Like so many headlines, my husband and I have defaulted to calling 2020 the lost year. Indeed, it seems that one of the most widespread impacts of the pandemic, as we socially distance to slow it spread, has been a pause to so many things.
And there’s a determined fight to not let other certain things come to a complete standstill—education programs, fundraising events, programs of support for those in need, book launches, so many things that are crucial to keep organizations and societies running. So many plans of personal significance.
We are losing time with loved ones we must now stay away from. Time with those who are absorbed by the fight to treat the ill, those who catch it, those who pass away from it. Time that ebbs away as we wait for the curve to flatten, for a vaccine to become available, for it to be widely accessible.
Time is lost in many ways, but it has never felt as universal as it does now.
These four time travel books explore the feelings of time that has been lost.
How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu
The protagonist of this unusual novel, Yu, is himself a time travel machine mechanic. To perform this job for time machine rentals across space and time, he lives in a time machine himself with his dog (who doesn’t exist) and a depressed A, wrestling with what could have happened to his MIA father—Did he abandon the family? Is he in trouble? Is he dead? Then, on his way to another job, Yu is caught in a time loop by his future self.
This novel is dizzyingly meta and deeply, heartbreakingly personal.
The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffeneggar
This novel is the love story of Clare and her husband Henry, who has Chrono-Displacement Disorder. This rare and little-understood condition causes Henry to get caught in time out of chronological order. When he is lost in another part of his timeline, he is missing from his current timeline.
In a story brimming with resonance and longing, Clare and Henry fight to stay together in time and place and build as stable a life as they can.
An Ocean of Minutes by Thea Lim
It starts with a pandemic—and I know, we’ve all had enough of that in real life for now, but stay with me a minute.
Polly’s boyfriend catches the deadly flu, and the cure only exists in the future, where (fortunately) time travel has been invented. In a trade to save his life, she agrees to go to the future and work as a bond worker, and they promise to meet up when their timelines meet again. But something goes wrong and Polly is sent five years too far into the future, and when she gets there, she can’t find her boyfriend anywhere.
This novel weaves together an epic love story that spans across time with big emotions and social commentary on class differences, racism, and sexism.
The Lost Time Accidents by John Wray
At the opening of this novel, Waldy Tolliver wakes up to find himself removed from time. Around him it continues to whoosh on, but he is caught in a point of stillness like the eye of a storm.
With nothing else to do, he starts delving into his family history and toying with a concept that seems to have been passed down generation to generation: that a man can influence the motion of time and pass through it as he wishes.
And since nothing else is happening, he starts a hunt for his great uncle, who he believes may have found the secret to making time travel a reality.
Filled with quirk and absurdity, this neurotic adventure is bursting with references of all kinds and stretches across history both deeply personal and epic.