Time: we have too much of it, or too little. We share it with others, or step away from those we love for a little for ourselves. It sets the tempo of our day, marks our moments. We take it, let it slip away. Occasionally, it gets away from us altogether. Just look at the time!
Welcome to another installment of Two Book Tango: an ongoing series in which Unbound Worlds pairs two titles that go well together.
What time is it is a completely different question from what time is. I can address the former with a glance at my phone — a device that long ago dethroned the wristwatch that once served this uniquely human need — but I am at a loss to answer the latter. For that, I direct you to Seven Brief Lessons in Physics author Carlo Rovelli, whose latest book, The Order of Time, tackles this perennial but surprisingly complicated question.
Rovelli, a physicist by training, writes that time — at least in the way that we think of it — is an illusion. It doesn’t flow evenly across the universe. Space and time are one thing — spacetime — and the passage of time is relative. Time, as it turns out, is a weird, slippery thing, and all of our clocks and watches (and phones) are just tools we’ve developed to cope with it.
Timepieces aren’t the only tools we have to address time, though. Art is a powerful way of wrapping our heads around time: not only its mind-boggling physical aspects, but also the emotions that it evokes. Who hasn’t looked back with regret at opportunities lost, or grief at the passage of loved ones? What person hasn’t once fantasized about turning back the clock? Time travel fiction speaks to these deep truths, and embodies them in shapes and forms that aren’t so slippery as time itself: artifacts of prose we can capture in our minds.
With that in mind, I recommend The Best Time Travel Stories of the 20th Century: an anthology edited by Harry Turtledove and Martin H. Greenberg. In this book, some of that century’s greatest writers examine time travel through multiple lenses, playing with its paradoxes and possibilities. Some of these stories will give you new perspectives on time — even if they’re all relative.