Wonders of the Invisible World (1995)

Hartwell’s Year’s Best SF 1996 2/14

Now here’s a story where the dilemma feels far more palpable. Time travel when one is only allowed to watch and not to intervene is not a wondrous thing but an exercise in sadness. Like the previous story in Hartwell’s 1996 SF Best Of, Patricia A. McKillip’s Wonders of the Invisible World uses the SFnal concept more for exploring the human reaction to it instead of the concept itself, but unlike Think Like a Dinosaur, it doesn’t feel like the author is manipulating the readers to get the desired effect of emotional turmoil.

Another aspect of the story I really liked was how much the time travel isolated the traveler from her own people. Just like traveling the world can (not always, not even often, but the possibility is there) have the effect of seeing the grander picture, of becoming sensitive to issues that stretch beyond borders and local cultures, time travel takes the same position here. But seeing the grander picture, realizing that your time period is just a tiny piece of human history, maybe not even very important or all that great, isolates you from those who are fully integrated with the local view. Seeing the bigger picture doesn’t always set you free. Sometimes it just hurts.