely handled. Another is “Walk to the Full Moon,” by Sean McMullen, which tells you how certain Australopithecines learned to hop about through time in order to survive. And another is the Ballard-esque “After-Images” by Malcolm Edwards.

The late Steve Utley (a Texas acquaintance of mine since the ’70s) contributes “The Wind Over the World,” a yarn in the classic style about a geologist on a scientific expedition to the Silurian Era and her fixation on a colleague who didn’t make it. “Time Gypsy,” by Ellen Klages, is an interesting story that, for sociopolitical reasons, couldn’t possibly have been published much before its appearance in 1998. “The Catch” is one of the better installments in Kage Baker’s “Dr. Zeus” series. Technically, Simon Clark’s “Dear Tomorrow” doesn’t actually involve time travel, only the hope that it might someday exist, but it’s a very good story nonetheless. John Varley’s “The Pusher” is just weird, but also compelling.

The weakest story here is probably “The Truth About Weena,” by David J. Lake. It just didn’t make a lot of sense to me. Then there’s “In the Beginning, Nothing Lasts,” by Mike Strahan, which is about time-reversal (à la Benjamin Button), not time travel, and which simply tries too hard.


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