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Book Review

Book Cover

Beyond Time
Classic Tales of Time Unwound


Editor: Mike Ashley
Publisher: British Library
348 pages
RRP: £8.99
ISBN: 978 0 7123 5320 5
Publication Date: 17 October 2019

The British Library continues to publish its anthologies of science fiction classics, edited by Mike Ashley.

Beyond Time: Classic Tales of Time Unwound (2020. 348 pages) continues the series into its twelfth volume. The stories range from the late nineteenth century, right up to the late nineteen fifties and are presented in roughly chronological order.

The nice thing about the whole of the series is that it presents a good mix of stories from authors you would be familiar with, like H.G. Wells, J. B. Priestly and E. C. Tubbs to authors who have fallen out of popularity, disappearing into their own personal time tunnel heading towards undeserved obscurity.

Although all of the stories deal with time travel there is a tonal shift between the earlier works and those of the twentieth century. Apart from Wells, the majority of the earlier writers use time travel to show the reader the horrors which await man either in his future or past. It could be said that Wells succumbed to this in The Time Machine (1895), but by 1932 with 'The Queer Story of Brownlow’s Newspaper' he is happy just to take the reader into a generally more positive future.

Here a paper from the future is mistakenly delivered to Wells’s friend which shows how much the world has changed in forty years. Like a lot of Wells's writing this is presented as if Wells were recounting the tale directly to the reader.

The manner of time travel changes between the stories, from some more conventional mechanical contrivances to more esoteric methods, either way the majority cover the theory of how it works in a mostly perfunctory manner. Some do make an effort at creating a pseudo-scientific basis, but to be honest it’s not really required as the majority of the stories rely on a Shyamalanian twist at the end for added shock.

A typical example of this is 'The Reign of the Reptiles' by Alan Connell where our protagonist is sent back in time millions of years only to discover a thriving and intelligent lizard culture. The lizards keep humans in pits, experimenting on them. The twist here is given away fairly early when Sander is told that no humans have ever existed anywhere outside of the pits.

As the stories progress into the mid to latter half of the twentieth century, their use of time travel becomes more sophisticated, there are still elements of horror to a lot of the stories, like the excellent 'Dial “O” for Operator' by Robert Presslie, which reads like an episode of The Twilight Zone.

An operator is rung by an obviously frightened woman who says that there is something outside of the telephone booth, she is evidently in imminent danger, but when he dispatches help, the phone booth is empty, even though he is still on the phone to her.

There are thirteen stories in all and while the earlier ones were more simplistic I enjoyed them all to various degrees.

Apart from the stories, one of the real strengths of the series has been the introductions by Mike Ashley. Always informative, here he takes us through a twenty-four page examination of how science fiction has approached the concept of time travel. I have found these to be so interesting, should they even decide to end the series the last book should be a collection of the various anthologies introductions.


Charles Packer

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