On Time Travel and Tardiness is the follow up to Elliot Harper’s debut The City Around the World, released through Weasel Press in 2019. Where City is a novella, On Time Travel and Tardiness is a collection of short stories. Equally as short as City, Time Travel doesn’t lack anything for being so brief. If anything, it’s a shame it’s so short; I read through the entire collection in the space of a day, and was incredibly disappointed upon finishing the final story and finding I had no more to read.
Like City, On Time Travel and Tardiness takes us to the deepest, darkest parts of Harper’s brain. It’s as funny as it is devastating, and like all great sci-fi and speculative fiction, it makes you think about the world around you, based on what’s being presented in front of you. Many of the stories in this collection have previously been published on literature websites, and it isn’t hard to see why. Harper’s imagination is vast, and the concepts he throws up in this collection cover all aspects of the spectrum. From week-long parties on alien worlds to virus-ridden bugs swarming a scientist; from the look of the sky in an apocalypse to the question of whether or not you would erase your worst ex-partner from existence. Harper presents us ideas that are massive in scope, and as entertaining as they are existential.
I’ve compared Harper to Kurt Vonnegut in the past, and it bears repeating here; it’s impossible to read an author without evoking others, and Vonnegut is the first that springs to mind when reading On Time Travel and Tardiness. Harper will have you laughing one minute, absolutely devastated the next, and all the while questioning the world around you. Like Vonnegut, Harper questions not just the natural order of things, but also the man-made order. Both authors force us to look at familiar concepts through different lenses, and make us want to challenge what we’ve spent so long so readily accepting.
The other author I’ve most compared Harper to is China Mieville, and that also bears repeating too. The imaginations this pair carry are vast, and the concepts they can both imagine is incredible. And not just imagine, but put down on paper to the extent where it almost seems normal. They turn the universe upside down, in fact turn the multiverse upside down, and yet they don’t leave you wanting. Harper, like Mieville, finds that sweet spot in sci-fi and speculative fiction; he gives you just enough information so that you understand what’s happening, gives you so little that it leaves you wanting more, but at no point do you feel neglected. If something needs to be explained, then it will be. If something isn’t explained, then it’s because you have all the information you need. Any questions you’re left with are done on purpose; nothing is forgotten, nothing is left out so as to obfuscate or confuse the reader. Harper, like Mieville, is a master of giving you just enough of a look through the looking glass to keep you on your toes and begging for more.
Like a lot of great authors, Harper repeates himself when he knows he’s onto something good. We see this in Time Travel through the Parallel stories. I won’t give anything away by saying how many there are, but there are at least two, and it’s fascinating to read them and follow the narrative through.
Enter The Time-Smith is my particular favourite from the collection. I mentioned it briefly above; it involves the idea of being able to erase the existence of your ex. A seemingly straight forward idea at first, Harper quickly shows us just how it isn’t, and it’s one story that really had me wracking my brain, trying to answer the question; would I erase any of my exes from existence? (Reader: I still haven’t decided.)
The Taint and Amongst Rocks and Dust are the two stories that are most Vonnegut like; they appear fairly light-hearted, but soon begin to pose big questions that made me really condiser some serious issues. You can get a good idea of Harper’s brain particularly through these two stories. I’m lucky enough to be a close acquaintence of him, so know how his mind works, but were I not, after having read these two I’d certainly want to.
On Time Travel and Tardiness is the perfect collection for anyone interested in sci-fi, speculative fiction, humour, dark, blackly comic fiction; it transcends across so many genres that there’s something for everyone. I can’t recommend it highly enough.