Genre: Short Stories / Science Fiction / Romance
Content warnings: violence, death, homophobia, sexual assault
Perfect for when you’re in the mood for: imagining love that lasts across the space–time continuum and feeling your heart lurch when it doesn’t
Someone in Time: Tales of Time-Crossed Romance is a collection of 16 short stories that use time travel as either the spark that ignites a whirlwind romance or as the out-of-control blaze that burns romance to the ground. I’ll admit, I’m generally not keen on time travel as a plot device. But I saw Zen Cho’s name on the front cover, and I love romance more than I dislike jumping through a crack in time or two.
The anthology opens with an introduction from its editor, Jonathan Strahan, who brings up the interesting point that, though we now think of time travel as a very science fiction-y concept, it was a device used by the writers of old and one which was more nebulous than mechanical. I was pleased to find a mix of both approaches taken by the authors included in Someone in Time.
Rather than the popular stories of time travel to far futures that we’ve seen plenty of before, the authors here seemed more concerned with the past. Call it a by-product of the (unfortunate, inescapable) truth of our time that the future only seems to hold more environmental doom. In Bergamot and Vetiver by Lavanya Lakshminarayan and A Letter to Merlin by Theodora Goss, these environmental themes beat alongside the romance at each story’s heart. Lakshminarayan’s worldbuilding is gorgeous and brings back to life the Indus Valley Civilization as the last hope for the future. Goss somehow manages to make Arthur and Guinevere interesting all over again through a girl from the future who is inserted into the past over and over again to save humanity from itself.
Are you from my disaster or another? There were so many, the Chronographer told me. Humanity, she said in her dry, clipped, precise voice, has an infinite appetite for self-destruction. The details are boringly repetitive: war, famine, pestilence. – A Letter to Merlin
Other stories make travelling to the past more personal. In The Past Life Reconstruction Service by Zen Cho, new Rekall-meets-your-past-lives technology makes an ageing man realise that the ex he let slip through his fingers has been his soulmate for a very long time. Cho injects her usual humour into the story, and there’s a great part with a cow and a particularly annoying fly. And in Roadside Attraction by Alix E. Harrow, a young man throws himself into so many past time periods that it’s hard to keep count, all in search of his destiny. Except, maybe his destiny has been the other time travelling young man that keeps waiting on his return.
Paying a mysterious company an inordinate sum to help him uncover his past lives was the kind of weird rich people shit he’d never envisaged himself going in for. – The Past Life Reconstruction Service
Another story that I think deserves a special mention is Sam J. Miller’s Unbased, or: Jackson, Whose Cowardice Tore a Hole in the Chronoverse. This is one of the shorter stories in the collection, but it had my heart in tatters (I’m still piecing it back together). Based on Indrapramit Das’ Karina Who Kissed Spacetime, this story follows Jackson, a college student who doesn’t walk his first boyfriend home because he’s scared and ashamed to be gay in an extremely homophobic environment. His boyfriend is fatally bashed on his way home, and Jackson’s regret tears space and time apart by creating timelines where he kept his boyfriend safe. This story takes ‘what-ifs’ and makes them reality, exploring the power of regret.
I’ve mentioned my personal favourites here – stories where the time travel and the romance left a significant impression on me. Others came very close, including The Difference Between Love and Time by Catherynne M. Valente, where the space/time continuum is the narrator’s (kind of toxic) long-term love interest. Kronia by Elizabeth Hand, which was disorientating in the best way, also offered a great perspective on memory as a form of time travel.
The space/time continuum said: Cowboy is just another word for the generational trauma inflicted by the colonizer’s whole-ass inability to access empathy for anyone but himself and the debt to entropy incurred by his solipsistic commitment to almost unimaginable violence as an expression of personal potency. – The Difference Between Love and Time
There weren’t many stories that I flat-out disliked. Surprisingly, one of them was Time G*psy (censoring not in original title) by Ellen Klages. Strahan hyped this up in his introduction, but its execution felt rather immature, and the entire notion that women should be credited for their academic advancements folded in on itself when the love interest stole credit from another victim of research theft just because he was already . . . dead. Not to mention, ‘g*psy’ is a slur, and Romani culture is not an aesthetic. I get that the story was first published in 2006, but reproducing and praising potentially harmful language in 2022 is not okay?
I think the collection as a whole did a great job of being inclusive of queer love stories (most of the love stories were queer). I would have also liked to have seen more BIPOC authors in the line-up because the same old European past started to get, well, old. But for the most part, I’m glad to have spent some of my portion of the space–time continuum with Someone in Time. I rate it 4 stars.