Two Book Tango: The Order of Time and Best Time Travel Stories


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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.

  • The cover of the book The Order of Time

    The Order of Time

    Why do we remember the past and not the future? What does it mean for time to “flow”? Do we exist in time or does time exist in us? In lyric, accessible prose, Carlo Rovelli invites us to consider questions about the nature of time that continue to puzzle physicists and philosophers alike.

    For most readers this is unfamiliar terrain. We all experience time, but the more scientists learn about it, the more mysterious it remains. We think of it as uniform and universal, moving steadily from past to future, measured by clocks. Rovelli tears down these assumptions one by one, revealing a strange universe where at the most fundamental level time disappears. He explains how the theory of quantum gravity attempts to understand and give meaning to the resulting extreme landscape of this timeless world. Weaving together ideas from philosophy, science and literature, he suggests that our perception of the flow of time depends on our perspective, better understood starting from the structure of our brain and emotions than from the physical universe.

    Already a bestseller in Italy, and written with the poetic vitality that made Seven Brief Lessons on Physics so appealing, The Order of Time offers a profoundly intelligent, culturally rich, novel appreciation of the mysteries of time.

  • The cover of the book The Best Time Travel Stories of the 20th Century

    The Best Time Travel Stories of the 20th Century

    Stories by Arthur C. Clarke, Jack Finney, Joe Haldeman, Ursula K. Le Guin, Larry Niven, Theodore Sturgeon, Connie Willis, and more

    H. G. Wells’s seminal short story “The Time Machine,” published in 1895, provided the springboard for modern science fiction’s time travel explosion. Responding to their own fascination with the subject, the greatest visionary writers of the twentieth century penned some of their finest stories. Here are eighteen of the most exciting tales ever told, including

    “Time’s Arrow” In Arthur C. Clarke’s classic, two brilliant physicists finally crack the mystery of time travel—with appalling consequences.

    “Death Ship” Richard Matheson, author of Somewhere in Time, unveils a chilling scenario concerning three astronauts who stumble upon the conundrum of past and future.

    “A Sound of Thunder” Ray Bradbury’s haunting vision of modern man gone dinosaur hunting poses daunting questions about destiny and consequences.

    “Yesterday Was Monday” If all the world’s a stage, Theodore Sturgeon’s compelling tale follows the odyssey of an ordinary joe who winds up backstage.

    “Rainbird” R. A. Lafferty reflects on what might have been in this brainteaser about an inventor so brilliant that he invents himself right out of existence.

    “Timetipping” What if everyone time-traveled except you? Jack Dann provides some surprising answers in this literary gem.

    . . . as well as twelve other stories.