Literature / Time Machine Series

If you're looking for the classic novel by H. G. Wells, see The Time Machine.

Time Machine is a series of educational Choose Your Own Adventure books, published by Bantam Books in 1984-1989. Unlike many other works of this genre, the books only have one ending, reached usually by trial-and-error.

The premise is that the player is tasked by some unknown authority to travel to the past in order to unravel a historical mystery. Following a strict set of time-travel rules, the protagonist finds himself skipping back and forth through several centuries of history, braving dangers and somehow always coming across famous historical figures.

The series as a whole displays examples of:

  • Can't Take Anything With You: Leaving items from a future epoch behind is one of the things forbidden by the "time travel rules".
  • Changed My Jumper: The protagonist is always careful to take clothes appropriate for his destination; when he time-travels into different eras entirely, some people may casually comment on his weird clothes.
  • Covers Always Lie: At least in the Polish edition, the back covers sometimes feature a situation from the book and hint that you will have two choices in that situation (and that if you choose wrong, you'll end up stuck in a time loop). Most of the time, it turns out that when this part comes in the book, you don't actually have the choices presented by the cover.
  • "Groundhog Day" Loop: Supposedly, if you break the time travel rules, you risk being trapped in one of these. In practice, an easier way to end up in one is to take the wrong inventory item at the beginning.
    • Since bad choices make you re-read pages you've read already, the protagonist technically falls into a few short loops (with two or three iterations, tops) on his every adventure. (Since some of them involve arduous weeks- or even months-long trips, it's probably not pleasant...)
  • Hint System: The last page contains hints that help you in choosing the right path on some pages.
  • In Spite of a Nail: On one hand, the rules forbid you from changing history; on the other hand, the protagonist tends to save random people's lives without a thought, even if they would die without his being there.
  • In the Past, Everyone Will Be Famous: Your time machine apparently has a mind of its own and a thing for depositing you just at the right time and place.
  • Inventory Management Puzzle: So, you can take a tiny compass... a tiny lockpick... OR a huge unwieldy scary mask, but only ONE of these.
    • Strangely, this is often broken by the fact that if you choose the WRONG one, you are stuck when it comes to that point in the book.
  • Kid Hero: The protagonist. The exact age is unclear, but seems to be somewhere around 13. Which doesn't stop him from people occassionally treating him as someone older for sake of the plot; for instance, he can end up becoming a full-fledged astronaut.
  • Plot Hole: Sometimes, if you take a specific path, the protagonist will end up knowing things he shouldn't.
  • P.O.V. Cam: All the illustrations are from the protagonist's point of view.
  • Present Tense Narrative: As usual in a gamebook.
  • Second-Person Narration: Also usual for a gamebook.
  • Time Machine: Gee, ya think?
  • Time Travel: Why, yes, it tends to come up.
  • Time Travelers Are Spies: Commonly happens to you, such as being accused of being a Mexican spy in the American-Mexican war when you fail to correctly name the American president and general.
  • Unwinnable by Design: Some books offer you a few items in the beginning, and you have to choose one to take. Usually, choosing the wrong one will get you stuck halfway through.
  • What Year Is This?: Not only that, but the protagonist also tends to be surprisingly oblivious about pretty much everything about the era where he's going. Rarely does this get him anything worse than a weird look.
  • The X of Y: A lot of the titles.

The individual books:

Secret of the Knights (1984)

For six hundred years, the highest honor in England has been to be made a knight of the Order of the Garter. King Edward III began this order sometime in the 1340s. Members wear a blue garter of cloth around their sleeves, on which is written “Honi soit qui mal y pense.” This is the motto of the Order of the Garter. The Protagonist travels back to determine why the best knights in England choose a garter as their symbol and what their motto means.

Search for Dinosaurs (1984)

The protagonist must take a picture of an Archaeopterix, the first bird. Most of the book consists of figuring out where and when the Archaeopterix lived, by hopping back and forwards through the Mesozoic and piecing together information.

Sword of the Samurai (1984)

The protagonist travels to 17th century Japan in search of a sword wielded by Miyamoto Musashi.

Sail with Pirates (1984)

The protagonist accompanies Captain Phips in the seventeenth century in order to find the wreck of Concepcion, a Spanish ship carrying colossal amounts of silver.
  • Fortune Teller: Old, blind, but oddly knowledgeable black woman who gives you cryptic hints (and is one of the few persons to apparently know about your time travel; or at least she knows you're a great traveller.)
  • Futureshadowing: The very beginning of the book has you meet a man who mentions meeting you before, and is talking about things you'll do much later (from your perspective), while time-travelling into the past. Strangely, it's possible to finish the adventure without ever actually doing the things the man mentions you doing...
  • Go Mad from the Isolation: The pilot from Concepcion after being alone for a long time.
  • Jerkass: Jim Teal, a young sailor whose emnity you accidentally earn in the past... late in the book (damn time travel), and who subsequently bullies you the entire time you're his crewmate.
  • The Longitude Problem: The reader gets stranded on a small island in the Caribbean with some sailors. There's an argument when the sailors try to determine their latitude and the reader suggests figuring out their longitude. This is immediately shot down as impossible. Which is decidedly odd, because figuring a longitude of a fixed place, instead of moving ship, is relatively easy, if a somewhat long process. Of course, these are common sailors who may not have the math or astronomical skills necessary to carry out that process.
  • Pirates: Gritty, realistic type. They aren't dashing and romantic.

Civil War Secret Agent (1984)

The Rings of Saturn (1985)

An Oddball in the Series, as it sends the protagonist to The Future. This frees the writer from the shackles of historical accuracy, making the book essentially a Troperiffic showcase of pretty much every single Science Fiction trope in the book. The protagonist's mission is finding out the source of mysterious signals coming from Saturn.

Ice Age Explorer (1985)

The Mystery of Atlantis (1985)

Travelling through Ancient Greece, the protagonist is trying to find out the mystery of... take a guess.
  • Atlantis: But not really. It's just Crete.
  • Changed My Jumper: Averted here; you can time-travel all over the world and all over history, and nobody ever notices you're a kid in an ancient Greek chiton.
  • Future Imperfect: Though not with the future; it is stated that the tale of Atlantis is an exaggeration of a tale about a destructive volcano explosion near Crete, which caused the downfall of Cretan civilization.
  • Out-of-Character Alert: If you try and tell a suspicious city guard that you are a Scyth, he will promptly quiz you on a piece of Scythian culture (since he is a Scyth himself.) You fail, at which point he decides you're a runaway slave.
  • Slave Galley: You can temporarily become part of this.

Wild West Rider (1985)

American Revolutionary (1985)

The protagonist travels to Revolutionary War-era America to determine who fired the first shot of the American Revolution and retrieve the musket.

Mission to World War II (1986)

Emanuel Ringleblum was a famous freedom fighter and historian during World War II and the Holocaust. He has hidden several incriminating documents about the Nazis, and the protagonist must to travel back to Warsaw, Poland, and retrieve these documents.

Search for the Nile (1986)

The protagonist heads to the late nineteenth century to accompany Henry Morton Stanley in order to find out what is the source of Nile.
  • Arc Words: "Buala Matari". What's it mean, and why is Stanley called that on his tomb?
  • God Guise: Entirely by accident you end up scaring an African tribe, disguised as a panther-like supernatural being. The shaman isn't fooled though.
  • Great White Hunter: Sir Mortimer P. Quimby III. Subverted - this particular hunter is content merely to track down the animal and aim his rifle without actually shooting, solely for the satisfaction of outwitting the beast.
  • Insistent Terminology: Do not call Henry Stanley "captain". Or else he will... well... chastise you mildly.

Secret of the Royal Treasure (1986)

The protagonist is sent to Elizabethan England to determine which of Queen Elizabeth's suitors' ring she wore on her deathbed.

Blade of the Guillotine (1986)

The protagonist finds himself in the times of French Revolution, seeking a priceless diamond necklace. The objective soon shifts from merely finding the treasure to using it to buy the life of an innocent French girl.
  • Blind Alley: Used to escape an angry royalist blacksmith.
  • Kangaroo Court: Invoked; if you're not carrying the correct item at one point, your character is arrested as an enemy of the French Revolution. You demand a fair trial and your captors respond that you will get a fair one...and then you'll most likely be guillotined.
  • MacGuffin: The necklace, natch.
  • Riddle Me This: Subverted. When given a cryptic answer about the necklace's location, you have to interpret the "riddle" literally. If you try to be smart and go for the metaphorical meaning, you'll just end up in trouble.

Flame of the Inquisition (1986)

  • Changed My Jumper: Deconstructed. One possible decision has you jump to New England around the time of the Salem Witch Trials. Since you're dressed in clothing from around the time of the Spanish Inquisition, you not only stick out like a sore thumb; you also get accused of being a witch.
  • Trespassing Hero: If you made a wrong choice, you were arrested by knights during your travels for unknowingly trespassing on their duke's land.

Quest for the Cities of Gold (1987)

The protagonist heads to America in the sixteenth century in order to investigate the rumors of the supposed "cities of gold" searched for by the conquistadors.

Scotland Yard Detective (1987)

The mission is to help Scotland Yard solve a major case with political implications. An Indian prince vanishes, straining tense relations between the British Empire and India.
  • Kid Detective: The protagonist becomes one of these as it is the mission to help Scotland Yard solve the aformentioned case. Later on, you meet another Scotland Yard operative, revealed to be a female and not much older than the protagonist!
  • Shown Their Work: The text makes mention of new crime solving tools coming into use around that time such as photography and fingerprinting.

Sword of Caesar (1987)

Death Mask of Pancho Villa (1987)

Bound for Australia (1987)

Caravan to China (1987)

Last of the Dinosaurs (1988)

The protagonist must find the very last of the dinosaurs prior to their extinction and as proof, bring back a dinosaur tooth.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The solution has you fulfilling the mission by finding a dinosaur tooth from a nearby carcass. However, you see a freshly hatched baby dinosaur nearby poking around its dead mother; the text tells you that it will not survive long.

Quest for King Arthur (1988)

The protagonist travels through ancient Britain, attempting to find the original inspiration for the King Arthur tales.

World War I Flying Ace (1988)

The protagonist is sent back in time to take a picture of the Red Baron on the morning of his final mission.

Special Edition: World War II Code Breaker (1989)

The protagonist is sent to both theaters of World War II, tasked with picking up a decoded message from each. This "Special Edition" is double in length to others in the series, mainly by having separate indidivual book-length War in Europe and War in Pacific sections that don't intersect.