Jason Heller on The Time Travelers Almanac
If there's one thing science-fiction writers love as much as exploring space and meeting aliens, it's traveling back in time and screwing things up. From H.G. Wells to the recent reboot of Star Trek, time travel is one of the genre's most well-explored tropes, but authors keep finding new ways to spin it. The brand-new anthology The Time Traveler's Almanac encapsulates that storied history, collecting almost seventy tales of altered timelines and unresolved paradoxes from across the trope's history, from its roots to its latest twists. To celebrate the book's release, three local contributors -- Jason Heller, Connie Willis and Carrie Vaughn -- will be signing and reading from the book, as well as discussing what makes time travel so special, this Sunday, March 23 at the Broadway Book Mall. In advance of that event, we caught up with Jason Heller to talk about his contribution to the book and what makes time travel such an enduring favorite.
Westword: Who all will be present at the release event at the Broadway Book Mall? It's you, Connie Willis and Carrie Vaughn, is that right?
Jason Heller: Yeah, it's the three of us. As far as I know, we're the only three Colorado authors who are in the book. I'm pretty sure. I guess there could be others, but not only are those the names I recognized as being local [laughs], but they're the ones I know have done events at the Broadway Book Mall before. Carrie and Connie both are big supporters of Broadway Book Mall, even as big as Connie gets. She's one of the most highly awarded and respected science fiction writers in the world, really. And when she has a new book come out, she still comes down and does it at Broadway Book Mall.
You know, Ron and Nina Else from the Book Mall have always been really huge supporters of local science fiction and fantasy writers, so it's really great to have it there and be part of that whole scene that they've built up there.
So you'll be reading excerpts, signing books, taking questions... the usual book-signing stuff, right?
I think it's a pretty standard reading. Each of us will read, I assume, something from what we contributed to the book. Then we might just open things up to questions, if anyone wants to start a conversation about the appeal of time-travel stories, why there's a thousand-page anthology of this stuff coming out and there's still a call for that kind of thing. That would be great, too.
Hopefully, it will be us doing our thing for a little bit, then have everyone have a conversation or a discussion. Really, the Book Mall is even more open to that than other bookstores. It's smaller, more intimate and it definitely attracts lots of people who are into that sort of thing. Hopefully, it will be fun that way.
Can you tell us a bit about what you wrote for the anthology?
It's an essay on time travel in music -- music with a time-travel theme. I go as far back as Sun Ra. A lot of people like to focus on the fact that Sun Ra, when he started releasing his music in the '50s as Sun Ra, the focus was on, here's a guy who says he astrally traveled through space, particularly to Saturn, and brought back his music. Sun Ra, in his music, was trying to translate, musically, that experience that he had had, that transcendental astral experience. The thing was, it was also a time-travel thing. While he did that, he also claimed to have traveled astrally to the past, not just through space but through time. He traveled in the past to ancient Egypt and things like that.
I start from there and I tease out this thread of the theme of time travel winding its way through music since then. It's not just rock and roll. I talk about jazz, funk, hip-hop, country, all kinds of stuff. Then, of course, there's all the progressive rock bands. That's the first thing you think about, right? The nerdy, geek prog bands who like to write about science fiction and, of course, those are in there as well. That's what my essay is about.
In general, one of the things I wanted to hit on was not just make it a list of songs, like, "Hey, this song is about time travel!" What I wanted to do was tie together this idea that music, in a way, recorded music is time travel. Maybe not the most profound idea you could possibly put forth, but I wanted to draw that out and reinforce that sort of idea, that there's this time-capsule, time-travel quality to listening to recorded music that we all sort of take for granted now. But it is worth stepping back and looking at.
The others are short stories. There are maybe four essays in the book, so I'll be reading my essay and I assume Connie and Carrie will be reading their short stories.