There is no single archetype of the female time traveler. She may be a young newlywed on her honeymoon, or a septuagenarian acting as a secret government weapon. She is black, or white, or from a future less concerned with skin color (but concerned with plenty otherwise). She is a writer, a river rehabilitator, a veteran of a World War. And no two travelers make the same passage through time and space: each of these intricate tales are brought about by everything from futuristic machinery to nanotechnology to magical stones.
Join us under the cut to meet six timestream-hopping women who have left their mark on history!
Note: We’re limiting this list to lady time travelers found in the pages of books—between the Doctor, River Song, Missy, and a delightfully long role-call of companions, we wouldn’t have the time or space for anyone else!
Claire Beauchamp Randall Fraser (Outlander by Diana Gabaldon)
While on her second honeymoon in the Scottish Highlands, British Army nurse Claire hears a strange buzzing at the standing stones at Craigh na Dun. When she touches one of the stones, it sends her back in time 200-odd years, from 1946 to 1743. As a woman traveling through an unfamiliar time and land alone, Claire has it pretty good as a nurse (and later doctor)—her hard-won skills on the front translate well to saving Jamie Fraser and other Highlanders from what could be fatal injuries, and earn her some measure of respect and worth within her new family. However, standing out like that also gets her branded a witch, kidnapped more times than we can count, and in constant danger of being sexually assaulted. And yet, she lives to save another life.
Alice Payne and Prudence Zuniga (Alice Payne Rides by Kate Heartfield)
Alice Payne Arrives introduced readers to two very different time travelers, separated by a century. In 1889, Major Prudence Zuniga has spent ten years attempting to change the murder-suicide of Austrian Crown Prince Rudolf and his lover—71 attempts at one small triumph in the time war between the “Farmers” and “Guides” in 2020. But she will need to stop obsessing over single points in history and instead consider a strategy that will eliminate the tug-of-war altogether… and that strategy means a new player, in the form of 1788 highway thief Alice Payne, a.k.a. The Holy Ghost.
Then again, considering that Alice’s adventures open the second installment with a kidnapped Arthur of Brittany and smallpox in 1780, and Prudence scrambling to keep these weapons out of “Misguided” hands in 2145, guns-blazing Alice may wind up changing the course of history more than Prudence ever suspected. Then again, while their approaches to time travel vary drastically, Alice and Prudence are surprised to find enough in common with one another that one has to wonder just how tangled up their timelines are…
Dana Franklin (Kindred by Octavia E. Butler)
It’s not a machine that transports young writer Edana from 1976 Los Angeles to an 1815 Baltimore slave plantation—nor secret technology, nor the magic of standing stones. It is simply the pull of the past, in the form of dizzy spells that transport her, again and again, into key points in the life of a boy (and later man) named Rufus; and which also serve as her way back, as each encounter turns increasingly dire. Each jump into the past is an opportunity for Dana to save Rufus’ life—from drowning, from a fire, from malaria—in order to ensure her own existence in the present. But the price for each act of mercy grows increasingly steep, as Dana herself becomes enslaved and must weigh how much to meddle in the life of Alice Greenwood, a free black woman and her ancestor, as Rufus morphs from innocent child to sadistic master. While Dana has little control over what keeps sending her back, she takes control of her past, changing it from something that happens to her and her ancestors, to something on which she exerts influence instead.
Valentina Lidova (Permafrost by Alastair Reynolds)
Don’t let anyone tell you that time travel is a young woman’s pastime; Valentina, a seventy-something schoolteacher futilely teaching Earth’s final generation of children, joins project Permafrost, a group gathered to gamble humanity’s future on one last-ditch experiment. As the daughter of famed (and then infamous) mathematician Luba Lidova, Valentina had a front-row seat to her mother’s audacious discoveries about what would come to be known as Luba Pairs, twinned electrons able to connect over time and space. As it turns out, her mother was on the money: in 2080, Valentina and the other Permafrost “pilots” willingly allow neural nanotechnology into their brains and send time-probes into unwilling hosts in the past—hoping to take over host bodies in 2028 in order to make one small change that will save their bleak future. Becoming time-embedded is not for the feeble-minded.
Minh (Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach by Kelly Robson)
For Minh, a “plague baby” who repairs rivers for a living in 2267, time travel is a whole bunch of tourism nonsense that stole all of the funding for her projects meant to save the world—the planet that she and her generation left their underground bunkers to try and return to its former condition. But once the Temporal Economic Research Node (TERN) was established, people in Minh’s time stopped caring about reversing their present ecological collapse, when instead they could distract themselves with trips to the glory days of the past. Minh sneers at time travel… until TERN becomes her source of funding, offering up the opportunity to survey the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers themselves… back in 2000 B.C.
Minh and her team’s exhaustive drafting of proposals, slashing through bureaucratic red tape, and dismantling of intimidating NDAs finally pays off with the kind of research project that she could never have dreamed of, but she’s too busy thinking about the rivers to consider what impact their job has on the people of Mesopotamia. That definitely wasn’t covered in the proposal, but this scientist is nothing if not adaptable. Oh, and did we mention that Minh is 80 and has prosthetic legs—six tentacle-like ones, to boot? That’s one badass time traveler who won’t be forgotten soon.
Who are your favorite female time travelers?