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Anachronic Order / Literature

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Anachronic Order in literature.

  • A lot of big influential Hispanic writers were fond of using this one, probably ever since Julio Cortázar wrote his book Rayuela, which has effectively two stories in one book: one which is found reading the book from front to back, another reading the book in the order given by the author. Gabriel García Márquez also used Anachronic Order in quite a few of his stories.

  • 1632: Thanks to the fact that the stories have since branched out into numerous independent plot threads taking place all over an entire continent, any attempt to read the novels in chronological order of events would involve reading a handful of chapters in one book, setting it down, and then opening another book to read a few more chapters before going to yet another book, and so on. Adding in the side stories would complicate it to the point of near impossibility (especially since they get published at a truly prodigious rate, with no guarantee that any recent stories will take place concurrently with recently published books). It is fairly common for a book to start before a volume that was written earlier, end after the events of that book, and for the two to have nothing to do with each other apart from one or two pages in which the primary characters of book A talk about a key event that took place in book B when they find out about it. Going by the year in the title will not help, as that generally refers to the year in which the book ends, which is frequently not the year in which most of the book takes place in (A book that ends in January of year X will have X in the title even though the story as a whole took place in year X-1).
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  • Nikki Flynn & Edwin Dantes model their writing of Anthologies of Ullord after this trope. Their various stories spoil events from other stories since there are a lot of crossover stories and characters making cameo appearances. These cameo appearances are used as a Continuity Nod and in a Connected All Along way. You can pick up reading any series or umbrella of their works (so long as you take book 1 in the series first) and experience this trope.
  • Armadillo Fists jumps around quite a lot, mostly by describing an outcome in one chapter and then going back and filling in the details of how it came about in the following chapters. It also skips back frequently to fill in the backstory of the characters and to reveal that certain past events didn't happen quite as we were led to believe.
  • Maurice Leblanc's Arsène Lupin stories are published in no particular order, so one tale might take place when he is a well-established thief, and another will be about him during his early years, perhaps even before he has settled on the Lupin name.
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  • Atlanta Nights seems to feature this, but given all the continuity errors it's really hard to say.
  • Connie Willis's two-part World War II novel Blackout / All Clear makes extensive use of this trope, to an extreme level even for a time travel story. The three main protagonists, plus a few other characters, have each traveled to the same general time period and region from separate points in both chronological time and their personal timelines. Successive chapters in the first half are not necessarily in order either by absolute chronology or any particular character's personal timeline, and even once the main plotline settles into a more-or-less linear order in terms of the characters' personal timelines, there continue to be out-of-chronology chapters interspersed here and there. If the chapters didn't all begin with a datestamp, the reader would be hard pressed to tell where they figure into the chronology. There are several chapters for which the reader doesn't even know who the viewpoint character is until much later in the story, and many of these take place later in real time than most of the story; these are eventually revealed to be one of Polly's earlier trips to a later point in the war and Michael's activities between the point when he leaves the main story and when Polly sees him die. One sequence actually takes place during Willis's first time-travel story "Fire Watch", but from the point of view of one of this novel's main characters. Fortunately, it really does all make sense by the end.
  • Used, abused, and made sweet love to by Hal Duncan's The Book of All Hours duology, entirely justified by the main characters all being "unkin" (people with time- and space-bending magical powers) in a multiverse where spacetime is described not-inaccurately as being like a crumpled-up piece of vellum, each crinkle and fold being a new reality. The characters (and thus the story) ignore the general order of causality as they will.
  • Joseph Heller uses this extensively in the novel Catch-22. There was never an official time line and any made by someone else would have taken lots of work and still wouldn't have been accurate. Heller reportedly tried to make a time line after he had written the book "to make sure everything was in order" and found he had made a significant contradiction at one point, but decided to leave it in since fixing it would be a hassle, nobody would notice it unless they tried to create a time line for everything, and "it added a little something".
  • Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko jumps between the main character before WWII, the main character as a child, the main character's mother, and current time.
  • The Chronicles of Narnia are each linear stories (oh, except for Prince Caspian), but are written in non-chronological order (books 1-4 are followed by an interquel set during the events of book 1, during the time the four Pevensies ruled Narnia, and a prequel, set before Narnia ever existed, before book 7 jumps back to the normal order) and many fans of the series insist that they can only be appreciated that way because of the setup and payoffs; for instance, there are frequently allusions to past and future events that happened from earlier to later books, and The Magician's Nephew, the second-to-last, is a prequel. Huge gaps of Narnia Time transpire between each and every book.
  • Circleverse: The tenth book, Melting Stones, is set during the events of book nine, The Will of the Empress. The eleventh book, Battle Magic, is an interquel set between The Will of the Empress and The Circle Opens quartet.
  • Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian stories are not in sequence. It starts with him on the throne, when most are of adventures in his wilder youth.
  • Brandon Sanderson's The Cosmere is a massive universe spanning a dozen worlds, numerous seemingly unconnected stories, and thousands of years. The first book Sanderson ever released, Elantris, takes place roughly in the middle of the overarching Myth Arc, and "far earlier but not thousands of years" than his second series, Mistborn. The Stormlight Archive, his third series, takes places later still, but it's not clear by how much, and Wax and Wayne is a continuation of Mistborn, a few hundred years later but unclear in relation to The Stormlight Archive, though later books in Wax and Wayne imply it's taking place at about the same time as Stormlight. Chronologically, the first series will be Dragonsteel, taking place around the time Adonalsium was shattered and the Shards taken up by their Holders, but it has an undetermined publication date.
  • The Culture by Iain M. Banks: Use of Weapons alternates chapters between "past" and "present" events, with the "past" chapters being told in reverse order, so that the story diverges rapidly in space and time as a rather unorthodox form of backstory exposition. And then there's the flashbacks in both plot threads to complicate matters. It also has a prologue and epilogue that are quite difficult to pin down in the timeline at all. (Possibly the first "Culture" novel written, Banks notes that he shelved it for decades because its original incarnation was lumbered with an impenetrable multi-thread storyline which required the reader to think in higher dimensions.)
  • The Dalemark Quartet: Book 3, The Spellcoats, comes first, followed by book 2, Drowned Ammet, then book 1, Cart and Cwidder (which completely overlaps with Drowned Ammet). Book 4, The Crown of Dalemark, does indeed come last.
  • Kim Newman's Dark Future series the Demon Download cycle are all separate stories and the order in which they were published (Route 666 (short story), Demon Download, Krokodil Tears, Comeback Tour) is out of the internal chronological order. By internal chronology, they should be read Route 666, Krokodil Tears, Demon Download and then Comeback Tour. Word of God in the afterword to Comeback Tour states that although this is the correct chronological order, it doesn't matter so long as you read the first three before Comeback Tour.
  • Katherine Kerr's Deverry series. The date of each section in order, is, 1045, 1052, 643, 1058, 698, 1062, 773, 1063, 790-797, 1063, 833-845, 1063, 1096, 718-915, 918, 980, 1096, 843, 1098, 1112, 1116, 1063, 1116 — and that's just the first half of the series.
  • This trope and Neologisms are the reason why many people give up to the Brazilian you-must-read-book The Devil to Pay in the Backlands, in which the first person narrator tells his own history in the way it comes to mind, and justifies himself, because "to tell anything right and straight, it must be a thing of little value".
  • Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant by Anne Tyler jumps back and forth between the childhood and adult lives of the family of the story.
  • The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin starts at the midpoint of the story, with the protagonist Shevek boarding a spaceship. The odd-numbered chapters follow Shevek from that point onwards, while the even-numbered chapters fill in his life before that point, in order, with the last even-numbered chapter covering the events just before chapter one. This structure reflects Shevek's calling as a theoretical physicist trying to reconcile his culture's contradictory sequential and cyclic views of time.
  • Doctor Who Expanded Universe:
    • The short story collection Short Trips: Time Signature. While all the Short Trips books jump from Doctor to Doctor, Time Signature has an over-reaching Arc running through the stories, and isn't assembled in that order either. In the opening story, the Third Doctor meets an elderly composer who was once the companion to a future incarnation, and we then jump to the First Doctor finding the music that will haunt the composer's life, the Sixth meeting him for the first time, the Eighth dealing with his death, and so on.
    • The Eye of Heaven starts with the chronologically earliest event in the book, then skips around in order to obscure details to the reader – in particular, one passenger on the ship is mentioned by Leela and the Doctor both before and after she executes her plan, but not shown to us until the end.
  • Steven Brust's Dragaera novels about Vlad Taltos are written out of chronological order, with the original intention that they should each be able to stand alone. Some individual novels are told out of order. Jhereg alternates between two timelines, while Tiassa has three timelines that have whole books in between them. Brust wrote Tiassa with the specific intention of making it impossible to place the novels in chronological order.
  • Dragonriders of Pern: The first six published books take place in roughly chronological order (with 3 and 4 being set alongside the events of book 2), but after that, the author keeps jumping back and forth in time - they're followed by two books set in the Sixth Pass, and then Dragonsdawn, set before and during the First Pass. Then it's back to Ninth Pass for two more books (one of which takes place alongside the events of the first six and continues on from that point), followed by an anthology that jumps from pre-First Pass to during First Pass and during First Interval; then another Ninth Pass book, a Second Pass book, an Eighth Interval book, a Ninth Pass book, and then seven books set during Second Interval and Second Pass. Six years later, in 2018, yet another Ninth Pass book (set around the same time as book 6) was released.
  • In publication order, David Gemmell's Drenai saga jumps back and forth over several centuries of the history of the Drenai Empire; the first novel written and published, Legend, ended up being about halfway through in chronological order. There is, however, a single novel which comes last and concludes the series in either order: The Swords of Night and Day, published not long before Gemmell's death.
  • Samuel R. Delany's short novel Empire Star (1966) uses/abuses this trope to an amazing degree. The story involves several different time travelers, and, while it follows one character, at the end, you realize that there is no "proper" order for the whole story. Any ordering would have been arbitrary, and you have to put the events together for yourself.
  • Speaking of Delany... his novel Dhalgren just might be a Moebius strip. The first and last words in the novel form a grammatically correct sentence if you assume the proofreader got the pages out of order.
  • The English Patient is more or less set at the end of World War II, but devotes many chapters and extended flashbacks to the characters' backstories.
  • The various threads of Michael Moorcock's Eternal Champion series appear to take place in separate time streams. For instance, the Elric and Corum series have two Intercontinuity Crossovers where Elric and Corum meet each other, but time is apparently moving in opposite directions from their point of view, meaning that in each instance one is familiar with the other while the other is not.
    • Erekose is the most obvious example of this trope, as not only do his stories jump around between different time streams; but he himself has lived anachronically since leaving his John Daker incarnation.
    • Elric is particularly prone to anachronic crossovers with other Eternal Champion incarnations; and they other incarnations are more likely to recall him, than he is to recall them. It's strongly implied that Elric is, if not the first incarnation of the Champion (that appears to be Erekose) at least the earliest in "real-world" chronology.
    • All the Jerry Cornelius stories (except the first, The Final Programme) are anachronic.
  • The Fallocaust series is split into the main series and companion novels. While each book in the main series occurs in order, so far beginning within moments of each other, the companion novels each explore a specific character's past.
    • Breaking Jade follows Jade, and takes place a couple of years before the main series.
    • Severing Sanguine follows Sanguine, and takes place between roughly fifty and thirty years before the main series.
    • Garden of Spiders follows Elish, and takes place between seventy and forty years before the main series. Apart from the Distant Finale, at any rate.
  • Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe works this way. Often, there will be a present-day chapter in which Ninnie tells a story, as she knows it, then a chapter with the entire story.
  • Likewise, the book Galápagos, also by Kurt Vonnegut. The plot moves forward through time, but only on average. A large part of the book consists of flashbacks and flashforwards ranging from a couple months to a million years.
  • Genuine Fraud is mostly told in reverse chronological order, aside from the first chapter and the last chapter.
  • The Girl on the Train: The chapters are told from one of three character's points of view: Rachel, Anna and Megan. Whilst Rachel and Anna's stories are told in the present, Megan's chapters are in the past, and slowly reveal what happened to her.
  • The Good Negress by A.J. Verdelle is told somewhat like this. The events are more or less in chronological order(i.e. it may go to something that happened in October, then skip back to July, then back to November), but there are frequent flashbacks to when Denise was back in the South with her grandmother, and there are frequent time skips.
  • One of the key reasons that John Dowell is such an Unreliable Narrator in Ford Madox Ford's The Good Soldier. Dowell narrates events out of order, drops in The Reveal as an afterthought, and supplies key backstories long after the actions they would explain.
  • In Goodbye, Mr. Chips, a retired schoolteacher reminisces about his career. The general trend of the events recounted is chronological, but at times he'll skip forward or back to cover related events. In one instance, Mr Chipping's first encounter with a student named Richard Colley is followed by the arrival of Colley's son at the school 25 years later, then the arrival of Colley's grandson decades after that, before going back and picking up the thread at the time of the first Colley. On another occasion, a story about how Mrs Chipping persuaded the school to let a group of underprivileged urban youth visit for a day is followed by one of the youths in question revisiting as a young man, during which it's mentioned that Mrs Chipping has died in the interim, then more about what happened to the young man after his second visit, then back to the main stream of events for more about Mrs Chipping before getting to the bit where she dies.
  • In the infamous Gravity’s Rainbow chapters can begin anywhere in time, and always cut to dreams sequences, flashbacks, flashforwards and other tangents before returning to where they started.
  • Hercule Poirot: The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, the third book, is set after Poirot has retired to the country to grow vegetable marrows, The Big Four, the fourth, is the huge case that convinces him to do so. Most, but not all, of the subsequent novels are set somewhere before this. (This combines with Comic-Book Time to suggest that Roger Ackroyd must be set around 20 years after its publication date, since The Labours of Hercules refer both to the upcoming retirement and World War II.) It should also be noted that Agatha Christie wrote the final Hercule Poirot novel over thirty years and a dozen novels before it was published, because she wanted to have a finale for the series in place should she die during the Blitz, and similarly for Miss Marple.
  • The Horatio Hornblower series. The first published books depict Horatio in the middle of his career, from ordinary captain (The Happy Return / Beat to Quarters) to titled nobility (Lord Hornblower). Then it jumps back to the very start with Mr. Midshipman Hornblower and Lieutenant Hornblower, to the very end with Admiral, returns to the middle with Atropos, and back to the early days again with Hotspur and Crisis. And that's not counting the short stories.
  • House of Leaves is an annotation on an analysis of a fictional documentary, so of course a large part of the text was written a good deal before Johnny's notes on it. But the analysis, although mostly chronologically telling the story of the documentary, also refers to various other people's interpretations of the documentary that occur long after the events within are finished. And then some of Johnny's later notes mess with the order they're shown a bit, especially if you aren't paying attention to the dates. Then all of the appendixes were created at various points before and after every other part of the story... a large part of the fun is keeping track of everything in your head, and how they all relate.
  • The main story of Illuminatus! takes place in a pretty linear fashion, across a few months in the spring of 197X, but takes detours along the way to a few years in the future, ancient Atlantis, and everywhere in between.
  • David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest starts at the end and then moves forward, ish. The years are named after products, so it's initially very difficult to figure out which time the characters are in, and there are many other brilliantly clever devices which take the reader all over the place.
  • Stephen King's novel IT jumps back-and-forth between two time periods (the '50s and the '80s), but follows each of these two periods chronologically. (That is, if we don't count normal flashbacks which also appear within each of the two narrative threads.) Not so in the Film.
  • Diana Wynne Jones is fond of this trope:
    • Hexwood starts off by telling the very beginning and part of the very end of the story. Then it jumps right to the beginning... which we find out later was All Just a Dream, after being shown the real beginning of the story about halfway through. We are also informed that events have been run through a few times just to get what the ending the Reality Warper desires, and it is actually implied that the rest of the characters are themselves experiencing things in anachronic order for a good part of the novel.
    • Chronologically, the third book of The Dalemark Quartet comes first.
    • Fire and Hemlock begins with Polly at 19 getting ready to return to uni, then flashes back through her memories from age ten to age fifteen before coming back round to nineteen again.
  • Rudyard Kipling does this in The Jungle Book. "Kaa's Hunting" (second story in The Jungle Book) takes place between the first and second halves of "Mowgli's Brothers" (the first story). The third story, "Tiger! Tiger!" picks up from the end of "Mowgli's Brothers", and the remaining stories in the book are unconnected. In The Second Jungle Book the first story "How Fear Came" seems to take place after "Kaa's Hunting" and before the end of "Mowgli's Brothers" from the first book. The remaining Mowgli stories follow on chronologically from the end of "Tiger! Tiger!", but all except the last two are sandwiched between non-series stories. Just to complicate things further, "In the Rukh", the first Mowgli story to be written, which is the last chronologically, doesn't even appear in The Jungle Books, and is so different from the rest that many readers regard it as non-canonic. However, they are all assembled in chronological order in All the Mowgli Stories.
  • Lanark by Alastair Gray starts with Book Three, then One, Two, and Four. The book numbers are in chronological order (i.e. Book One takes places first chronologically), but the sequence is not.
  • The chapters of Last Dragon are in chronological order, but the events within the chapters are rather jumbled up.
  • One of the oldest debates in American literature: should one read The Leatherstocking Tales in chronological order (The Deerslayer, The Last of the Mohicans, The Pathfinder, The Pioneers, The Prairie) or in the order in which James Fenimore Cooper wrote and published them (The Pioneers, The Last of the Mohicans, The Prairie, The Pathfinder, The Deerslayer)? Both options have their pros and cons.
  • Liar (2009) skips around before and after Zach's death.
  • The The Licanius Trilogy, as a time travel story, features sequences that take place 90 years and even 3000 years before the main plot. Additionally, it includes flashbacks from nearly every point of the world's history.
  • Most of the Magic: The Gathering novel Test of Metal is told through Tezzeret's flashbacks, mixed in with chapters that take place in the present. Some chapters even swap the perspective of the flashbacks and tell the story from Jace or Baltrice's perspective. Mix in a lot of weirdness with characters who can manipulate time, and here we are.
  • Robert Masello uses this in many of his novels; Blood and Ice, The Medusa Mask, and The Romanov Cross all feature a storyline set in the present while also looking at events in the past, such as the Blood and Ice flashbacks looking at the events that led to Sinclair and Eleanor becoming vampires in the Crimean War or Medusa Amulet exploring the history of the titular amulet.
  • A Million Random Digits With 100,000 Normal Deviates doesn't follow any type of set structure, it just randomly switches focus from character to character almost randomly thousands of times. Did we mention the book has more than ten different characters to switch between?
  • Common in the later entries of the Mithgar series — the first chapter will feature the heroes in the middle of a quest, then a lot of chapters jumping back and forth between what they're doing "now", how they met, what they were like as children, and relevant world events throughout the whole era, before finally settling in a time period and continuing forward towards the climax. Each chapter comes with a time-and-place heading to help you keep track of how it all fits together.
  • My Sister's Keeper jumps between time-lines according to whose point of view the chapter follows.
  • Orson Scott Card's Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus is told with chapters alternating between historical fiction of Christopher Columbus and far future science fiction about the Pastwatch project. Eventually the two plot lines merge due to Time Travel.
  • Abused to no end by P. Howard, especially in his more lighthearted novels. more often than not, the first thing we find out about the protagonist's actions, is the impact they had on the whole plot, or the impressions they left on the witnesses. And I don't mean they are told through flashbacks. Several chapters will end with secondary or tertiary characters discovering that their current most pressing issue was mysteriously solved, under very unusual circumstances, followed by several chapters retelling everything from the hero's point of view. Then the next plot twist comes in, and events seem to be told in chronological order again, until the situations is resolved again, in a seemingly anticlimactic fashion.
  • A Prayer for Owen Meany is in chronological order of chapter topics, but the lengthy digressions can go years forward or backward in the timeline. At times the author seems to expect the reader to be confused, providing the same information over again when it's necessary to understand two different events.
  • While the main stories in Relativity are in chronological order, the side stories are not. Also, several of the main stories contain multiple flashbacks, which may or may not follow their own chronological sequence, depending on the story.
  • The novels in Alastair Reynolds's Revelation Space universe mostly do this to some degree — the catch is that, because of the way relativity works, it's actually unavoidable.
  • A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean is a elegiac mishmash of memories, one scene leading to another by the way they are connected in the narrator's mind, not in chronological order. It's a deft rendering of how memory works in reality, but it makes for tough reading until you understand the trick. The movie chose not to try to replicate the effect, perhaps wisely.
  • Roger Zelazny's time travel novel Roadmarks alternates chapters that follow the protagonist, Red Dorakeen, through the main plot line with with vignettes involving a variety of characters scattered throughout human history, all of which eventually feed in to the resolution of the main plot. The vignettes are in no particular order; for instance, the first shows a young man named Randy having an encounter while time traveling, while a later one shows him learning the secret of time travel for the first time. Zelazny reportedly wrote them out on separate pieces of paper and shuffled them into a random order before interleaving them with the Red chapters.
  • In the novel and film Slaughterhouse-Five, events from a man's life are shown out of order, ranging from imprisonment in a German POW camp, through the fifties, and into being the guest of aliens towards the end of time. The main character has become Unstuck in Time, allowing him to live all the moments of his life at the same time.
  • The Southern Reach Trilogy:
    • In Authority, Control's point of view, while linear in general, tends to jump around the way his thoughts do. One scene would happen, followed by another, only for the narration to skip back and retell elements from the previous scene that had not been told yet, again and again, revealing new layers and information each time.
    • In Acceptance, several points in time are used to tell what is happening and what has happened in the past by way of the time and point of view changing each chapter. The lighthouse keeper serves as the point of view of pre-Area X times, the director's chapters reveal how the twelfth expedition came to be, and Ghost Bird and Control relate what is currently happening.
  • Star Trek
    • Imzadi combines multiple nested flashbacks with time travel, then lampshades it with section titles, starting with "The End" and progressing at random.
    • The Diane Duane Star Trek Expanded Universe novel Spock's World does this, with chapters alternating between the main story (our favorite Power Trio trying to keep Vulcan from seceding from the Federation) and another story that's the history of the planet Vulcan since cave-Vulcans first emerged.
  • Star Wars Expanded Universe: Last Shot jumps between a total of four interconnected stories taking place over the span of several decades. The main story focuses on Han and Lando two years after the events of Return of the Jedi, one storyline on main villain Fyzen Gor's backstory, and the other two cover two separate encounters had by Lando and Han respectively with Fyzen.
  • The protagonist in Chuck Palahniuk's Survivor is speaking the entire story into the flight recorder of the plane he has hijacked. His narration unfolds two time lines. One is his time after being one of the few survivors of a suicide cult while the other time line covers his indoctrination. The disjointed narrative is highlighted be the page and chapter count of the book running backwards running down to the point when the plane will run out of fuel.
  • The story of the novella A Taste of Honey is told in chunks skipping back and forth between the ten days Aqib and Lucrio spend together after their first meeting, and Aqib's future life in Olorum, ending with his death at the age of 89. Or so it seems, and there's another piece at the end with a forty-year-old Aqib in Terra-de-Luce, showing that he made an entirely different choice than originally presented in the book.
  • The Tiger's Wife covers three storylines — one taking place in the early twentieth century, one throughout the twentieth century, and one in the present day — and jumps between them at random. In addition, there are detailed backstories given for many minor characters, which often take the story even further back in time, and the present-day storyline is itself told in anachronic order.
  • Seen in The Time Traveler's Wife. It would be hard to make the scenes strictly chronological anyway, since the two protagonists are living them in different orders. (And Henry lives a number of them twice.)
  • The Unexplored Summon://Blood-Sign:
    • The third chapter of the first volume is told in reverse chronological order. To avoid confusion, the time is mentioned at the beginning of each part.
    • The fourth volume has two timelines, past and present. The present begins with Kyousuke waking up with no memory of recent events, and in bed with the White Queen, his personal nemesis. The story alternates between the present and past, the latter representing Kyousuke gradually recovering his memories.
  • Vic and Frank: Necromancers: Most of the plot heavy chapters are told in order, with other chapters skipping around several years in the past in order to flesh out the characters and their motivation while keeping the pace consistent.
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • Sandy Mitchell's Ciaphas Cain (THE HERO OF THE IMPERIUM) novels are presented as edited pieces of his rambles about his history, ordered thematically rather than chronologically. The first three books are in chronological order, the fourth is a prequel, the fifth takes place between books two and three, and the sixth takes place in the Warhammer 40,000 universe's "present day" long after the events of the rest. Book seven is between books four and one, eight is between three and six, nine is between eight and six, and the short stories and audio dramas range in time from Cain's first ever act of alleged heroism to a few years before book six, with several of them lacking sufficient information to be possible to reliably date them at all beyond "sometime in a twenty year period starting around the end of book 5". According to the in-universe editor of the books (Inquisitor Amberly Veil), this is because Cain's way of telling the stories was to cram all of it in a spectacularly disorganized datapad with no regard for what order things should go in, and she's publishing them in the order in which she can get the individual stories compiled into a coherent narrative. That said, each "trilogy" is in internal order following a common thread.
    • In Dan Abnett's Gaunt's Ghosts novel First & Only, flashbacks are interspaced throughout the novel — and the flashbacks are not in chronological order, either. It ends on a flashback, with a Chaos witch revealing to Gaunt information that caused him to take an action that determined much of the plot of the book.
    • While the individual Horus Heresy novels are mostly chronological in and of themselves, they don't necessarily follow a linear path when taken as a whole. Specifically, Horus Rising, False Gods, Galaxy in Flames, and The Flight of the Eisenstein narrate a sequence of months at the start of the 31st millennium. Fulgrim takes place around the same time as False Gods, then Descent of Angels and Legion are both prequels, taking place 50 and two years respectively before Horus Rising. The start of Battle for the Abyss overlaps with the the end of Galaxy in Flames. Mechanicum takes place in the early part of the Heresy, some time around False Gods or Galaxy in Flames. Fallen Angels starts when Descent of Angels ended, but soon jumps forward to the time of False Gods. A Thousand Sons is another prequel which begins with Magnus receiving a vision of the events of False Gods and attempting to warn the Emperor via forbidden sorcery, which ends up wrecking a vital experiment the Emperor was conducting around the start of Horus Rising. Nemesis then advances the story, taking place two years after Fulgrim, then The First Heretic starts 43 years before Fulgrim and ends not long after Nemesis. The Framing Device of Prospero Burns is contemporaneous with Galaxy in Flames, while the primary plot takes place about a century before Horus Rising, exploring the machinations of Chaos. The first part of The Outcast Dead overlaps the end of The First Heretic, and then the second half takes place over the next few months. Deliverance Lost starts two months after Fulgrim and follows events for about a year afterwards. Know No Fear moves the story forward, starting at the mutual conclusion of Battle for the Abyss and The First Heretic. Fear to Tread takes place around the same time as Fulgrim and the end overlaps with Know No Fear. Angel Exterminatus also takes place around this time, and then Betrayer continues the plot of Know no Fear while overlapping with Fear to Tread. Vulkan Lives then takes place around the same time as The Unremembered Empire, which itself directly follows from both Know no Fear and Nemesis. And that's not even getting into the story collections, which take place all across the timeline.
    • Taken as a whole, all Warhammer novels are this, as there have been authors writing about the Horus Heresy (M30s), the War of the Beast (M32), the Sabbat Worlds Crusade (400s.M42) and various wars of the "modern" era (900s.M42-M43), among others, at the same time, as the Imperium's extremely long history means that people can add a story in anywhere in the timeline they like without having much impact on the big picture.
  • We Are Legion (We Are Bob): Due to long travel times, the stories are sorted by what is dramatically appropriate rather than real time. Most of Riker's story in Sol is over before Bob's story in Alpha Centauri even starts, for example.
  • The Wheel of Time series does this out of necessity in order to cover the journeys of its many characters, most of whom are in different places at any given time. While a given event is never shown twice, it is not uncommon to have a character do something in one book, to have another character react to that event several books later. And occasionally you'll see people reacting to something secondhand, to have a chapter come along later from the point of view of someone who was there, describing the event as it happened. Book Ten, Crossroads of Twilight, takes place almost entirely over the span of time covered by Book Nine, Winter's Heart.
  • Wolf In White Van by John Darnielle is mainly told in flashbacks, and is roughly in reverse chronological order. One interesting effect of this is that it feels like it has a Downer Ending because the last chapter details a particular dark moment in the narrator's life, but the first chapter is chronologically the last thing to happen in the story, and once you know the context, it's really a case of Earn Your Happy Ending.


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