Ann Vandermeer – The Ultimate Time Traveller’s Almanac: also the ultimate doorstop. No door too big.

I’ve been reading The Time Traveler’s Almanac since February, and I’ve finally reached the end of the enormous time travel compendium. There’s a reason this is printed as 4 separate volumes – I don’t like to think how heavy the physical edition would have been. 65 stories and 5 essays by different authors old and new explore the concept of time travel, gathered around 4 themes. Following some excellent advice not to read from start to finish, I zipped from point to point like the various protagonists, reading a story from each theme and then putting the book down for a while so that it didn’t get stale.

This is a massive undertaking from the Vandermeers and with a collection of this scale I knew I wasn’t going to enjoy everything. That said, the overall quality is extremely high and there’s plenty to admire if not always enjoy – plus I got to read short stories from a number of authors (including Kage Baker, Connie Willis, Nalo Hopkinson, and Charles Stross) I’ve been wanting to explore but haven’t got round to, whetting my appetite for more.

Given it’s been a 6 month exercise, my memory has blurred on many of the particulars and my note-taking along the way has been shamefully shabby. Several actively creeped me out (such as the consent issues raised but not actively confronted by Turtledove’s Forty, Counting Down); some did so little for me that a quick skim of their opening paragraphs doesn’t even raise a flicker of recognition now as I’ve forgotten them entirely; and a very few were downright wrong (special demerits go to Moorcock’s Pale Roses for the unpleasant Lolita overtones. I’d guessed the twist, but that didn’t make the execution any better, frankly). At least these got a reaction out of me and stayed with me.

However, the majority were good to brilliant, and I look forward to revisiting many of them in the future. My absolute best of the bunch:

A Fisherman of the Inland Sea – Ursula Le Guin
This Tragic Glass – Elizabeth Bear
The Mouse Ran Down – Adrian Tchaikovsky

…which makes me a bit sad, because The Shadows of the Apt sequence still doesn’t really appeal, but I’d love to read more Tchaikovsky. I might have to dig out his stand-alone novel in the meantime.

All in all, highly recommended – just don’t try to read it cover to cover. Or drop it on your toe.