BOOK NOTES - Summer travel inspires literary focus on traversing time

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Summer is fast approaching. Do you plan to do any traveling this summer? Or are you are an "armchair" traveler like me? If you are spending this summer at home, perhaps you would appreciate doing some "time traveling" via science fiction.

If you are a regular reader of this column, you may have noticed that I rarely mention any science fiction books. I must confess that this is one genre that I don't read very often. However, I had the opportunity to explore this genre when our book club read "The Time Traveler's Wife" by Audrey Niffenegger (2003), which some critics classify as "sci-fi light."

"The Time Traveler's Wife" chronicles the story of Clare and Henry DeTamble's unusual courtship and marriage that unfolds with each incident of Henry's time-traveling adventures. Henry has a "chromo-displacement" disorder that causes him to travel back and forth through time while his wife stays at home waiting for his return.

After reading this book, I became curious about how time travel is handled by authors in other novels.

The first book that came to mind was H.G. Wells' "The Time Machine" written in 1895. In this story, the time traveler invents a machine in which he travels forward to the year 802,701 A.D. Wells comments on his admiration for Jonathan Swift's "Gulliver's Travels" in the introduction to the book. His description of the future world of the decadent Eloi, who are dependent for food, clothing and shelter on the simian subterranean Morlocks, illustrates what he believes may be the fate of humanity, and in many ways resembles Swift's descriptions and social commentaries on the different societies that Gulliver visited in his travels.

One of my daughter's favorite childhood books was "A Wrinkle in Time" by Madeleine L'Engle. This Newberry Medal award-winning, four-book series explains time travel as a fifth dimension -- a tesseract -- a wrinkle in time that allows people to travel in space. This series combines theology, fantasy and science in a book both young adults (ages 9-12) or beginning adult science fiction readers will enjoy.

Dana, the time traveler in "Kindred" by Octavia E. Butler (1979), is a young black woman living in Los Angles in 1976 who is called back in time to help her great-great-grandfather, Rufus Weylin, whenever he is in trouble. Dana is sitting in her new home unpacking books when she starts getting dizzy and disappears before her husband's eyes. She finds herself in Baltimore, Maryland in the 1800s saving Rufus from drowning. Rufus gets in trouble often and Dana is called back several times to help him. "Kindred" is a combination science fiction/ historical fiction novel that depicts plantation life for slaves and whites before the Civil War.

Diana Gabaldon writes a seven-book time-travel romance series set in 18th century Scotland; (first book, 2001's "Outlander"). Claire Randall, a former combat nurse, back from the war and reunited with her husband, is on a second honeymoon in Scotland in 1945 when she innocently touches a boulder in one of the ancient stone circles that dot the British Isles. Suddenly she travels back in time to a Scotland torn by war and raiding border clans in the year 1743.

In "Replay" by Ken Grimwood (1998), Jeff Winston, is on the phone with his wife when he dies of a heart attack in 1988 at age 43. He instantly finds himself transported back to his college dorm room in 1963 where he is 18 again, but with all the knowledge he had at age 43. How would you relive your life if you knew then what you know now?

"Timeline" by Michael Crichton (1999) is a time traveler "thriller" where a time machine takes a group of young students back to medieval France to rescue their professor. They find themselves in the midst of a civil war, caught between crafty abbots, mad lords, and peasant bandits all eager to cut their throats in a violent, threatening world. They have 37 hours to find their mentor and get safely back to the present.

"Somewhere In Time" by Richard Matheson (1975) is a romantic novel about a terminally ill man who falls in love with a famous turn of the century actress. The only trouble is that they are separated by a span of about seventy five years. What is a man to do? Travel back in time, which is just what Richard Collier does in order to be with the beautiful Elise McKenna, the woman of his dreams. Or does he? Does he really travel back in time, or is it merely the delusion of a desperately ill man who seeks to find meaning for his existence?

Keith Ekblaw recommended one of the most delightful books I've read about time: "Einstein's Dreams" by Alan Lightman. The book consists of 30 short stories on variations of time. What would you do if you knew the date on which the world would end? What would you do if you were going to live forever -- would you be a "now" or a "later"? This is a book to be savored one story at a time with food for thought on how time controls our lives and our own philosophies about using time.

It's time to grab a book for those lazy summer afternoons at the beach or in your own backyard. Be sure to send your summer reading recommendations to bmoats@q.com.

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