The Time Traveler’s Almanac, edited by Ann and Jeff by Vandermeer – An Ongoing Review

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Introductory thoughts 3/19/2019

I came across this anthology of short stories on time travel, and I really couldn’t help but decide to give it a shot. It is a huge anthology with 65 different short stories. I may never get through all of it, but as I read, I will give my thoughts on it and try to review the stories as a go. However, I won’t be giving a detailed account of every story. This will mark more as a way for me to track as I read and express my thoughts when necessary.

Each story is detailed below, and hyperlinked in the Table of Contents.

Update 7/30/19

I have continued to listen to the occasional story. Most of them are great. If you are interested in hearing any, let me know. I’ve read ~17hrs according to my podcast app. The total book is 40+hrs.

Table of Contents

Introduction  • essay by Rian Johnson

Part I: Experiments

  1. Top Ten Tips for Time Travelers • essay by Charles Yu
  2. Death Ship • (1953) • short story by Richard Matheson
  3. Ripples in the Dirac Sea • (1988) • short story by Geoffrey A. Landis
  4. Needle in a Timestack • (1983) • short story by Robert Silverberg
  5. Another Story or A Fisherman of the Inland Sea • [Hainish] • (1994) • novelette by Ursula K. Le Guin (variant of Another Story)
  6. Hwang’s Billion Brilliant Daughters • (2010) • short story by Alice Sola Kim
  7. How the Future Got Better • (2010) • short story by Eric Schaller
  8. Pale Roses • [Tales from the End of Time • 1] • (1974) • novelette by Michael Moorcock
  9. The Gernsback Continuum • (1981) • short story by William Gibson
  10. The Threads of Time • (2004) • short story by C. J. Cherryh (variant of Threads of Time 1978)
  11. Triceratops Summer • (2005) • short story by Michael Swanwick
  12. The Most Important Thing in the World • (2011) • novelette by Steve Bein
  13. Himself in Anachron • [The Instrumentality of Mankind] • (2013) • short story by Genevieve Linebarger and Cordwainer Smith
  14. The Time Machine (excerpt) • [H. G. Wells’ Time Machine Universe] • (2013) • short fiction by H. G. Wells
  15. Young Zaphod Plays It Safe • [Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy] • (1986) • short story by Douglas Adams
  16. Time Travel in Theory and Practice • (2013) • essay by Stan Love

Part II: Reactionaries and Revolutionaries

  1. A Sound of Thunder • (1952) • short story by Ray Bradbury
  2. Vintage Season • (1946) • novelette by Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore
  3. Thirty Seconds from Now • (2011) • short story by John Chu
  4. Forty, Counting Down • [Justin Kloster] • (1999) • novella by Harry Turtledove
  5. The Final Days • (1981) • short story by David Langford
  6. Fire Watch • [Time Travel] • (1982) • novelette by Connie Willis
  7. Noble Mold • [The Company Short Fiction] • (1997) • short story by Kage Baker
  8. Under Siege • (1985) • novelette by George R. R. Martin
  9. Where or When • (1991) • novelette by Steven Utley
  10. Time Gypsy • (1998) • novelette by Ellen Klages
  11. On the Watchtower at Plataea • (1988) • novelette by Garry Kilworth
  12. Alexia and Graham Bell • (1987) • short story by Rosaleen Love
  13. A Night on the Barbary Coast • [The Company Short Fiction] • (2003) • short story by Kage Baker
  14. This Tragic Glass • (2004) • novelette by Elizabeth Bear
  15. The Gulf of the Years • (2010) • short story by Georges-Olivier Châteaureynaud (trans. of La gouffre des années 1987)
  16. Enoch Soames: A Memory of the Eighteen-Nineties • (1916) • novelette by Max Beerbohm
  17. Trousseau: Fashion for Time Travelers • essay by Genevieve Valentine (variant of Trousseau: Fashion for Time Travellers 2013)

Part III: Mazes and Traps

  1. The Clock That Went Backward • (2013) • short story by Edward Page Mitchell (variant of The Clock That Went Backwards 1881)
  2. Yesterday Was Monday • (1941) • short story by Theodore Sturgeon
  3. Is There Anybody There? • (2000) • novelette by Kim Newman
  4. Fish Night • (2013) • short story by Joe R. Lansdale [as by Joe Lansdale]
  5. The Lost Pilgrim • (2004) • novelette by Gene Wolfe
  6. Palindromic • (1997) • short story by Peter Crowther
  7. Augusta Prima • (2011) • short story by Karin Tidbeck (trans. of Augusta Prima 2009)
  8. Life Trap • (1979) • short story by Barrington J. Bayley
  9. Lost Continent • (2008) • novelette by Greg Egan
  10. The Mouse Ran Down • (2012) • short story by Adrian Tchaikovsky
  11. The Great Clock • (1966) • short story by Langdon Jones
  12. Traveller’s Rest • (1965) • short story by David I. Masson
  13. Delhi • (2004) • short story by Vandana Singh
  14. Come-From-Aways • (2009) • short story by Tony Pi
  15. Terminós • (2005) • short story by Dean Francis Alfar
  16. The Weed of Time • (1970) • short story by Norman Spinrad
  17. The Waitabits • (1955) • novelette by Eric Frank Russell
  18. Music for Time Travelers • essay by Jason Heller (variant of Music for Time Travellers 2013)

Part IV: Communiques

  1. What If • (1952) • short story by Isaac Asimov (variant of What If …)
  2. As Time Goes By • (1983) • short story by Tanith Lee
  3. At Dorado • (2002) • short story by Geoffrey A. Landis
  4. 3 RMS, Good View • (1990) • short story by Karen Haber
  5. Twenty-One, Counting Up • [Justin Kloster] • (1999) • novella by Harry Turtledove
  6. Loob • [Goster County] • (1979) • novelette by Bob Leman
  7. The House That Made the Sixteen Loops of Time • (2011) • short story by Tamsyn Muir
  8. Against the Lafayette Escadrille • (1972) • short story by Gene Wolfe
  9. Swing Time • (2007) • short story by Carrie Vaughn
  10. The Mask of the Rex • [Files of the Time Rangers] • (2002) • novelette by Richard Bowes
  11. Message in a Bottle • (2004) • short story by Nalo Hopkinson
  12. The Time Telephone • (2002) • short story by Adam Roberts
  13. Red Letter Day • (2010) • short story by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
  14. Domine • (2007) • short story by Rjurik Davidson
  15. In the Tube • (1922) • short story by E. F. Benson
  16. Bad Timing • (1991) • short story by Molly Brown
  17. If Ever I Should Leave You • (1974) • short story by Pamela Sargent
  18. Palimpsest • (2009) • novella by Charles Stross

Story Overviews and Discussions

*I may give these a second try considering I don’t remember much about them.

Fish Night, Joe Lansdale, (★★★★)

Read before August 2019

There was one titled “Fish Night” that was recently adapted into a short film on Netflix’s new anthology series Love Death and Robots. I love it because it was history of the earth type story. Out in the Arizona desert, where the sea once covered the terrain, ancient ocean life dominated the region. Much of the life is now extinct, but what if past life we’re ghosts like all the story’s of humans after life. It tells the story of ancient life haunting the desert nights. Not only was it artistically beautiful, it was a really fun story that peeked my interest. 5/5 stars. From Part 3.

Come-From-Aways, Tony Pi, Rating: ()

Read before August 2019

There was another story about history (human history boo). It was told by an expert in linguistics of a character, also a linguist, who comes across a man whose dialect doesn’t match the times. From this, she deciphers he is a traveler of the past. The story touches on the problem of time traveling into the future, becoming a piece of history and leaving those you know and love. 3.5/5 stars, rounding down. From Part 3.

The Weed of Time, Norman Spinrad (★★★★★) and Life Trap, Barrington, J. Bayley (★★★★)

Read before August 2019

Another Fascinating story, the Weed of Time, was about a plant that gave the individuals the sight of all time in their life from conception to death. I don’t want to spoil the story, but it was much more of a tale of caution. Imagine knowing what was going to happen but trapped unable to change anything. There was a similar story, Life Trap, about a temple of monks who sought truth found truth they wish they never had. Life, as the story put it, was a cycle of living dying and being reborn as your younger self. The terrifying reality of it all was that you’d have no knowledge and as such would be unable to do anything to change it. On the surface, they seem like the inverse, but the main idea of being trapped in a cycle is there. 4.5/5 stars rounding up (The Weed of Time) and 4.5/5 stars rounding down (Life Trap). From Part 3.

Red Letter Day, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, (★★★★)

Read before August 2019

What could that possibly mean? “Red Letter Day.” Well that is the day your future self sends you a letter recollecting about your future. Think of it like a coming of age. At a certain point in your future you gain the right to write your younger self, around graduation of High School. In it, you can inform yourself on whether or not you are going on the right track. Naturally, I am sure you can think of a hundred problems with this, and of course, that is the premise of the story. I won’t ruin it any further than to say, it assumes the information of the future can change the past. As I have delved into a multiverse of time travel stories, I have grown sympathetic towards the idea that the past cannot be changed. Any attempts to change it make it the way you experience it in the first place. Nevertheless, that is not how this story handles it, but it still does it masterfully. I thoroughly enjoyed it. 5/5 stars. From Part 4.

The Time Telephone, Adam Roberts, (☆)

Read before August 2019

Again, another fun premise. This is a world where the information (telephones) can be sent to the past. It opens with a conversation between a mother and daughter, but it ventures off in an odd direction in the end. It felt like the mother and daughter were just to set up the premise, but I won’t go much deeper so as not to ruin the main plot. Just understand, there are limits to how far information can be sent back in time, and that should get your mind rolling as to the type of scenarios you might get from that. 3.5/5 stars, rounding up. From Part 1.

At Dorado, Geoffrey A. Landis, ()

Read before August 2019

This is a story about a world with a series of wormholes that act like intersections along a highway. Of course, there was more to it than that, but that’s the gist of it. It was a find story, nothing too exceptional. A wife or lover of a man, lives at one of these way stations (wormholes), and the man is a sort of traveler who has to go from station to station for work or something. 3.5/5 stars rounding down. From Part 4.

3 RMS, Good view, Karen Haber, (☆)

Read before August 2019

This is probably one of the better stories (but not the best of the best). It’s basically about the past (or future) being like a place to settle down/live/maybe vacation. You aren’t to alter the past, but you can live there. Think of it like working in the city but living in the suburbs. You choose a place and commute. Then it just deals with the realty of living in the past without altering it–inadvertently or for ethical reasons. 4/5 stars. From Part 4.

Twenty-One, Counting Up and Forty, Counting Down, Harry Turtledove, (★★★★)

Read before August 2019

These are two separate stories, each in a different section of this anthology. I wouldn’t say this was the best story I’ve read by any stretch of the imagination, but it was a solid story told from two different perspectives (told as if older self interacts with younger self and from a younger self being contacted by the olders self). Sort of like the Red Letter Day, this is about a man from the future trying to change mistakes he thinks his younger self has made.

The problem is, the way he goes about doing it feels contrived. The author is so desperate to tell a particular type of story, that he insists this is the only way for the older self to get what he wants. Furthermore, he fails to recognize the problem isn’t his younger self, its that his older self not willing to acknowledge his own flaws.

It is a fun story. Overall, I can’t help but feel it is limited by convoluted choices by the author made for plot purposes rather than a natural progression of the story. I don’t want to spoil anymore of the story, but I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention that there are some serious problems around consent that the author never really addresses. 5/5 stars for both stories. From Part 4.

Is There Anybody There?, Kim Newman, (★★★★)

Read before August 2019

really really liked this story. It was one of my favorites. It was about a psychic from the past being contacted by an internet troll  from the future. At first you wonder if it is a spirit, but it turns out its not. I won’t ruin the story, but it is a very satisfying read. I say that as someone who is very much against the idea fof “psychics” because in the real life they’re frauds and hacks who harm people. 5/5 stars, and one of my favorites. From Part 3.

A Sound of Thunder, Ray Bradbury, (★★★★)

Read before August 2019

I write this as the Sound of Thunder is heard outside. Of course, the thunder of the story is not from any storm. This is a very good story about the implications of time travel. In particular, what would happen if you travel back 10s of millions of years? How fragile is the evolutionary tree that leads to us the other forms of life? A species isn’t defined by any one individual, but it raises the question, how important are they. This is fascinating story about time travel and biology. I wish it was more theoretical on the biology front, but it is still an amazing premise. It fills me with excitement wondering about the stories that could be told from this premise, or, perhaps more significant, the reality that is ingrained in this story. It is hard not to read this and ask fundamental question about the history of life on Earth and humans in particular. As a geologist and astrologist it is hard not to get lost in my imagination. Needless to say, this is highly recommended. 5/5 stars. From Part 2.

Lost Continent,” by, Greg Egan (★★★☆☆)

Read before August 2019

This is a story is told of a refugee who escaped his time to a world that was supposed to be free of the dangers of his time, but what he found was far less accepting. It is basically a story that mirrors the story of migrants today. It was particularly poignant with recent decisions by the Trump administration. 3/5 stars. From Part 3.

*”The Clock that Went Backward,” by  Edward Page Mitchell (★★★☆☆)

Read before August 2019

A guy and his friend come across this weird clock his aunt has. It can go into the past. From there, they do a bit of exploring. I enjoyed this. 3/5 stars. From Part 3.

How the Future Got Better,” by Eric Schaller (★★★☆☆)

Read before August 2019

A family is able to watch the future unfold over the television (see themselves watching TV, slightly in the future). I didn’t quite get the point of this story. 3/5 stars. From Part 1.

The Threads of Time,” by C.J. Cherryh (★★★★☆)

Read before August 2019

Here, travelers can move forward in time, to distance reaches of the future. However, strict paradox laws prevent them from going backwards, and a select few agents are put in place to enforce that law. This is a good story with a good overall arc. Although, I don’t think it stood out too much. 3.5/5 stars rounding up. From Part 1.

Triceratops Summer,” by Michael Swanwick (★★★★★

Read before August 2019

An MIT student messes up an experiment leading to the escape of dinosaurs from the past into the present. This was a lot more calm then your classic Jurassic Park type of story. It was more about mild annoyance and appreciation of and for the creatures. It is a good story. 5/5 stars. From Part 1.

The Lost Pilgrim,” by Gene Wolfe (★★☆☆☆) 

Read before August 2019

A traveler is sent back to do something that he forgets. I remember this because I remember much I disliked it. It is confusing and not very enjoyable. It seemed unnecessarily convoluted. 2.5/5 stars rounding down. From Part 3.

*”The Great Clock,” by Langdon Jones (★★★☆☆)

Read before August 2019

An old man takes care of an old clock related to time. I don’t remember any more details. 3/5 stars, but take it with a grain of salt. From Part 3.

*”Palindromic,” by Peter Crowther (★★★☆☆)

Read before August 2019

There are aliens. This is another one I really remember nothing about. 3/5 stars, but take it with a grain of salt. From Part 3.

*”Against the Lafayette Escadrille,” by Gene Wolfe (★★★☆☆)

Read before August 2019

Obviously, there is something to do with time travel. I am pretty sure I read this but don’t remember a thing. It is apparently in the Confederate eraRating: Meh (because I don’t remember anything) From Part 4.

The Final Days,” by David Langford (★★★☆☆)

Read before August 2019

This is about a nominee for president who had amazing confidence and poise because they had the benefit of knowing they were going to win. 3/5 stars. From Part 2.

The Gulf of the Years,” by Georges-Oliver  Chateaureynaud (★★★★☆)

Read before August 2019

A man travels to see his mother, on the day she died, I think? Its a bit morbid. Rating: Good, 4/5 stars. From Part 2.

Death Ship, Richard Matheson, (★★★★)

Read 8/15/2019 (and earlier in the summer)

I realized early on that I had already read this story. It is the first story of the entire anthology, so it seems I listened to it before I imported it into my podcast and forgot. It is a great story to reread. It was particularly great because even as I remembered reading it, I forgot how the story played out in the end. We follow a ship with a small crew set to find life on other planets. They land on a distant planet and find a crashed ship. On it: themselves, dead from the crash.

I can see why the Vandermeers would choose to have this story first. It forces us to think about the implications of time travel, or rather, it forces us to think about how the hell it would work. We follow the crew members as they struggle to understand 1) what is happening and 2) how to avoid the atrocity they are witnessing. I am a big proponent of past-future interconnection. That is my made up way of saying, even if we could go back in time, anything we do to change it would end up being a part of the events that causes it (or at least had an effect that did not change it). There are plenty examples of this, and I am pretty sure I’ve touched on this already.

This is the reality these crew members have to deal with. At least, that is the real horror from where I am sitting. Nevertheless, they act as though they can change it, but this becomes sort of a Pascal’s wager. If they’re wrong, and you can’t change anything, you lose nothing for believing it because it’s a helpless situation regardless, but if they’re right, you have everything to gain from believing. There are plenty of problems with Pascal’s wager when it comes to God, but I won’t get into that here. My point is, this is the dilemma they face.

Personally, I think I would shutdown, convinced it is hopeless. They don’t do that here, and its a thrill to watch it unfold. To be clear, things will not always go the way you expect. Even having read the story, the author surprised me on multiple occasions convincing me one thing then another and then another. Where it actually lands was something I didn’t even see coming. That is great story telling. 5/5 stars. From Part 1.

2 Replies to “The Time Traveler’s Almanac, edited by Ann and Jeff by Vandermeer – An Ongoing Review”

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