I first heard of this anthology when Catherynne M. Valente tweeted about it back in May. She said: “Please please buy this, I genuinely think my story in it is one of my best, if not my actual best ever.” Well. As a huge fan of hers, how could I refuse?
And then…and then I saw the cover, and I fell in love.
It has been slowly dawning on me for some time now that I love time travel stories. Perhaps this should not come as a shock since as a child I was entirely obsessed with Back to the Future. But as an adult, sci-fi is a genre that I have been dipping my toes into very gradually, much in the same way that I enter lakes that are always a bit too cold. Connie Willis eased me in to start, with Doomsday Book and To Say Nothing of the Dog. After that I read Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone’s This Is How You Lose the Time War, which was so good that I started actively seeking out more time travel books. After that, though, I hit some duds (who shall remain nameless).
And then along came this book, and rekindled my interest in time travel again.
Someone in Time was the creation of Jonathan Strahan, an editor and anthologist (and co-host of The Coode Street Podcast), who became intrigued by stories that combined time travel and romance. Wishing for more, he reached out to writers around the world asking for stories such as these—and they delivered.
Romance itself is something that’s open to interpretation. There are straightforward matters of the heart and there are literary and scientific romances of many kinds. What you will mostly find here, sometimes unexpectedly and delightfully, is a mix — matters of the heart blending with matters of the world, as they do.”—Jonathan Strahan, Introduction
His description is a good one. These stories are broad in range and scope, but they all combine the emotional resonance of a character-driven relationship story with the thought-provoking engagement of science fiction. No small feat for a short story. As with any collection that features multiple authors, there were hits and misses for me (which will no doubt be different from everyone else’s hits and misses), but here were some of my highlights:
“Bergamot and Vetiver” by Lavanya Lakshminarayan. This is a story of a time travelling researcher trying desperately to undo a catastrophic wrong. It weaves its character’s urgency and desires into a lushly portrayed setting: an ancient civilization in the Indus Valley. The descriptions are beautiful and the sense of place is immersive. In this story, time travellers are tethered to their own time via a scent embedded in their skin, a concept that I loved—for who among us has not been taken viscerally back to a specific time and place by smelling a certain scent?
I fidgeted with the slender vein embedded into the skin of my left cheek, infused with bergamot essence. My personal relic was designed to be a permanent reminder of the slice of space-time I belonged to. Scent, the strongest summoner of memory, would always call me back to my world should I ever lose myself in the continuum.”—”Bergamot and Vetiver” by Lavanya Lakshminarayan
“Roadside Attraction” by Alix E. Harrow. I absolutely loved the way that in this future, time travel has been discovered, determined to be unprofitable, and is now a sort of “meh” reality that only radicals and the down-and-out consider. Its very mundanity sets the tone for the way the forlorn protagonist Floyd continually flings himself into the past, trying to find his “destiny.” And gets continually flung back out again. It’s a funny story with a heartwarming core.
He knew it was beginning to wear on him. He accumulated scabs and scars, gathered bruises like blue flowers. He got frostbite in Spain, which lingered, settling like sand in the bottom of his lungs. He spent a hungry week in the Reagan administration and had to carve a new hole in his belt when he came back.”—”Roadside Attraction,” by Alix E. Harrow
“The Difference Between Love and Time” by Catherynne M. Valente. I continue to love Cat Valente—no big surprise there. As I said above, I mostly bought this anthology to read her story, and I was not disappointed. “The Difference Between Love and Time” is about a person who is in love with the space/time continuum. It’s one hell of a complicated relationship.
The space/time continuum is the sum total of all that ever was or ever possibly could have been or might conceivably exist and/or occur, the constantly tangling braid of physical and theoretical reality, (steadily degrading) temporal processes, and the interactions between the aforementioned.
It is also left-handed.
It is, as you have probably always suspected, non-linear, non-anthropic, non-Euclidean, and wholly non-sensical.
In point of fact, it’s a complete goddamned mess.”—”The Difference Between Love and Time,” by Catherynne M. Valente
Another story that made me laugh out loud, but this one also made me tear up with sadness. As you might expect when the space/time continuum is involved, the story is not exactly linear. We get shown things out of order and context; bits of dialogue, images, and moments fall into place as you read. It is not only a romance and strangely true portrayal of a relationship, but also a touching and unusual meditation on grief and the absurdity of existence.
I’m so happy that Jonathan Strahan decided that this book was needed in the world. Sometimes a short story collection is just what I need for some little pockets of fiction throughout my day, and this anthology was a real pleasure.
If you have any favourite time travel stories, I’d love it if you dropped them in the comments! I have a feeling there will be more of them in my future.