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Thirteen variations on the theme of time travel

Tales in Time: The Man Who Walked Home and Other Stories - Peter Crowther, Robert Silverberg, Harlan Ellison, Ray Bradbury, Lewis Padgett, Garry Douglas Kilworth, James Tiptree Jr., Charles de Lint, Spider Robinson, Jack Finney, L. Sprague de Camp, Brian W. Aldiss, H.G. Wells

One of my favorite reading pleasures is the short story collection. Such books provide a nearly perfect combination of diversity and readability within a single volume. This is especially true when the collection consists of stories from multiple authors and their different styles of writing.


And yet short story collections cause me enormous annoyance, because I never finish them. When I pick up one, I start to read it by choosing stories based on the length of the story, or the premise, or (in the case of the multi-authored collections) because I've enjoyed the author's previous works. Then, as the days and weeks pass, I find myself down to those two or three stories that I haven't read which I have to practically force myself to read. These become "to-do" projects that force me to leave the book out, yet the longer the book is out the more I pick it up to revisit the ones I've enjoyed rather than finish those last couple so I can be done with the collection.


This is why it took me four months to read the thirteen selections in Peter Crowther's anthology of time travel short stories. It shouldn't have taken anywhere near as long, especially as I had read five of them in other collections long before I came across this one on the shelf of a used bookstore. I read most of the others in a matter of days, but as I came down to those last two or three I put the book aside and spent the next couple of months reading other works. It took a conscious commitment to finish, coupled with a determination not to skim, that allowed me to regard the book as done.


This shouldn't be regarded as a judgment on the stories themselves. Like most other short story collections, they're a mix of the great, the good, and the disappointing. What makes this one enjoyable were the ways in which Crowther stretched the concept of time travel to consider aspects of it different from the standard "man goes into the past/future" premise. The ones in this collection are:

"The Very Slow Time Machine" by Ian Watson. Of the ones I hadn't read before, this was the story I was most looking forward to reading, as it's an incredibly well-regarded book. It has a fantastic premise and some interesting considerations of the effects of time travel, though there are parts of it that I'm still trying to process.


"The Love Letter" by Jack Finney. Finney is best known for his novels which present time travel as a way of accessing a romanticized past. This story is very much in that vein, with a businessman in 1962 Brooklyn engaging in a correspondence with a woman living in the Gilded Age. Like his other works, it was overtly sentimental and saccharine for me, but it wasn't without it's charm


"On the Watchtower at Plaeta" by Garry Kilworth. In this one, a trio of time travelers from a dystopic America find themselves in a standoff in ancient Greece with another group of time travelers  only the second group come from the past. It's a novel concept, but the story itself doesn't really do much with it.


"The Twonky" by Lewis Padgett. This is one of the classics that I read before, about a domineering futuristic device being introduced into the home of a 1940s couple. Reading it gave me the opportunity to enjoy it all over again.


"The New Accelerator" by H. G. Wells. As much of a fan of Wells as I am, I wasn't aware of this story of two men testing out a new elixir which speeds up people relative to the world around them. It was interesting and fun.


"Man in his Time" by Brian W. Aldiss. Another novel take on the time travel concept, this one has a woman coping with the transformation of her astronaut husband after his return from Mars, as his trip there has left him 3.3077 minutes ahead of the people around him. It's a great premise, though I kept quetsioning some of the implications of it that Aldiss posits.


"And Subsequent Construction" by Spider Robinson. I liked many of Robinson's Callahan's Crosstime Saloon series, but this stand-alone story about a stardrive engineer encountering her future self was too focused on being clever and not enough on telling a story.


"Timeskip" by Charles de Lint. Like Finney's "The Love Letter," de Lint's story is  premised in a connection with a romanticized past, though whereas Finney's tale can be cloying de Lint's has an element of sadness that made for a nice contrast.


"A Sound of Thunder" by Ray Bradbury. This is by far the most famous of the stories in the anthology and for good reason, even if the movie based on it was utter garbage.


"What We Learned From This Morning's Newspaper" by Robert Silverberg. I've been a huge fan of Silverberg's short stories for nearly as long as I can remember  among the first sci-fi books I read was a collection of his "greatest" stories yet this one was unknown to me until I saw it in the book. And like most of Silverberg's work, I enjoyed reading his tale about how a group of suburban families react when one morning copies of the New York Times from next week show up on their front lawns.


"Jeffty is Five" by Harlan Ellison. This is one of Ellison's finest works, another story about nostalgia and our connection to the past, one that ends in heartbreak as nostalgia so often does.


"The Isolinguals" by L. Sprague de Camp. In this one, a group of nefarious individuals create chaos with a machine that causes the consciousness of random ancestors to take over their descendants' bodies. Like his classic time travel novel Lest Darkness Fall, Sprague enjoys himself by having a little fun with the tale.


"The Man Who Walked Home" by James Tiptree Jr. Centuries after the world's first chrononaut unintentionally triggered World War III, a group of people gather to celebrate his annual appearance as he travels back to the past. Like most of Sheldon's stores, I had to read it multiple times to appreciate every aspect of its greatness.


If you're wondering which ones were the "projects" that kept me from finishing the collection, I'll leave it for you to figure out. I am glad, though, that none of them kept me from enjoying the ones I liked best, which is yet another reason why I enjoy short story collections so much.