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Time tourism

Why can't women time travel? —asks Anna Smith in The Guardian, in a rather interesting op-ed piece on science fiction. While focusing mostly on movies, she's got a good point; women are seldom the protagonists of first-person time travel stories, especially in cinema. And while I can think of a number of exceptions in written fantasy and paranormal romance, I'm coming up with pocket-lint in genre SF.

Here's your explanation: time travel fiction—when time travel is the focus of the story, rather than a means to support a plot twist regarding the mechanism of temporal travel (for example, The Men Who Murdered Mohammed, A Sound of Thunder)—is a travelogue; or rather, a Grand Tour through the exotic foreign climes of the past.

Now, there's something significant to note about tourism. From its origins in the aforementioned grand tour to the present day, it's a ritual of the privileged. The sons of the landed gentry would take a post-Oxbridge trek through France and Italy and, later, Greece, visiting sites of classical antiquity, polishing their foreign language skills, and socializing with the aristocracy. It gave them a cultural education that was unavailable at home. But relatively few people did it; prior to the advent of the age of steam, sea and land travel was expensive, slow, and somewhat perilous. To accomplish a grand tour required resources: notably time and money.

Even in this age of cheap travel and hotels everywhere, tourism is the defining characteristic of the comfortably off, of the middle and upper classes of the developed world. To be a tourist one must have a sufficiency of income such that one can claw back some time from the daily grind of hand-to-mouth labor, and spend one's savings on the expenses of travel and accommodation. Tourism is a luxury. The poor, the unemployed, and refugees may travel, but they do so for survival's sake: the indulgence of pure curiosity is expensive. To be a tourist is also to exercise the tourist's gaze: to place onesself outside the context of the society in which one travels, to observe it as a stranger, and in turn to reduce these locations to a spectacle, be it for education or entertainment.

The time travel story is a tale of tourism in the classical sense: an activity of the privileged, making spectacle of the past (and, occasionally, the Wellsian future). And women make poor time travelers because in the foreign countries of the past they lack the agency conferred by privilege.

When one is reading fiction for escapism, to identify with a protagonist who undergoes interesting experiences and personal development through travel to exotic and unusual places, one often seeks to identify with the privileged: with individuals who are not immiserated by their experiences. (Usually. There are exceptions.) But by and large women lacked autonomy and independent agency in past times. They lived under the twin yokes of biological determinism and cultural oppression; in societies where 30-50% of newborns never made it to their fifth birthday, where between 5% and 10% of pregnancies ended in maternal death, and where access to contraception was questionable at best: and in societies dominated by patriarchal hierarchies. Most women historically lived as second-class citizens, at best. Furthermore, laws reflected this, as did social norms. To put things in perspective: the legal rights of an Englishwoman of 1882 bear a closer equivalence to those of an Iranian woman in 1982 than most of us are comfortable thinking about. And how many western women of today would be comfortable vacationing in contemporary Iran?

This is not to suggest that the situation of women in the developed world today is perfect, or even acceptable. (Rape culture and discrimination and the systematic subordination of women remain rife: we've got a long way to go.) But there's a difference between what those of us in North America or Europe take for granted today, and cultures where rape is normalized through lack of sanctions (legal or social), or sexual harassment of strange women is considered unremarkable. And those are happening today: historically systematic enslavement for prostitution was institutionalized in some cultures. The unpalatable fact is that if you're a woman of today, most of our history is a Crap-Sack World dystopia, with added state (and church) decreed repression, a ubiquitous threat of sexual violence, and reproductive slavery on top.

Time travel tourist yarns that describe the depths of our historical depravity have to deal with the essential problem that their settings can be no less sexist than our past. And there are time travel novels about women that tackle this problem head-on, but they tend to make for grim reading. Because unless a woman was born into the upper 0.1% of the population, her life was pretty dystopian by modern standards: and even then it wasn't necessarily great. (Consider a semi-random example: Faustina the Younger. It's hard to get much more elite than the Empress of Rome, with effectively unlimited wealth and a loyal husband of 30 years who clearly mourned her passing. Even so: she died before her 50th birthday, exhausted after bearing 13 babies, only 6 of whom made it past their tenth—life was hard.)

Anyway, back to my thesis:

A young and intrepid male time traveler might experience a tour of the Great Times as an educational adventure; an equally young and intrepid female time traveler could count herself lucky if she merely ended up in a Magdalene Laundry. (There were plenty of worse places to land, horrifying though this might seem.)

For a female protagonist to successfully enjoy time travel as a form of tourism implies either that she has defensive resources that render her invulnerable to the depredations of the locals (a Culture knife missile up her sleeve should do the trick), or that she has acquired a privilege power-up—probably by way of cross-dressing, which shows up depressingly often as a get-out-of-time-jail-free card. (It's so common in the literature, in fact, that it's somewhere between a cliche and a full-blown sub-genre convention.) But in neither of these circumstances is she able to engage with the alien society from within: She remains an outsider. Her privilege delivers alienation, not engagement. There are rare exceptions—you can all stop yelling "Doomsday Book!" at me on twitter—but exceptions don't invalidate a general trend.

Lord Byron (the uber-tourist) might have joined his romantic Greek rebels in rising against the Turkish empire; Marty McFly might have taken to the stage for a high school hop and introduced the audience to rock'n'roll a decade too early: but Peggy-Sue Got Married because that's the only option that was available to her, because the time-tourism sub-genre is inherently sexist. I rest my case.



An interesting read that does feature primarily women protagonists is Connie Willis' Blackout / All Clear: this got me thinking - they're not there as tourists. They're currently in the middle of their education as professional historians. I don't know if this adds or detracts to the main thesis here.


When I saw that article in the Guardian earlier this summer (I suspect it came to your attention again thanks to Lavie seeing it), I wrote a note to myself "x-chromosome linked time travel ability story"

Mayhap I need to write it.


I hit my throw-book-across-room so early in "Blackout" that I can't comment. (Historical/geographical errors in a period still within living memory, as in: my parents were there.)


I'm amazed that you managed to write this without even mentioning "All You Zombies"


I had to re-read "All You Zombies" some time in the past few years.

I'm still searching for the brain-bleach.


Hmm. Judith Tarr and Harry Turtledove's novel HOUSEHOLD GODS, where a modern American woman is cast into the Roman Empire, problems and all, although that's not voluntary time tourism.


"Doomsday Book" by Connie Willis is an excellent time travel book with a female protagonist. Doesn't really contradict your thesis, but it's a twist to it.

The company series by Kage Baker adds another variant - make your time travelling female protagonists nigh-invulnerable androids :)


Cross-dressing as a way for time travelers to escape the traditional female role... It may not be just time travelers. While characterizing them as doing so is problematic - we don't know their reasons - I suggest a look at what is known of Jack McDonald and Dr. James Barry.


To me, HOUSEHOLD GODS read like a collision between a thought-experiment in social archaeology (it's a great book to give a youngster who thinks Rome was all circuses and legions) and a somewhat preachy worked exploration of the "history was a crapsack world for women" thesis above. It hardly invalidates my thesis ...


The Company books were fun, but Mendoza et al were hardly ordinary women (and men) interacting with their environment. Again: thesis not invalidated.


Connie Willis also has female protagonists time-travelling in Doomsday Book to study the black death. There's some dubious microbiology/evolution in there (we're clearly descended from the survivors of a plague - we're likely to have inherited markers to make us less susceptible and so on).

Although I'm not enough of a historian to speak about the historical errors (I suspect they're there too) there's a fair amount of time and effort spent acclimatising the people to the culture of the time they're travelling to, and effort to put them in a safe (in relative terms), secluded place, and in a high social class and all the rest of it. Even with all those privileges it's still pretty crap.


Octavia Butler's Kindred is a time travel story with a female protagonist (who is also BLACK) going back to the US south in 1815.

In _Kindred) Butler confronts the very problems you are talking about head on:


The one genre SF example I can think of with a time-traveling female protagonist is "Time Slave" by John Norman. And, as with his Gor novels, this one merely used science fiction as a sort of frame from which he could once again ride his bizarre gender-roles hobby-horse into the ground.

As an example it doesn't undermine your thesis in the slightest; Our Heroine is not a tourist but rather occupies the involuntary role of an experimental lab animal. And the bulk of the narrative action is devoted to her repeated rapes by the locals and to her supposed reactions thereto.


Congratulations: you just demonstrated you didn't even mouse-hover over the links in my essay.


Pass the brain-bleach, please. (I think I need to place a bulk order ...)


The first story of mine ever published in Canada was a time travel story involving a high school girl using the (seemingly post-Singular) properties of Michael Jackson's sparkly white glove to access dates in pop music history. Hostile species find it and kidnap her boyfriend; she has to rescue him. Throughout the story her boyfriend uses the glove more than she does, but in the end the agency is all hers. I wrote it before having learnt to consider my privilege in the way that I try to today, otherwise I might have included more examples of the type of treatment my protagonist would have experienced in other times. At the time, I wrote it merely because I was enormously frustrated with New Who and its bullshit gender politics. (Speaking of escapist representations of traveling as a woman.)

Anecdata aside, I think you're spot on here. I've watched a lot of portal anime about girls going back in time, and there's always a bunch of physically strong, helpful, attractive guys around to help get the girl where she wants to go. Without real danger, the differences in culture can be turned into jokes about why the girl isn't wearing yukata. And while those are funny, they're not particularly incisive, and they don't do the good work of good jokes: shedding light on aspects of reality that we spend most of our time ignoring.

And one of those realities is that for women, the world is already a dystopia. If you want to know why women write more dystopias, that's why. It's because we already live there. And as they say: write what you know.


I was disappointed with Willis's Blackout and All Clear before I read your throwing-the-book-across-the-room piece; for me, without the native's sense of the historical inaccuracies you found so rife, the books fell down on storytelling and characterization. However, the failure of these two didn't mar for me the admiration I feel for Doomsday Book, from the same world, in which a woman travels to the Black Death. Tremendously gripping, emotionally devastating.

John Varley's Millennium featured a heroic burnt-out woman time-traveler, and -- as a bonus -- it was even made into a Hollywood movie. I assume the movie is terrible, as it features not just Kris Kristofferson, but Cheryl Ladd.

I would also draw your attention to the works of Kage Baker, whose Company novels are a very different take on time travel.


Technically, all FTL travel is time travel. :-)


And as they say: write what you know.

The correct one is: "Write what you know well, or what no one knows".


I want to mention Timeline by Crichton, but then I'd have to admit having read it


Whenever I read about this kind of thing, I just think it's a great market niche to exploit! One of the hardest things in scifi is to write what someone else hasn't written before. It's almost impossible, without being unreadable.

I don't quite subscribe to the theory that there are a finite amount of stories out there, but it seems that our trust quotient in white male leads is slowly becoming less of an absolute.


I think you partly fall for the fallacy of thinking the past is increasingly sexist (or crapsack) the further back you go. One can make a case for that Western Europe was at its lowest for agency and opportunities for women during the late 19th century, perhaps because of the mass urbanisation and other demographic changes that happened during industrialisation (lots of the 19th century culture was about huge backlashes against the French revolution).

Of course, most sf and fantasy authors probably fall for that fallacy extremely hard, with some exceptions - and I guess that is true for historical fiction as well. Might be interesting to make a comparison with historical fiction in general, now that I think of it.

That said, women's roles were generally more constrained in historical times than they are now, and in comparison to the men's roles. They were also probably more likely to be dependant on an existing social network around them, in order to have freedom to act.


There is only one linear progression in history -- all else is a drunkard's walk. (The only exception I note is mostly recent, and it's the increasing body of replicable and tested scientific knowledge, and even there it's increasing and a variable rate and contains lacunae of error.)

Despite the 19th century being a recent-ish low-point for the rights of women, there were steady improvements throughout that century; things like the abolition of Petty Treason as a separate offense in England, or the Married Womens' Property Act of 1882. But rights went in different directions in different places, all the time.


There are other subgenres of time travel stories. There's the future to the present where we are the distant past... John Varley's "Millennium" for example stars a female time traveller. And there's the past to the future/present like Rebecca Ore's "Time's Child" where Benedetta and her viking sidekick manage to hoodwink the naive future humans.


As a woman I find it hard to see the attraction of going back into the past and live my life there. Lack of hygiene products and healthcare being the least of my worries when facing a world that is fundamentally misogynistic.


"But in neither of these circumstances is she able to engage with the alien society from within: She remains an outsider. Her privilege delivers alienation, not engagement."

This seems to indicate that men can blend in better than women, and women are always outsiders. I'm a little confused here, as I thought tourists were outsiders by definition and often don't blend in. Expectations are different (at least in our time) for tourists than for natives. Tourists tend to stick to a few highlights in a given location and don't go off the beaten path. I think someone who wanted to engage the past would not be a tourist. (It would be nice to have someone bring back a few mementos from the Library of Alexandria, though.)

This argument could be extended to apply to anyone who, for any reason, doesn't fit into the elite group of the society they want to visit. At the risk of bringing up Connie Willis and Doomsday Book again, she did say that all of history is a 10 (too dangerous) for blacks.

I think instead of visiting our past, I need to create an alternate universe where women have always been able to control their reproduction and their lives. Anyone else want to sign up for a Fem-Friendly Tour to other worlds?


I think that anyone from the present would stand out in the past and the farther back one goes the more severe the standing out would be. There would be myriad social customs and "Things that everyone knows" that the time traveller would be unaware of. It will be the simple stuff, cooking a meal or tackling a horse that will make it obvious to the locals that you are not one of them. Ones best method for time travellers to operate would be in large groups and be deliberatly exotic.


Ones best method for time travellers to operate would be in large groups and be deliberately exotic.

Nah, the best method is large groups and generous application of artillery fire.


The are two sub-genres that you didn't cover: "Heading to pre-human time-travel" and "Starting from the distant future" time-travel". They don't so much argue against your point as side-step it.

OTOH, most time-travel stories aren't that great. "Rivers of Time" was pretty good, but that was a collection of short stories...and didn't feature a female protagonist, though it could have. Again, Leiber's "Try and change the past" didn't feature a female protagonist, but could have.

So there's more to it than your thesis. Where your thesis applies, it's reasonable and applicable, but it doesn't cover the entire field.

And "Rivers of Time" reminds me that there's alternative ways of telling a story. In "Rivers", the episodes are largely (entirely?) presented as being recounted by a story teller, so trimming out "extraneous" details is plausible. This is a good way of distancing the reader from an unpleasant situation.

Then there's "Downtiming the Night side". Unlike "Rivers", it's NOT a travelogue. And the protagonist is thoroughly transformed during the story. Not pleasant, but not told in a way that makes one feel icky, either.

Are you considering parallel-worlds to be time travel stories? Sometimes this appears to be so considered, and in several of them it is used as a travelogue. But it, also, avoids the constraints that you mention, yet also avoids lead female characters.

It's rare that travelogue is the center of the story, time-travel or otherwise. Usually there is some other reason for travelling. Quite often that other reason is something more typically masculine than feminine. (Big-game hunting, military-action, etc.) As such, unless carefully done it would feel like an imposition of political correctness to use a lead female character.

One possibility I've never encountered would be a story centered around a "station keeper", who handled time-travellers visiting his/her location. Such an individual could easily be female without causing trouble for the storyline, though you might need to choose your historical period carefully.


This. Just once I'd like to see a time travel story where the lady in question has to reconcile herself to the lack tampons.


The one genre SF example I can think of with a time-traveling female protagonist is "Time Slave" by John Norman. And, as with his Gor novels, this one merely used science fiction as a sort of frame from which he could once again ride his bizarre gender-roles hobby-horse into the ground.

I did wade through this pile, once, and this is the least of the book's problems. The viewpoint character is a passive sock puppet, the tribesmen are of course ignorant savages (by turns cardboard cavemen or Noble Savages), and the inventors of the time machine are both morons and, inevitably, all male. Apparently there was some reason why a female couldn't be a mathematician or physicist or engineer?

Anyway, the plan was to acquire a female patsy, betray her, give her a whole lot of reason to hold a grudge against the time machine makers, and set her up in a position of power where the masterminds had absolutely no hold over her. This was not how the plan went pear-shaped, this was their first and best plan. Amazingly, their scheme did not go nearly as badly as their arrangements deserved.


That was something New Who sort of got right. A black woman as a companion, in Shakespearean London. There were blacks around, mostly as exotic status-symbol servants, musicians, and the like. Still not a good place for a foreign woman, but they could dodge the short term problems. And, even without the TARDIS handwaves on how you can talk to people, they had enough history to hang an explanation on.

But Doctor Who isn't a lone woman. There is the Doctor as the patriarchal protector.


There would be myriad social customs and "Things that everyone knows" that the time traveller would be unaware of. It will be the simple stuff, cooking a meal or tackling a horse that will make it obvious to the locals that you are not one of them.

It occurs to me that it would be useful for the Time Patrol to start by establishing 'acculturation camps' where folks can get used to the societies where operatives will deploy. (Similar things are done by governments to get agents used to thinking in ways appropriate to some specific other country.) It wouldn't be unreasonable to have a 50 year gap between time periods; that's enough time for a lot of changes and brief enough that there will be living memory of the previous setting.

Some might actually be isolated hamlets in the proper time; resident teachers could clear agents for progressively longer and less structured interactions with natives.

In some periods they might operate ships for similar purposes and totally deniable extraction and insertion. "Why, yes; this is Marcus, who joined us in Alexandria! Be patient, he's never been to Athens before."


To bring paratime into the discussion: Charlie's own MP story where Miriam winds spends most of one book as effectively chattel in the Gruinmarket world. Some reviewers on Amazon blethered on about 'how passive the protagonist was' and how they Didn't Like It.

I thought then (and think now) that they were missing the point: Miriam wasn't being passive because she was gormless: she was being passive because she had no choice, and she hated it.

As for female time travellers in other SF, some of Poul Anderson's later Time Patrol books included a female time traveller. In one adventure (appropriately titled "Berengia") she was on the Berengia land-bridge studying one bunch of hunter-gatherers as they interacted with another bunch of hunter-gatherers. In that story ISTR she had agency, but had to deal with a 19th-century colleague whose expectations regarding her were... not welcome.


A comparatively minor example is medieval cookery. We've got books written mainly for impressing people, and not much else. Thus, as far as I can recall, there's no real medieval recipe on how to cook peas or beans in the appropriate medieval manner.
Then there's the other little bits and pieces, like not buying stuff from people on their way into the market town, when you should be buying it from them when in the market place in town.

Hang on, shouldn't the blog post have ended "Time travel tourism sub genre is inherently sexist because the past was sexist"? Plus didn't Wells or some others write stuff where the person from 1900 went forwards in time and found that their sexist or similar ideas were held up for ridicule by the advanced folk?

For a female protagonist to successfully enjoy time travel as a form of tourism implies either that she has defensive resources that render her invulnerable to the depredations of the locals (a Culture knife missile up her sleeve should do the trick), or that she has acquired a privilege power-up—probably by way of cross-dressing, which shows up depressingly often as a get-out-of-time-jail-free card.

Or that she travels into <dramatic pause>... THE FUTURE!!! ;-)

But the only thing that springs to mind is Marge Piercy's "Woman on the Edge of Time"... a tale that highlights how wonderful it is to live as a woman now. Especially when you add mental illness into the mix...


The roleplaying game CONTINUUM, which is about time travelers, totally does this idea of acculturation for local societies and times with the idea of "Corners", which are people who have a safe spot and can welcome visitors and get them up to speed.


Zelazney's Roadmarks doesn't seem to fit this description; neither Strangulena nor Leila have any problems with tootling about in history. Quite the contrary. This one is an odd sub-genre though. I'll call it "Only Extraordinary People Can Travel in Time (or Space)" category.


Unfortunately have to agree - one of the things I generally find myself writing into material for my Forgotten Futures RPG, which is based on Victorian and Edwardian SF etc., is that the cultures depicted in this fiction usually have big gender biases, with the only roles for women the helpless sidekick, professor's daughter, evil femme fatale etc. While the players can ignore that, they need to be aware that the source material is skewed that way.


Has anyone here read Diane Galbadon's Outlander series and is able to comment on their approach with regard to the issue at hand? My knowledge of them is pretty much limited to that they are a thing that exists in the intersection between "time travel novels" and "romance novels" on the venn diagram.


There are a number of Star Trek movies and episodes where the crew do time travel, and the female cast sometimes tag along. Examples are Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home and the Deep Space 9 episode Trials and Tribble-ations. Usually, however, they do not go back beyond the late 19th century, where the womens movement was hard at work.


Also by Connie Willis, Doomsday Book. Indeed, the time traveler has a background cover story that is probably more cautious than what a male would have needed.


that is fine, if you are conquering the past but is a little loud if you are infiltrating it.


I seem to wind up using the phrase "look at it in historical perspective" in a lot of discussions. Improved but still crappy condition of women definitely a case in point.
Visited the Women's Rights National Historical Park in Seneca Falls, NY, last week -- very instructive. 2 weeks ago finished reading Pinker's "The Better Angels of Our Nature" -- definitely hopeful, upwards and onwards.


Exactly but peas and beans are the easy bit, but how do you bake bread in an oven on an open fire, with coals on top with no clock and a flour texture you are not used to and a yeast strain that no longer exists.

A man could get away with out knowing this but would he know how to yoke an ox or saddle a horse with tackle that is different from its modern versions. A man has some change of masquerading as a nobleman, if he shows evidence of education, has money and is knowledgeable in the use of arms and does not try to pretend to be from anywhere nearby.

A woman on her own in the past is pretty much fair game. Not she could not make something of her situation but not likely to be a pleasant experience and perhaps not an experience that would be fun to read about or to write.

On the other hand the writer could ignore the historical facts and give the woman agency.

Possibly by sending her to somewhere about which little is known and have the local release that she is useful to have around because she of her useful knowledge.

By the way, where do novels where entire communities are tossed around in time come into this? Like the 1632 stuff or the Island in the Sea of Time stuff.


Louis CK had a bit in this vein in regards to being a white man.

Paraphrasing, "I could go to any point in history. I could go to the year two. I don't even know what was going on then but I know when I get there, right this way sir, we have a table for you."


What, no-one's mentioned Anne McCaffrey's first Pern novel, where the heroine goes back in time to bring back more dragons (AIUI she argued it was SF, not Fantasy)? Or even Bujold, Barrayar, and Cordelia Naismith, time travel by culture shock?

Here's another classic outlier, Gertrude Bell, although I'm not sure whether she's your exception or your rule...


I agree with Charlie's argument but I'll happily enjoy a good time travel story regardless. Doomsday Book was indeed unusual in having a female time-travelling protagonist.

I do want to mention Una Persson and Catherine Cornelius, just because. They hardly stand against the general thesis though, being effectively immune from reality in any age.

FWIW, my favourite time-travel story is John Crowley's "The Great Work of Time". No room for women in the British Empire though - this story exemplifies Charlie's argument.


And how many western women of today would be comfortable vacationing in contemporary Iran?

Not that I do tourism and almost all my 'vacations' are extra days wherever I happen to be at the end of projects, but I feel pretty comfortable about going to Iran compared to quite a lot of other countries, and it's high on my list of countries I'd go to if the opportunity came up.


While people have mentioned the New Who, the Old Who (I.e. before Sylvester McCoy's era) had at least one strong and credible female protagonist. Anyone from my age group (late 40s) will remember Leela.


Although this was rather undermined by the costume department, even if she did typically carry a damn great knife...


Ah… Yeah, found it.

And, no, I didn't mouse over or follow all the links. The Thomas Covenent reference kind of put me off. :-)


While the past may be bad for women (and not that great for men too), that shouldn't prevent travel to the future unless one thinks it will revert to being equally bad too.

Someone has already mentioned Louise Baltimore from Varley's "Millenium" as a rare counter factual, although she is isn't traveling into our deeper past.

I suppose the female companions of Dr. Who get their safety by traveling in his "care", although this seems less true in the reboot starting with Eccleston. However, the Rani travels in time by herself and is very capable.


Oh, bread's easy, I know people who do it... Besides, in medieval Europe, the bread oven is usually heated with sticks put inside it, allowed to burn, then raked out, often leaving a bit of ash which would then contaminate the bottom bit of the bread.
The yeast and flour come from local suppliers, obviously.

As for communities thrown around in time, that's an idea, although I think the outcome depends very much on how conservative- liberal the author is.


Well you could bring a good supply of feminine hygiene products along, and also see to it that the time portal/time machine is always nearby for quick trips back to the future for frequent healthcare.

Don't you think it would be worth arranging all this in order to visit prehistorical matriarchies or gynocracies when women ruled?


Nobody has mentioned Jess Fink's time travel adventures in "We can fix it". She's published this as a book, agraphic novel, but they were originally episodic segments that she had put up on her blog.

I bought the book after seeing them on her blog and I find it's great as long as you don't try to read it in one shot. It's better to pause between each short segment, since it was conceived as episodic art.


I'm mildly fascinated by your exclusion of the McCoy era - Leela's leather bikini was a little problematic, whereas McCoy had Ace. A plausible, sensibly dressed, female character who not only got substantial character development, but also made her own explosives from scratch, and is the named originator for TVTropes "crowning moment of awesome", because she beat up a dalek with a baseball bat.


There seem to be a lot of books written about women time travelling, but they're on the romance shelves of the bookshop, not science fiction.

Typing "time travel romance" into the Amazon book search just reported 4,399 hits, not bad compared to the 5,806 for "time travel science fiction." OK, I didn't do a more detailed examination, but the first page of results certainly had the women travelling in time, not just men.

This may not be an improvement.


Supernaut: yes, but are you female?


Hm. Comics!

There's an italian series by Luca Enoch called Lilith, here's the description from the horse's mouth

WHO'S LILITH? Lilith is a young woman in her early twenties. She's a time killer – or chronoassassin – that is sent back in time to track some people down. Her targets are the unwitting carriers of an alien vegetable organism – the Triacanto, also known as “spiromorph”, “spinophorma” o “tricuspid” – that in a distant future will germinate and become the Earth's dominant species, forcing the few humans survived to extinction to an imprisoned life under the surface. The triacanto extraction inevitably means death for its carrier. Lilith’s only goal is to sever the ancestry lines of the Triacanto before it can branch out of control; she doesn’t care for the changes – even big ones – that take place in History after her actions. WHERE DOES THE NAME OF THE MAIN CHARACTER COME FROM? AND WHY, AT FRIST, DO WE KNOW HER AS LYCA? Lyca is the character’s true name and it comes from a poem by William Blake, “The Little Girl Lost”. It’s the story of the young Lyca, lost and wept by her parents, who is found asleep by wild animals that take care of her. The poem has some points in common with our Lilith’s early life: born and raised only to be sent in the past, lost to her parents and friend, she also has a tiger/panther-like animal as her companion. In my story, Lyca is a true soldier, trained for her mission from a very young age; once she commits her first bloody murder, she rejects her name and chooses to be called Lilith, an ancient female demon from the Jewish tradition, the name one of her victims called her. WHAT IS THE TRIACANTO? The Triacanto is an alien parasite that in a distant future will cause a planetary slaughter. It spreads in a chaotic and unrestrainable way, contaminating almost every single person on the planet. People will ignore its existence until the event called Grande Germinazione (“The Great Germination”) that will mark the end of human predominance on Earth. WHO IS LO SCURO AND WHAT'S HIS TASK? While going back and forth in time, as the first thing in each of her missions, Lilith has to find the Miriapodi to obtain the basic information for the mission. Once found and activated the miriapode, Lo Scuro appears to help Lilith with her task. Acting as a guide for the young girl, this big feline is incorporeal and invisible to everybody but Lilith. It doesn’t interact in any way with creatures other than her. WHICH ARE THE PLACES AND TIMES WHERE YOU DECIDED TO SEND LILITH DURING HER TRAVELS? Just like everybody else, I have my favorite periods in history – the most intriguing on an historical and iconographic plan. Lilith will crawl through the muddy trenches of World War I, will ride along the Souther rebels during the American Civil War, will sail with the Vikings explorers to the North American coast, will tread on the desert sand at the time of Napoleon’s campaign in Egypt, will fight side by side with the Italian troops sent to China during the Boxer Rebellion, and will face the gladiators in the Roman Coliseum. In her mission, Lilith will inevitably change the course of History as we know it and find herself in places where the historical background will be radically different.

In this case the protagonist is invulnerable and capable of tearing people to shreds with her bare hands, the drama comes from the tragedies that surround her as she skips from one horrible battle to another and is sometimes forced to kill innocents to fulfill her mission. Unusually for a time travel story, there is no concern about altering history, and so historical figures are killed or altered and in later volumes the world is visibly altered from our timeline.

As a contrast, John Allison is running a time travel story right now

and it's not the first time he's done so, but he tends towards the whimsical and harmless end of the narrative spectrum. The archives seem to be missing but if I recall correctly his female characters got along fine in Elizabethan England by singing Beatles' songs.


I had the same thought as gravelbelly22 above wrt. Cordelia Naismith; not the same genre, but a lot of the same problems. If you look at the details, though, she only can mentally survive because A) she was slotted in to the highest high caste female status on arrival, by luck, and B) then did something memorable, notable, and singular to step outside the caste structure in a sense.

Thinking to the modern Iran analogy, female western travelers apparently are not at any particular risk, but I have no firsthand knowledge.

We have seen travellogues and time travel from non-preferred perspectives, but mostly played as farce. Playing it straight, as a disadvantaged / unprivileged vistor without strong social clue as to the customs, seems likely to go depressing rapidly.


If time travel is tourism, where's Club 18-30 figure in all this?

Let's assume that time travel is expensive and hard to access - and thus only available to the rich, workshy types. What if it gets commoditised later on? The timetravelling equivalent of Thomas Cook starts shipping package tours back to Ye Olde Times, and shortly diversifies into some Ibiza-type hijinks for the yoof. And the unlucky recipients of these time travellers aren't going to be able to distinguish the rich first wave from the second and later waves.

Or indeed students taking a gap year in the Dark Ages.


Well, thanks for calling The Plot to Save Socrates (2006) and Unburning Alexandria (2013) pocket-lint :)


I think I have to say that not accepting Connie Willis as a counterexample because you didn't like her book isn't really sound criticism. It's sort of akin to a "no true Scotsman" argument: "No good science fiction portray a woman time traveler!"

It seems to me, though, that I encounter a somewhat kindred issue in a very different context. I've run a fair number of rpg campaigns set in the past—often the past plus fantasy, but still historically rooted: Rome in AUC 1000, the Near East in the First Crusade, France under the Regency, New Orleans in the 1930s. I tend to emphasize setting and characterization over action/adventure, and I like a fair measure of historical realism, within the reach of my ability to do research. I also have about 50% women players. Well, some while back, I noticed (and checked by running a quick chi-squared analysis!) a pattern: women players were more likely than men players to play cross-gender characters if they were playing in past settings (say, earlier than WWII), but not if they were playing in recent or future settings. The explanation for that seems pretty obvious and consistent with your point about time travel. Even in fantasy, a lot of women are going to anticipate that the real past won't be a lot of fun. . . .


Time travel by women to prehistoric time periods would avoid the problems you mention, especially to pre-human periods. It's been a while since i read it but I think one of the main characters in Swanwick's "Bones of the Earth" is a female paleontologist. Though that book is more about the time travelers than the time travel. :)


Lisa Mason Golden Nineties (and it's better-known prequel Summer of Love but only tangentially). The Canadian/SyFy Channel show Continuum.


Has no one mentioned First Flight by Mary Robinette Kowal yet? Great time travel story with a female protagonist.


I'm not a woman, but my wife traveled (unaccompanied!) as a tourist for over a month in Iran. She made her way overland through Iran from Turkmenistan to Turkey as part of a much longer trip from London to Singapore and back without stepping on an airplane.

While she remarks that wearing the required hijab was stifling in the heat, her month there was described in entirely positive terms: wonderful sights, welcoming (if flirty) people, no hassles from police. Foreign tourists were regarded with friendly curiosity, she says, and not required to submit to the same level of segregation (subjugation?) as the local women.

Conversely, several other countries on her visit were much worse: assaulted on a beach in Vietnam, groped constantly in Egypt, assaulted again in Uzbekistan, nearly fell down an open manhole in Mongolia. The list of places she'll never go back to is fairly long, but she IS keen to return to Iran some day.


I think I have to say that not accepting Connie Willis as a counterexample because you didn't like her book isn't really sound criticism.

Assuming you're referring to Charlie's comment @3, he didn't say that, and (to me at least) implied that he didn't finish the book, so couldn't comment.

I'll note that I was present when he was on a panel with Connie Willis, he mentioned bouncing on the mention of a stamp with the wrong postage (IIRC). She didn't remember that, and chalked it up to it getting lost in the editorial process, or something like that. (Unrelated, but can't help mentioning that when I was later in an elevator with her, I didn't have the nerve to say anything to her since I hadn't read any of her work. I've since bought several of her books but haven't found the time for them. Soon though, will probably start with "Doomsday Book", a copy of which I have with this horrible cover.)

I thought of listing books that might fit, but I didn't think that was really the point of the post.

Off topic but somewhat related to the discussion of the place of women in Iran, I saw this earlier by way of my sister-in-law, who is an Iraqi Kurd: "When challenging the notion that the oppression of girls is embedded in their culture, Afghans need but say three words: King Amanullah Khan."


With de Camp's Rivers of Time stories, you have to remember that the first was published in 1956 as an attempt to do a 'hunters in the Cretacious' story right. Given his ideas about gender back then, and the expectations of the genre, it is not surprising that the narrator is a man. Women become more prominent in the later stories, just like the travellers shoot more photos and less dinosaurs.

The other related genre is travel to alternate histories. Beam Piper usually included at least one strong female character who travelled. Most of Turtledove's Crosstime Traders stories have both male and female main characters.


To those people thinking about reading Connie Willis for the first time, I strongly recommend "To Say Nothing of the Dog" to start with. It's time travel, but lighter in tone and much shorter than the others.

Or look for her short fiction, for example "In the Late Cretaceous"

73: Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore (as "Lawrence O'Donnell"), "Vintage Season". 1946. Bechdel positive even, as time traveling women argue over the who called the best place to watch the current historical spectacle. They are well heeled and enjoy access to Charlemagne's coronation.

Gene Wolfe, BOOK OF THE NEW SUN. 1980-2. Meta-Bechdel Positive, the manly hero is led through a series of time galleries to past eras by a dangerous con woman, along the way they retrieve an amnesiac woman who returns with them to their far-future era. He also acquires the memories and very strong personality of a woman who accompanies him through further time travel in the 1989 sequel, URTH OF THE NEW SUN, he becomes part of the integrated crew of a ship that that travels the full length of the life of the universe, and brings one home. He also encounters male, female, and robot time travelers from another universe, and a gigantic woman who swims through time.

John Varley, MILLENIUM. 1983. Bechdel positive, Louise Baltimore is a tough broad in her short time kidnapping air passengers and replacing them with pre-crashed body parts. She disciplines a female team member for losing a future artifact in the past.

Joe Haldeman, THE ACCIDENTAL TIME MACHINE (2007), has the PhD student man narrator become encumbered with an innocent future scribe woman and a very worldly woman who is actually a backup of Los Angeles centuries hence.

The nigh-recent STARGATE SG-1 featured time travel that included USAF scientist Samantha Carter, and the spin-off series featured the women leading the crews making at least one time-trip each, I believe everyone on UNIVERSE time-traveled on one occasion, meeting their descendants.

THE LOST SAUCER (1975) was a Sid & Marty Kroft version of Dr Who, with M&F androids taking m&f earth kids for an extended ride in time and space. Bechdel positive,if you can call 2-3 lines a conversation.

STAR TREK TNG had a Denise Crosby rejoin the cast on 2-3 occasions via time travel both as her original character and as her daughter. There was also at lest one caper episode featuring M&F alien heavies from the future trying to get their hands on a Maltese solar detonator. The GENERATIONS trek film (1994) had Whoopi Goldberg's character as a long-lived alien whose consciousness extended through time.


Check out the movie ". Disaster in Time ". Future time travelers go on tours to view disasters in history.


The time-tourism sub-genre isn't inherently sexist; it's history that is inherently sexist.


You've set me thinking about the setting I've used for most of my stories. It's not time travel, but an alternate history with some maybe not well-considered changes.

The time period is between the two World Wars of the last century: airships, flying boats, and stuff. The two core places are small states with left-wing anti-authoritarian political systems, influenced by matriarchal elements of some of their non-European cultural sub-groups.

The world as a whole is a bit less sexist, if you're a high-status woman. People such as Amy Johnson and Amelia Earhart are a bit more common. I've taken the line that these countries are actively seeking to use all the talents of their population: they have decided that they cannot afford to lock their women in the kitchen.

It's a Utopia. There are elements which would fall apart if you poked hard at them. And in their version of "Flying Down to Rio", Fred might be a pilot and Ginger an aviation mechanic.

The things that make that possible make a lot of details different. In some ways, what I have written has been influenced by some of the dicussions on this blog and elsewhere, which have fed into OGH's current writing. The world they're in might not know what a "demographic transition" is, but they've hooked up a supercharger to their economic engine.

Giving women agency, in any setting, changes the world they're in. It doesn't have to be for the better, but as Lady Helen said to her Charlie, sometime around 1937, while reading the newspaper. "I just cannot see how allowing me to vote can have made the world any worse."

But that's not time travel.


Another time-travel sub-genre: psychic time travel.

Modern example: Lady of Hay by Barbara Erskine, which uses hypnotic regression, and a hefty dose of romantic entanglement between characters in the past and their present analogues.

I've a vague recollection that there is a whole series of novels which uses the same romantic entanglements between different periods of a quasi-Celtic fantasy world reincarnations of troubled characters trying to settle the unsettled residue of the past. Neither provoked me to making book-shaped dents in the wall, but I don't think I would re-read them.

And the man is always a man, a woman always a woman. If Cleopatra's being has somehow been fragmented and scattered across the modern world, why shouldn't there be men who "remember" being her?

(Ideas are ten a penny. An elevator pitch: The spirit of Cleopatra has been scattered across the modern world and her fragments are reuniting, but one of them is a man, and he's a homicide cop following a trail of bodies...)


Joan of Arc was obviously a time traveller. Appears out of nowhere with no social status, makes accurate predictions, seems insane and yet surprisingly intelligent, has anachronistic ideas about how women should dress and behave, is fanatically bent on a mission to change history, and ends up at the right place at the right time to actually do so. (Presumably she was just pretending to be illiterate.) While not immune to the crapsack-for-women nature of most of history, she is fairly quickly able to work her way into a position of privilege, influence and respect almost unthinkable for a peasant girl of the era (with, we assume, the help of knowledge and skills from the future).

Of course, her story does not exactly end happily, but she accomplishes her mission. Certainly it could make entertaining time-travel SF while neither implausibly ignoring the gender issues nor becoming overly grim. Female time travellers to other eras might even be able to learn from her example.


As a generalisation, I think it's more "Historians are sexist" than "history is sexist" (based on conversations with Kari).

On the specific of "Time Travel in SF", no-one's yet mentioned "The Sarah Conner Chronicles" where female characters time travel several times.


I think a woman, who was prepared to respect the local customs would probably be safer in Iran today than, for example, India. I would love to visit.

For a non-fiction response to THAT article, Freya Stark travelled extensively in the Middle East and Greece at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries. Her accounts of her experiences are classics of the travel writing genre.


Not a stamp with the wrong postage: an American stamp, used on local correspondence in south-east England in 1940. (Also, geographical issues. Having a character in 1940s London use the Jubilee line didn't help. Having nobody in 2040's Cambridge have a mobile phone was even crazier. (This was a high-tech 2040s Cambridge, with academics using time machines for historical research. Nobody seemed to have heard of laptops, either. In a book published in 2010.)

Doomsday Book, in contrast, worked well -- and addressed the privilege problem directly.


Charlie ... in your intro you said: To put things in perspective: the legal rights of an Englishwoman of 1882 bear a closer equivalence to those of an Iranian woman in 1982 Make that 1862, not 1882, because the first Married Women's property Act was passed in 1870, with modifications/updates/improvements in 1882 (!) & 1893. In fact the low-point for women in English society was 1832, when they were officially deprived of the vote, to 1870. Much later than you'd expect. Similar to racism, actually - racism didn't become rampant in Britain until after WWI, or maybe even later. Look at the number of "black" people in society, or honoured in one way or another during the C19th - it is suprisingly high, given what happened later.


Vanzetti @ 18 Technically, all FTL travel is time travel. Only if you don't go straight out ... I think there is something worng in that statement. Because, even with FTL, a direct journey to point "B" will involve acleretion / ftl-transition / decel @ other end, then reversal. The traveller will return after they left ... It's looping that violates causality, by intersecting the time/space cone.


Charles H @ 29 "Way Station" Clifford Simak ( Male protagoniost, though )


s-s @ 31 PLEASE DON'T DO that!

There is an all-too-obvious Spoonerism in your critique (The words you used were "sock-puppet") regarding sexual violation. And, no, I'm not going there - I'll leave it to your imagination ... euuuw.


@ 80 Apparently India has changed, & much for the worse for women & women travellers in recent years. Back in 1981 (ish) my wife (whom I had not mety at that time) went to India for 4 moths as part of her degree course. Most spent on a rural medical-station in Kerala, but went, unacompanied from there to Delhi & as far NW as one could go by train, then up-&-over to Kasmir, Dal lake & the Tibetan plateau (Leh) No problems at all - she says that, according to other travellers she's spoken to, things have gone seriously downhill. The systematic rape-&-murder case of a woman in a bus deliberatelt set up for such an operation, is apparently just the tip of something deeply unpleasant


You should have at least mentioned Bloodline Feud, where the main character is a woman, who travels between worlds that are essentially in different time periods. I'm reading it right now in its new glory, and I'm having a blast. Hollywood doesn't have any female leads in time travel stories because Hollywood has very few female leads, few actual SciFi, and very few time travel stories in that sub-genre. On the other hand, Doctor Who always has a women with him?


If you're looking at TV SF, then Continuum has a female protagonist carried back 65 years to Vancouver in 2012.

On the one hand, our main character (and she's not the only woman who's ended up time travelling, she's just the goodie, the rest are baddies) has agency. She's the one from out of time who has, all on her own, to find allies to help her defeat the antagonists.

On the other hand, this sidesteps the whole underlying "women can't leave the present" issue since she's coming to the present.

(Continuum is also nicely different in that, filmed in Vancouver, it has Vancouver stand for itself for once. It's a nice city, thank goodness it's been allowed to show that.)


AIUI, while Iran is undoubtedly sexist, it is possible for a woman to live and travel independently there.

Saudi Arabia is a whole different story. They're the ones who require a woman to wear a veil (as opposed to Iran where a headscarf is sufficient), and basically won't allow her to go anywhere or do anything unless accompanied by a male relative. I think it was only in the last couple of years that they started allowing women to drive.


I'm currently reading Just One Damned Thing After Another by Jodi Taylor, which I would categorise as very much a "time travel as tourism" book, although ostensibly the travellers are historians pursuing research projects. The viewpoint character is Lucy Maxwell, one of those historians and thoroughly badass while still coming over as realistic. The writing style reminds me of Christopher Priest. It's billed as #1 in a series, and if the ending of this one is as good as the story so far, I will very much be looking forward to #2.


Stephen King's 11.22.63 has yet another male time-travelling protagonist. In the past he befriends a woman who is very independent by the standards of her time... but in the process it is made clear that even the early 1960's USA was a crappy place to be female.


Ah, I foud the old scary go round archives, here is the time teapot caper.

Obviously, rather light hearted stuff.

Oh and it's 1840 not Elizabethan england. Memory must have conflated it with some Doctor Who story or other.


On the one hand, our main character (and she's not the only woman who's ended up time travelling, she's just the goodie, the rest are baddies) has agency. She's the one from out of time who has, all on her own, to find allies to help her defeat the antagonists.

Or, she's a baddy, defending an oppressive system and some (but not all) of the others are goodies. One thing about that show is that not only is it not clear who the goodies are, it's not entirely certain that there are any goodies at all.


Spoilers, sweetie, spoilers.

More seriously, from her PoV that's the initial situation and she is the protagonist. She just wants to get the whole thing over and get back to her husband and child. Later episodes do develop more complexity and 'the baddies' are far from cohesive either.

(Next you'll be saying the Death Star deserved to be blown up)


Exactly. Though the fits and starts go over in place as well as time. As I understand it, women were granted quite a bit more freedom in America compared to Europe during the 19th century, especially the closer to the frontier (and beyond it) one gets.

Ie, my point is that if an author wanted and was able to do the research, one can find and explore ways to do women time travellers in non-crapsacky way. Blaming history for that would be a copout. It's harder, yes, but I very much doubt it's impossible.


There's a small amount of time-travelling in Sagan's Contact. After spending one full day somewhere near the centre of the galaxy, protagonists return one day earlier to the Earth (so they appeared not to travel at all). And the main character is female. And the movie was a success more or less.


While going back in time one day is technically time travel, I'd say that it fails in every respect as far as the thesis of this post is concerned, which is to do with women travelling back in time into our past. If the participants never end up in the past of the start of the story at all, well, it's not really the same.

(As I noted, Continuum fails because the main character travels to the present from the future.)


I'd agree; in Contact any "time travel" is more of a "reset button".


I stopped watching around the time of Peter Davison, IIRC - my failure to mention Ace was because I wasn't watching it by then.

You could also argue that Ellen Ripley travels forward in time, between "Alien" and "Aliens" - and she very definitely had agency.


@98 paws4thot: I'm not sure what you mean by "reset button". AFAIK they (the travellers) were pretty disturbed by the fact. They couldn't prove they travelled anywhere at all. Of course, it was not a "time turism" plot as such.


I think it's a different issue if it's a woman from the future coming to the 20th or 21st century as a tourist. It would be entirely possible to have a female tourist who wants to visit a concert by all the major rock musicians of the 60s and 70s, for example. She'd have a much easier time than one who wanted to listen to Mozart or Beethoven, or Bach in the 18th century. And harder still would be listening to troubadours in 12th century Occitania.


hmm. no mention yet of Alyx? female time traveler, check. agency, check. would have to confirm and my books are presently not that accessible, but I think that the stories pass the bechdel test. pity we never got much of the story of her ascendency within the Trans-Temporal Agency.

Joanna Russ. The Adventures of Alyx (1976, but containing stories originally published between 1967 and 1970), and Picnic on Paradise, (1968).


Minded somewhat of Una Persson, but I think she falls into the super-powered outsider mode (or, more pertinently, the Victorian woman traveller of the Gertrude Lowthian Bell type: she was largely involved in drawing up the borders of Iraq, typical Redcar lass, causing trouble all this time later...)


Alyx is one I would have mentioned, but I recall that she was from the past, and taken to the future, so that doesn't fit. Russ' novel "The Two of Them" also deals with Trans-Temp agents, but it's another book I haven't gotten around to reading, so can't comment. Yes, I buy books faster than I can read them--which isn't actually saying much.


Seems to me that the original article picks on the subject of time travel and laments that mostly it's the guys who get to do the active stuff, but surely this is the case in almost every action movie genre. Kick-butt hero? Yeah, we've got Aneglina as Laura Croft, but really -- who else? Oh, yes, Kate Beckinsale, Milla Jovovich, . . . I'm starting to see a pattern here.

Let's face it we live in a world where the melodrama movie-going decisions are made 10 to 1 by young men -- and they are happier seeing themselves in the lead role. The occasional babe is OK, but really -- they can't really bust ass like a dude, right? And heaven forfend that anyone tubby or ugly would be the lead character in anything other than some gritty UK TV show that no-one in the rest of the world pays any attention to.

Sad fact is movie goers are mostly young guys who push up the numbers by going to see the shows they like half a dozen times. And the films they like are the movies that give them heroes they can identify with (even if you are stupid and ugly, you can still pretend to be Bruce Wayne in your head) or showcase a runway model with a big gun. Like most other things in life, it's not about aesthetics or drama or validity, it's about money. Who's buying the tickets?


Thanks for the correction. Well, I remembered it was a stamp. I was thinking it had a higher postage than would have been required at the time in question. I don't remember if the phones or laptops were mentioned, though it sounds familiar. It was an amusing exchange between you two.


Not the best example. I'm not an expert on the period but I'm pretty sure that given enough money, a woman on her own could attend the opera in Vienna in 1780 and listen to Mozart. (During Mozart's lifetime Austria was ruled by a woman, Empress Maria Theresa, so we're not talking about Saudi Arabia here.) For someone with access to time travel, getting local money typically isn't much of a problem.

The difficulty arises if you want to interact more closely with the locals and/or maintain a cover identity as an ordinary citizen. Even in Western societies, a woman would face huge problems before about 1970, and even worse before about 1920.


Hmm. I very much disagree with you here. I see what you're saying, and I think the privilege thing is an interesting and valuable thing to talk about, but I do not believe at all that this would (or does) make the sub-genre inherently sexist, particularly because the "time tourism" sub-genre has escapism and suspension of disbelief as part of its nature. I think the reason we don't have female-led stories is just because no one's written them yet.

I wrote a lot more in response, but it ended up about 3,000 words too long for a comment :), so I posted it as a blog entry. If you're interested:


Well reasoned, well reasoned.


How can we discuss time tourism without the Time Scout series, by Aspirin/Evans ?

They directly address the issue via a couple of characters, at least one of which is one of the main viewpoint characters.


With respect to #73 and #74 above: Years ago I saw on TV the 1992 movie Disaster in Time aka Timescape, starring Jeff Daniels as the present-day main character. It's explicitly an adaptation of the Kuttner/Moore novella "Vintage Season."

An excellent female-driven time-travel story is the 1996 Outer Limits episode "Stitch in Time" with Michelle Forbes and Amanda Plummer. (It seems to be on Youtube in 5 parts.)


"Janissaries" by Jerry Pournelle is not technically time travel, but close enough -- three thousand years ago several human groups got kidnapped by aliens and settled on another planet, and in 20th century same aliens transport some modern humans to the same planet (which never moved much technologically). The only modern female in the book does reflect on the lack of modern hygiene.


Thanks for the response. I think we're in semi-agreement; it is possible to write time travel fiction -- and historical tourism fiction in particular -- that isn't sexist, but accurate historicity seems to me to require an awareness of the privilege issue which is incompatible with a certain type of widely-prevalent escapism ... and most authors have declined to grapple with it in the past.

(Note that I deliberately didn't go anywhere near alternate history/parallel universe tourism because I've got a dog in that race. Cough, Merchant Princes, cough, three more books in development.)


To state the obvious (imo), it's not so much that the genre is sexist, but that history is, or rather that human cultures were/are (and racist, etc). If time travel fiction is going to be accurate that needs to be taken into account, unless your going for fantasy or humor.


Women such as Gertrude Bell, Freya Stark, Jane Digby in the Middle East, were members of the ruling class of the UK, with all the might of the British Empire at their backs, starting with family members who are running the shows at home and in the Middle East.

This is not to say they did not accomplish heroic deeds -- certainly Jane Digby did -- but none of it was possible even for the women born into the tribes over which Digby, via her husband, was able to assist substantially in their conflicts with others, for which she used both her wealth and connection to do, including buying arms. A woman born into her husband's Bedouins had neither.

It's still the case in places in Africa for a white woman to have plenty of agency, but she's not considered a woman: she's from the outside and she wears men's clothes, i.e. the traditional white person's dress for a rugged environment. And again, she's got all the white persons' might behind her.

Traveling back in time without any of these things makes it all a lot more iffy.

Which is one of the many reasons the Continuum series has been so interesting: the protagonist travels only far enough back to when there are as a matter of course women in both police forces, the military and government agencies, so she's got skills that apply. Also, her cyber enhancements and super suit. Presumably if she were back in an era prior to electricity, neither of her superpowers of enhancements and suit would be operational.

Love, C.


For the purpose of this discussion, it's interesting to consider the other time travel series set in Vancouver, namely Primeval: New World even though it only lasted the one season.

(Boo, hiss. After a rather poor start we were beginning to like it.)

However, while there was time travel involved, and while it did involve both male and female characters, it was either into the deep past, or into the earlier part of this century. None of it was into conventionally historic times.

(It also managed to pass the prehistoric Bechdel.)

So it fails to escape the 'women not travelling into our historic past' category, though mainly by no characters doing so.


We have seen travellogues and time travel from non-preferred perspectives, but mostly played as farce. Playing it straight, as a disadvantaged / unprivileged vistor without strong social clue as to the customs, seems likely to go depressing rapidly.

As demonstrated by Alfred Bester's "Hobson's Choice". Which manages to play it straight with a very small amount of detail.

How can we discuss time tourism without the _Time Scout_ series, by Aspirin/Evans ?

I was desperately trying to remember it, took me a while to remember it was by Asprin (&Evans), lost some time looking up Alan Dean Foster's oeuvre, a dead end.

But yes, time scout is precisely about time tourism through persistent time gates into the past. I seem to recall the redheaded teen co-protagonist did fairly well in her first foray into ancient Rome, where her exotic foreign looks caused a patrician to view her as some kind of foreign noble and treat her as an honoured guest but not so well in her second try where she was raped and brutalized by portuguese sailors off the coast of africa.


I don't really have a dog (or much interest) in this fight, because I tend to agree with Sihuang: more female time-traveling protagonists certainly could be written. One author's serious problem is another author's source of conflict.

There's one easy out: deep time. Once you get past known human history (say five million years back), it's irrelevant. Effectively, previous earths are alien planets, and you can do as you wish with them, so long as you don't screw up future human evolution in the process.


Or that she travels into ... THE FUTURE!!! ;-)

Yes! As for example in "The Life and Adventures of Trobadora Beatrice as Chronicled by Her Minstrel Laura" by Irmtraud Morgner.

Where Beatrice escapes the sexist restrictions of medieval times (no woman trobadors allowed) by sleeping for several hundred years until being woken around 1970 somewhere in France. In Paris she meets an interesting man who tells about his home country, where women really have the same rights as men. Intrigued, the next day she buys a train ticket and arrives a day later in Berlin(East). Very funny!


Well, the obvious thing is to write time travel that isn't about tourism. But most other goals seem really likely to devolve into wish fulfillment power fantasies really darn quick. Although I have, in fact, tried to write the story about the poor sods from the post-scarcity post-..ism society that get involved in the mad gambit to resurrect everyone that ever lived (easy!) and acclimate them to a sane society without just reprogramming them. Yhea, that one is staying in the trunk.


China discovers ancient tomb of female prime minister from 700AD

This reminded me of a related piece of news, about the Chinese government banning the popular TV genre of time travel romance stories, presumably because gloryfying the past makes the regime look bad.

Though the official line seems to be about historical innacuracy...


Sorry, but not true. Between WWII (the institution of the draft) and around 1990 a woman would have an easier time in establishing a presence. It was much more common for women to have no official government record. So ad lib insertion would be easier. You could open a bank account with nothing but a cash deposit. After around 1990 it got a lot more difficult for everyone to establish a new identity. Before the draft, it was probably easier for men, though by how much I'm not certain.

Also, cities are easier to establish a presence in than small towns. There are naturally more people there that no particular person can be expected to recognize. But once you have established an identity in one city, you may want to move to another, leaving a readily traceable trail. (In the days before computers, nobody expected to be able to trace such things very far.)

N.B.: I'm not claiming that women had a reasonable amount of rights, merely that it was easier for a new identity to be created. And if you didn't need to work, i.e., had sufficient money, that was all that was required.


Agreed on the cultural issue if not the language . Still I think the way women think and what they want would have a pretty big part in it as well.

In the modern West there is only a little stigma attached with women operating all matter of adventurous vehicles (planes, boats, cars, cycles) or engaging in any number of adventurous sports (surfing, skiing, rock climing, martial arts or in someplaces shooting) yet few women do. And its not a legacy of the patriarchy either, times have changed dramtically and the number of "action girl" icons, police, spies, soldiers, and all that in media has vastly increased. It would be allowed and acceptable much as tatooing is now.

Heck in the past when women pioneers , settlers and colonists would have been welcome and allowed, the number of women who were interested or willing was quite small and often prettyy unsuitable owmen were indentured for forcibly transported to make up for shortfalls.

Its posisble that women simply wuldn' be intersted in adventufe tourism.

And yes technology could make a huge difference, a woman could easily get around social barriers by a smart material disguise by uploading to a male body or cybershell or an easily reversable sex change if the futur etech allowed it.

That does not mean that she would want to though as men and women are quite different.


Time traveling is always dangerous if you're not a member of an acceptedly privileged class. "Dark Interlude" by Mack Reynolds and Fredric Brown is a classic example.


Which has arguably allowed the UK tv version of Primeval to have 2 strong competent women time traveling - Helen Cutter and Abby Maitland - into the deep past for short periods.


An easy trick for a female tourist is to have a male servant or partner escort. She can still make the decisions, especially as senior partner in a Time Patrol team, but society will see her as covered.

Empires of the Indus is written by an Englishwoman who went traveling through Pakistan and parts of modern Afghanistan by herself, though she often had local escorts she was handed off between. As guide to some destination and living passport to the next host, but I suspect also an element of "don't let the woman wander by herself."

I can't add any female time tourists, but then I can't think of much time tourism I've read, period. For women traveling in time at all: The Girl Who Leapt Through Time some anime I don't know the title of where a girl got sent back to Nobunaga era Japan. Except Nobunaa was a woman, so weird fantasy alt universe stuff? I dunno, saw part of the first episode. The Saga of Pliocene Exile Melaka Fray and Buffy have met, though I think it was Buffy going forward. Lessa of Pern seems worth mentioning again. I think Moreta also timed, but maybe just to deliver cure in time, rather than significant time travel.


Not convinced by Lessa of Pern.

She's a character in a post-SF apparently egalitarian society. The people that land on Pern are certainly egalitarian. The society they leave behind as they fight the thread remain pretty egalitarian as they essentially lose most of their technology with the fight to survive.

Effectively she's travelling from really, really deep future to really, really -500 deep future, from our perspective. Does she avoid a lot of the problems Charlie raises in his thesis? Sure. But both societies are fictional. Actually you could argue that, although very vivid in may other ways, Anne McCaffrey's imagination/research failed her (or she made a deliberate by ahistorical choice) because when she pulled the other Weyrs forward my admittedly hazy memory is they culturally and linguistically integrated very quickly and easily. I can get to grips with Shakespearean English on the page and ear, but I'd struggle to converse in it. Hell, these days if you sent me back to before the days of an electronic typewriter I'd struggle to write - I can still push a pen or pencil around but it's not neat or tidy.


I think you're showing signs of being ignorant of the true scale of male privilege in the developed world nations today. Also, of gender stereotyping.


An easy trick for a female tourist is to have a male servant or partner escort. She can still make the decisions, especially as senior partner in a Time Patrol team, but society will see her as covered.

Welcome to privilege city! In this case, to upper class privilege, and/or privilege-by-proxy (borrowing that of a male protector/companion).


I know that less identity paperwork was needed in earlier eras, but that's really not what I'm talking about.

Establishing an identity as "independently wealthy recluse" is not that hard. Actually living as part of past society is a lot harder. The guy in 11.22.63 is a good example; he could go into bars in search of information, rent a house in a seedy part of town to spy on a historically significant neighbour, get a regular job to avoid attracting attention, and so on. While a woman could have gotten by, she would have found it a lot harder, and that was in the relatively enlightened 1960s USA.

Incidentally, 11.22.63 observes that using your knowledge of the future to make money is not trivial, unless you can wait around several years (or skip forward in time) for stock market investments to pay off. Gambling on sports was somewhat risky in an era when most bookies had mob connections. And of course a woman would have difficulty placing bets, especially if she wanted to keep a low profile.


Yes, I'd thought of the servant option. Creates interesting dramatic possibilities, especially if her local servant/bodyguard doesn't know she's a time traveller. She'd also be putting a lot of trust in those servants. For example, if she's travelling around the Roman Empire, the temptation for them to make off with her supply of gold coins would be pretty strong, and the consequences would be inconvenient at best and disastrous at worst.

Even if she has a Culture knife missile or the equivalent to protect her, the servants presumably don't know that. Now, if word gets out that she's a witch who can command demons to smite her enemies, that opens up a whole new world of trouble...


I just remembered that Inversions by the late, great Iain M Banks did have something like a female time traveller. There was no time travel involved, she was a representative of a spacefaring society living incognito on a planet with vaguely Renaissance-level technology, but I think the same principle applies. She had a privileged place in society, and an actual knife missile, and still got into no end of trouble (although it would have been a pretty dull book if she hadn't).


The guy in 11.22.63 is a good example; he could go into bars in search of information, rent a house in a seedy part of town to spy on a historically significant neighbour, get a regular job to avoid attracting attention, and so on. While a woman could have gotten by, she would have found it a lot harder, and that was in the relatively enlightened 1960s USA.

I dono. In 63 (I was 9 so cut me some slack here) if you were OK without a bank account and were willing to live in the cash society I think a woman could exist fairly easily in terms of everything but safety. This was before most ANYTHING was automated. And by skipping banks you could avoid the requirements (or questions) about where's your husband/father/brother to open this for you.

Lots of people at the bottom and up through the mid-points of income operated totally on cash. Rent, utilities, groceries, etc...


Um, yeah. If you don't have personal safety, then avoiding bureaucratic hassle is kind of beside the point.

"Apart from that, how was the play, Mrs Lincoln?"


The bar thing is a particularly good example. Even today, if a woman walked into a bar on her own, she'd have to fend off men who assumed she was available for sex. In 1963? Fuhgeddaboudit.


You're right that Buffy's always travelled forwards in her meetings with Melaka Fray.

I'm less certain who's time-travelled (if anyone) in Buffy's meetings with the First Slayer. OTOH those don't involve interaction with a wider community so are probably irrrlevant to the argument.



A few years ago I wrote a novella titled Palimpsest. (It's the first third of an unfinished novel. I plan to finish it in 2015.)

I was quite pleased with it, until (a) someone pointed out that it shared a lot of similarities with "The End of Eternity" (which I hadn't re-read in 30 years), and (b) a friend and critic pointed out that it was an epic Bechdel test fail. I can fix point (a) when I write the rest of the novel -- it's going to go all Federovist/Stapeldonian -- but point (b) rankled. I know about the Bechdel test. I try explicitly to write SF that isn't anti-feminist. So why did I do that?

I finally worked out why I wrote it that way: it's implicit in the deep structure of time travel fiction as a sub-genre.

And now I know this I can figure out how to fix it in the (eventual) novel. (Which I hope will be my equialent novel for the 20-teens to "Accelerando" in the 20-noughties.)


I personally dislike time travel stories of any kind, especially romanticisation of the past ones. Even with the generally unsolvable paradox issues (which are usually 'solved' by just ignoring them), I just feel that the familiarity of the setting does not allow for suspension of disbelief when the author slips up. Connie Willis is a case in point. I bought Blackout because everyone was raving about it and it won an award, hit the same issues ogh did and it went into the bag for the next charity shop run. Bad writing and just plain poor research on top of a necessary suspension of disbelief means the author is not going to get a chance to get their point across. Sexist or not, it is just never going to be a premise that engages me.


Sexist or not, it is just never going to be a premise that engages me.

Then you don't need to comment here.


I probably ought to add this to the moderation policy: do not piss in other folks' wheaties (without a good reason).


I can't remember the title, but I read an excellent sci-fi short a few years back, centering on a female character who was tasked with caring for a neanderthal child. This child was in a lab where they had discovered how to vacuum up random living creatures from the past. It ended with the touching scene of the woman going back to the past to look after the child in its own time, as the lab was going to dump him there on his own (to make room for a better subject, a medieval peasant).


Doh! One quick Google and here it is:


"The Ugly Little Boy" by Asimov.


"An easy trick for a female tourist is to have a male servant or partner escort. She can still make the decisions, especially as senior partner in a Time Patrol team, but society will see her as covered."

What happens if we turn this idea on its head? - There's a high status male with all the privilege that carries in societies dominated by a largely male elite and there's a female domestic servant, or functionary. Outwardly all is functioning as expected but in fact the apparently dominant male party is a sock puppet acting on behalf of, and providing a walking, talking "passport", sensor platform, and weapons system[1] for an ostensibly lower status female who is able to gain access and make observations with the benefit of being able to make like part of the furniture, closely observing the doings of movers and shakers without actually having to do or say anything outside a fairly limited repertoire.

This setup (foreign interloper or low status local gains access to high society and the corridors of power by bribing, blackmailing, or otherwise coercing a high status local who's fallen on hard times to allow them to pose as servant or aide) is as old as the hills and I don't see any reason why it couldn't be made to work for a female time traveller in a male dominated epoch.

[1] In the widest possible sense, we're not necessarily talking about the application of violence here. Blackmail, bribery, deception, and misdirection all have their part to play here...


This mechanism still requires the female time traveler to have the privilege of money in order to hire her front man. Yes, it works -- but it begs the question.


Actually my intention was to make a tangential point about suspension of disbelief requiring good execution. Seems that point didn't get across.


Point didn't get across because you framed it as being about time travel, not about WSOD. Yes, writing a time travel story that is historically accurate is hard.


It occurs to me that race is a similar obstacle as gender. A black male time traveler in 18th century America would likely have more problems than a white woman. And a white man in Japan of the same period may simply be killed.

Even a Scandinavian in first century Rome may run into problems.


Yes, it does beg the question, but then to my mind that's always going to be an intrinsic part of the story - throughout all of human history to a greater or lesser extent privilege (of one kind or another) and it's excercise (in one way or another) looms massively over the individual and without some kind of weapon or tool to open a chink it's pretty much unthinkable for an outsider to observe its operation, let alone have an opportunity to influence it. On that basis acknowledging the existence of privilege and the difficulty of living in its shadow without some kind of additional resource unavailable to most of the locals to counter it doesn't seem too unreasonable a basis for a story, and arguably, subverting it by having what would otherwise be a doubly disenfranchised protagonist (female and low social status) pull the strings of a nominal superior doesn't seem too bad a way to tell it.

I can think of a parallel universe tale where a female protagonist would end up in even worse straits than she eventually does if she hadn't taken the wise precaution of including a carefully chosen selection of patent filings and supporting technical information when packing her bags before fleeing to a less socially, politically and technologically developed timeline at a key point in the story so having mine take conceal a modest amount of gold (and maybe one or two useful bits of potentially socially embarrassing information on an individual) along with sufficient guile, tradecraft (and maybe just a little bit of self-defence ability) to make use of it doesn't seem like too big a McGuffin to impose on the reader :-)


Ignore that, who the heck am I to argue with OGH over what does and doesn't work satisfactorily in a story....

That said, the proposition is that the reason female time travelers are rare is that male privilege robs them of agency. My view is that while it's never going to be (or is, or has been, or whatever the hell the correct tense is to use about events in a time travel story which hasn't been written yet) easy for a lone woman to act openly and directly in most eras of history (arguably including our own) by acting indirectly through a locally recruited intermediary or two she can function well enough to tell a story without anyone pretending that she isn't having to make the best of a horribly misogynistic bad lot.

Yes it needs a McGuffin to set the scene but if you're positing time travel then providing the protagonist with the resources (in the form of a pocketful or so of gold) to do so isn't stretching things beyond breaking point.


While it's not a time-travel story, Neal Stephenson's Baroque cycle spends a large amount of time exploring privilege from various perspectives in a historical context and doesn't gloss over the fact that it's a crapsack world, but it nevertheless doesn't come off as terribly grim. That said, a lot of the characters are almost supernaturally lucky given what commonly happened at the time -- one character survives the pox and the birth of several children to a controlling and abusive husband to whom she was married for political reasons, and another character survives lots of swordfights, being set on fire several times with exploding phosphorus, having his genitals seared off with a red hot poker by accident, and something like thirty years of progressive syphilis.

Time travel stories differ in that they emphasize the outsider nature of the traveler, so they nevertheless must emphasize the culture clash. But, in good historical fiction, the reader is the time traveler, and the cultural clash is in the reader's head. The baroque cycle wouldn't make any sense to someone reading it during the time it is set, not only for the language, but also because it emphasizes the origins of ideas that only later became important. (It also could be said to have an agenda, but Stephenson is typically discursive enough that his agenda-driven stuff comes out muddy and equivocating, and thus is less offensive.)


Um, yeah. If you don't have personal safety, then avoiding bureaucratic hassle is kind of beside the point.

Let me say it differently. You had to dress to the neighborhood. Rougher neighbor hood, don't like a ballerina. Nicer neighborhood, don't look like you are slumming.

The suburbs (in the US) would be hard without a back story. Lots of folks would want to know your business. In an apartment complex or urban living, not so much. At least not to the point of creating problems unless you did something dumb.

To be honest a woman could blend in easily or hard after about 1900 depending on her goals.


Ok, Gabaldon got mentioned upthread. Initial travel in the first book is accidental. Female nurse from WW2 era Scotland to Scotland, pre-Culloden. So less cultural dislocation.

Subsequent travel by the woman and later her daughter is done with a lot of prep and knowledge of what they need. And things don't go well off and on. Second travel event Claire has people she knows to go to who know her (although not as a time traveller).

First book is Crosstitch in the UK, Outlander in US. People are impatiently waiting for book 8 (out in 2014,)

Yes, there's love and sex in them, but it is hardly all the plot. I really think you need to consider them.


The Baroque Cycle is basically an exegesis on the birth of the Modern World. (Yes, the old world is crapsack central; it's also dirt-poor. I ran across an estimate recently that around 96% of all accumulated capital infrastructure in human history was built in the past 200 years, despite the depredations of world wars.)

Within the Baroque Cycle, it's worth viewing the character Eliza as a cursor for the modern reader: she's a woman with an essentially 20th/21st century outlook adrift in a pre-modern world, to give us a handle on just how different and alien the pre-modern was. She's not written as a time traveler, but if Neal had dropped in an aside that she'd walked through a door from the 20th century and couldn't get home again it would have fitted perfectly in with the rest of the story.


Palimpsest was strongly focused on a single character, it's not surprising it failed the Bechamel test, there just weren't that many conversations, full stop.

Patriarchy is as likely to be an advantage as a disadvantage, in practical terms, for the time traveler. I suppose it depends on the kind of story you're telling, the naked disoriented unprepared traveller is screwed anyway, we already went through this a year or two ago talking about the survivability of a naked human on another planet, it's pretty much the same scenario.

A prepared time traveller is pretty much the ultimate in privilege anyway, unless you're trying to make the point Hobson's Choice makes, you might as well give your character some advantages, otherwise you're writing a very short story.

Not a time travel story but related: Sharing by Miracle Jones is the tale of an orphan girl abducted and taken to another world to be a servant by a murderous crippled unicorn. A good read if you like your fantasy with sharp edges.


@153 actually I'm not sure how much you realise how invisible a plain middle-aged woman still is to the general population.

I can see a female time-traveler arriving somewhere, rent a room, go to the local church, explain that they are looking for work (eg as a companion) as parents died / house sold / become widowed etc and infiltrate at that level easily post English Civil War and possibly earlier, as long as she could avoid charges of witchcraft....

On a tangent, I always liked Peter Whimsey's (?sp) version of the Baker Street Irregulars.


I have to sign in once a day?

My escort suggestion was me thinking more about an uptime partner, e.g. "senior partner in a Time Patrol team", not a downtime recruit, though I grant 'servant' confused the issue. But pretty much any permutation on the idea could be made to work.

As for 'privilege', uh, I think a time tourist is inherently privileged. And such travelers coming in with wealth or knowing how to get it is a staple of the genre, no? Gold or spices or future tech knowledge (or future art!) or knowing where to dig or whatnot.

If you take a random modern human and shunt them back to a random time, realistically they're probably totally screwed, male or female. If one is traveling time by choice, presumably one prepares as needed.


Diana Gabaldon's books were my first thought as time travel of women. I've not read them in years but I remember the first book fondly. Claire is displaced in time, both accidentally and intentionally. In both cases some things go well and others less so. To cope with being a woman out of time Claire projects herself as someone with status (I was robbed of all my belongings, here in the middle of the forest, honest!), gains status as a healer, and uses a man as protector.


Heh. Nestor beat me to the core point while I typed.


One novel that explores time shift into the futures as well as gender change and what it means in each era to be female or male -- and also a privileged one -- is Virginia Woolf's Orlando. It was also a lovely film.

In some ways what was most interesting in the novel was the earliest section, in the Elizabethan era, indeed, the Virgin Queen was queen and a figure in the action. She had all the agency, in relationship with the protagonist, who in this period is a young male. She has all the agency because she's the reigning monarch.

In later periods, no matter how much rank privilege our figure possesses as a high status female, she still has little agency due to being female.

Love, C.


Possibly the only culturally universal woman's power/agency is to out-live everyone in her family/clan and/or be a midwife. Nuns are also found in many cultures and seem to possess personal authority/power.

As an added bonus, inherent in all these roles is some form of 'special knowledge/wisdom' (or insanity/dementia) so that any slips about what the character knows or 'remembers' are easily accounted for (or discounted).

Then to really nail it, our time-traveling heroine has should be a world-traveler or foreign-born.


I'm disppointed that the mention of Kindred by Octavia Butler was ignored through over 150 comments. If people don't consider it to be a relevant work because the time travel was involuntary, they should come out and say so, not ignore the book.

It's a great book, and it does address the very questions of women's experience and agency. The modern woman is a black intellectual with a good, respectable life, and getting thrown back in time to plantation days really highlights the limits of what she could do for herself and the people around her. When her white husband is caught up in the process, his experience is very different.


There's also Fire Tripper by Rumiko Takahashi, which exists in both manga and anime versions. The protagonist is a teenage girl who does considerably better after her first accidental time trip than many of us would manage. There's also a male or two involved in the story, but she's the one who does all the heavy thinking and she is the only one with meaningful agency in the story - to the extent anyone can make important choices when they're near causality loops.

The video is on youtube, but I've linked to the Wikipedia article instead so as not to attract lawyers.


I think you're onto something. Even the Le Guin time travel story April in Paris has a male viewpoint character as time traveler. The 1482 alchemist accepts 1961 male professor much more smoothly than he would a woman.


I can't speak for everyone, but I for one didn't talk about it because I haven't read it and wasn't aware of it (I am aware of Butler herself, and own some of her books). Nobody has the time or the money to read everything out there. Well, nobody without a trust fund or a job as a literary critic, and there are few so privileged.

So, if people are apparently ignoring something, just possibly it's because they are ignorant of it. Even the so-called 'canon' is problematic.


Charlie is going to be busy, but surely some of you can have a go at NaNoWriMo with a time travel story.

If any editor want to complain about the time-travel drivel which will shortly land on their desks, I may be found in the bar at the 1939 Worldcon.


zhochaka: "If any editor want to complain about the time-travel drivel which will shortly land on their desks, I may be found in the bar at the 1939 Worldcon."

She crowd stood around her, slightly amazed. "It's a 69", she said, hoisting the glass. "Poured in the barrel the year the skyscraper is completed on this very building site."

The assembled proto-geeks gasped.

She smiled and started taking notes on her iPhone. "Why are you typing on your compact?," asked one of the few women present.

"Oh, Professor Hopper," she said. "You have so far to go."


She smiled and started taking notes on her iPhone. "Why are you typing on your compact?," asked one of the few women present.

"Oh, Professor Hopper," she said. "You have so far to go."

I thought immediately of Grace Hopper. Is that the one? Awarded the inaugural "computer sciences man of the year" award from the Data Processing Management Association in 1969, according to Wikipedia.


My brother and I were exchanging recommendations for Android apps, and we wondered just why the original Star Trek communicator was so simple. The Tricorder had multiple specialised sensors, but what could the Communicator do?

Some things would be very simple to do on set. We can imagine the Communicator being able to show air temperature and pressure, maybe even giving a warning of a pressure drop. Likewise, Kirk using his Communicator as if it is a compass, and saying, "North is that way." These things can be done with nothing fancier than words.

There are sometimes plot issues with these, but messing up a magnetic compass would be quite simple.

Now invert things. A magnetic compass, a thermometer, and an aneroid barometer in one hand-held package? You could get away with that explanation after about 1843.


Charlie I think you have overlooked this little gem:

Not the best Time travel flick, but a bit of fun.

BTW, every time i start talking about time travel, my wife rolls her eyes... Maybe it is really a bit of a sausage fest out there in quantum land?


I would assume so. Though if you say 'Professor Hopper' to me, I'll think of Andy Hopper, one of the high muckty mucks of Acorn back when. Grace Hooper tends to be known under a different title.

(Andy Hopper was part of the Cambridge ferment that led to the ARM processor that is in the iPhone, but he wasn't the one who underwent gender reassignment.)


Yes, Grace Hopper was who I had in mind. She does not appear in real life to have attended the con, but was certainly contemporaneous, and it seemed a good hook for poking at the current topic here of women in power in time traveling.


If it is true that out of Charlie's blog readership, only two have read or even heard of Octavia Butler's Kindred, I think that kind of reflects on and underlines the problems Charlie's talking about here, really.

(I struggled and struggled with that sentence to make it non-combatant and non-sanctimonious sounding, and I am not sure I succeeded. I'm not trying to confront people here or dazzle them with my righteousness)

But it also means that a lot of you have a great reading experience awaiting you. It's a fantastic book on many levels, besides addressing the very issue that we're talking about here. Quick setup: a modern middle-class black woman, married to a very nice white man, is suddenly pulled back in time to the person of her slave ancestor. She gets back, and it happens several more times. Each time she has horrible adventures, and uncovers more of the hostory of her family. She accomplishes some things, at a terrible cost. Her husband gets involved. It's a fast and gripping read.

I can't recommend Octavia Butler more, in general.


I can't speak for anyone else, but I don't think I'd ever heard of "Kindred", despite having read everything of Butler's I could find. (One possibility is that it wasn't published in the UK; another is that I discovered OB as a teenager, when I devoured the SF/F section of the local library - and wikipedia suggests Kindred is usually filed elsewhere, although whether that applies as much here as in the USA I don't know.)

So it may well be that there's either a UK/US divide, or that Kindred is largely read by different people to Butler's other work because they're not found together.


Like Chrisj I've never heard of Kindred. I've read a fair chunk of Octavia Butler, although some time ago (early to mid-90's maybe?). A quick poke at amazon's UK site suggests Kindred hasn't yet been published over here - there's a 2014 publication date for the paper and ebook version.

Your comment doesn't sound combative to me - recommendations for books rarely do mind! But I feel less guilty about not having read a book that hasn't been published in the UK.


Octavia Butler was poorly published in the UK -- many of her books not being published here at all. I ascribe this to a couple of factors. Firstly, she's a foreign author -- it's quite likely she sold world English language rights to her US publisher, whose rights department would then have tried to sell UK/commonwealth sub-rights to a British publisher ... badly, as is often the case. (A salaried clerk in a sub-rights department tends to be less effective about selling foreign rights than an agent on a 15% or 20% commission cut.) Furthermore, if UK sub-rights were sold, they probably didn't get much of a marketing push -- this often happens with overseas sub-rights sold into a given territory. (Ask me about the first attempt to publish the Merchant Princes books in the UK. Yes, over here I am to some extent an American import ...)

The other and more controversial factor is the whole African-American cultural issue. Yes, there's an Anglo-Caribbean black community in the UK. But it's a much smaller proportion of the population than the African-American community in the USA, the historic experience of plantation slavery was quite different, the subsequent emigrant experience is way different, and so on. So the significance of a novel like Kindred is very different in the UK context than in the US market -- it's less relevant to the origin story of the audience.

(This is not an assertion that there is no interest in the history of slavery in the UK, or that the British market is intrinsically racist, or anything like that; merely that it's seen as stuff that happened to other peoples' ancestors, not our ancestors.)


That would be one reason why I don't have much or perhaps any Butler in my library. Other not well published in the UK/ not well selling female authors include Liz Williams and Kathleen Ann Goonan. And C. J. Cherryh doesn't turn up too often either.

Of course I spend more time in 2nd hand bookshops so my view of what is available is a bit skewed by what has sold well in the past, but there are a lot of authors you just don't see much of in the UK.



...we wondered just why the original Star Trek communicator was so simple.

Likely because nobody thought of it, or if they did, they didn't want the communicator to become a "magic amulet" script problem.

Asimov once mentioned that writers had no problem visualizing computers the size of planets, but none of them had visualized the pocket calculator.


...we wondered just why the original Star Trek communicator was so simple.

What TRX said, of course, and a few other things.

The dramatic function was that it was a communicator; it let characters talk to each other. And since it's on a TV show, the prop's functions are what they need to be and what can be explained to the viewer in the available time. Notice that the very name is "communicator" - as soon as it's mentioned the viewer knows what this machine does. Over time it developed that there were other features. It contained a locating beacon, making it easy to lock on the transporter. (And it's a "transporter" not a "Barret Gate" or a "floople"; again the viewer knows what to expect.) At least once characters jury-rigged a sonic weapon.

Making it complicated would have been detrimental to the story. Notice that the gadgets used by Kirk and friends were all conceptually easy to understand: the phaser is a gun, the communicator is a radio, the tricorder detects stuff, the feeping things Dr McCoy waves over people are medical instruments.


And note, of course, at the time of TOS, medical instruments are allowed to be a bit more mysterious and do strange things because medical professionals are trusted and considered highly trained, virtually unquestionable individuals.


Further on Octavia Butler - Growing older (look, growing "up" is not compulsory) near Glasgow in the 1970s and 80s, I honestly don't remember her books in the local SF shops. Of course, that may be at least partly down to that being when I was reading through all the "classic authors" and my Fantasy period.


Accuracy in historical fiction is hard. Lindsey Davis tries very hard with her Falco series (he's a private investigator in Rome). Not SF at all.

LD: I take pains with historical detail because otherwise, what's the point? But people get very pompous about all this. The Falco books were always intended to be light-hearted, almost spoofs. It's a joke to take a Forties-style gumshoe and put him two thousand years ago. And if I were to be really accurate linguistically I'd be writing in Latin – not even classical Latin but some street argot that we don't actually know. He does have attitudes people find modern, but they are grounded in fact: Juvenal's famous Satire against women shows all kinds of feisty dames. Seneca wrote a famous piece loathing the brutality of gladiatorial shows and the nasty types who went to watch. Slaves were supposed to be part of the 'familia', and should be treated as such. The legal definition of marriage was that two people decided to live together, that's all.

I liked Willis' "Blackout", but I couldn't finish the sequel. My favorite book of hers is "Bellwether." The little vignettes of historical fads and fashions at the beginning of each chapter make me want to invent a time machine just to go see where those things actually came from.


What about E. Nesbit's The Story of the Amulet? That's a mixed group of Edwardian boys and girls who go time-traveling by means of a magic ankh. They go back to ancient Egypt and forward to a somewhat dystopian utopia. CS Lewis's The Magician's Nephew has the same deal but with world hopping via magic rings, going to a mostly dead world then a world at its birth. Then Mary Norton's The Magic Bedknob and Bonfires and Broomsticks--which Disney put together for Bedknobs and Broomsticks--has in the second book time travel back to the Great Fire of London. And while it's again a mixed group of two boys and a girl, this time an adult woman comes with them. And Miss Price gets along so well with medieval England that by the end of the novel, she decides to move there (though she does bring the plumbing from her house as a modern convenience she wasn't going to give up). Children's literature doesn't seem to have a trouble with women time traveling.


Or to quote Charlie in the following article to this: It's also noteworthy that the "men time-travel; women stay at home" paradigm doesn't apply in childrens' literature, if the time traveler is a child. - perhaps that may be widened to say if any of the time travellers are children.


The funny thing: I can think of lots of instances of time travel stories, some of which may be counterexamples to the original post (one of my favorite time travel stories that has a female time traveler and that's very specifically about mid-20th century gender roles, for example, is Ellen Klages's "Time Gypsy"), but I'm not actually sure I can think of any examples of time tourism.

The title of this post feels perfectly reasonable, and it feels like it ought to be a really common trope, I'm just having trouble thinking of concrete examples. Well, not in grownup fiction, anyway; the Magic Treehouse books (a.k.a. "Jack and Annie") are surely time tourism if anything is, and so are some E. Nesbit and Edward Eager books, and it's not hard to think of some more time tourism kids books. But if time tourism actually is a common genre trope, I ought to be able to name a half dozen stories that are clearly part of the SF genre, and I can't. Which makes me wonder if I actually understood the original post as well as I thought I did; maybe "time tourism" doesn't mean the same thing to me as it does to everyone else.



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This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on September 11, 2013 5:46 PM.

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