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I just remember this one bit of this book: the idea that the protagonists jumped from world to world in a set of parallel universes but, because of the world's differences, it looked like time travel: one might go from an Earth post-WWII to an Earth pre-WWII... but it wasn't time travel.

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    That kind of fake time travel by parallel worlds has been used more than once, for instance, in Crawford Kilian's Chronoplane Wars series, see this old Q&A or this one. It might help if you could tells us more about the book: how long ago you read it, anything about characters, settings, or plot.
    – user14111
    Dec 2, 2020 at 3:32
  • I agree; this is pretty common. I just ran across it yesterday in a short story called "Recreation" by Kenneth Bulmer (Authentic Science Fiction, 1956).
    – DavidW
    Dec 2, 2020 at 21:00
  • This also features in Charles Stross' "Merchant Princes" series.
    – tardigrade
    Dec 2, 2020 at 22:03
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    H. Beam Piper did this well in his Paratime series: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paratime_series Dec 3, 2020 at 2:41
  • It drives me crazy when people post an answer as a comment :) I think it might well have been the paratime series... which would be why I don't remember that much... cause of all the different plots. I definitely remember the 'walked around a horse' story. So, Dosco... Dec 3, 2020 at 4:06

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This was the idea behind Andre Norton's The Crossroads of Time (1956). It's about a man in our Earth - Blake Walker - who gets mixed up in a hunt for a criminal from a different Earth and travels through several different Earths throughout the book.

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Per the suggestion by user Dosco Jones and the confirmation comment by the OP, this was most likely a story from H. Beam Piper's Paratime series. The 1951 story "Genesis" (part of the series) has previously been asked about and answered (with confirmation by comment) here.

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That's one of the conceits of Michael Crichton's Timeline (1999); they aren't actually traveling in time, but rather jumping sideways into parallel Earths that are very similar to our world, but slightly ahead or behind in the timeline.

I'm not sure why parallel world hopping is supposed to be less ridiculous than time travel, though, to be honest.

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    Except for someone in the "other timeline" being able to bury a message in the 14th century and have it found in the 21st, "back home"... Still, this is the most likely answer (I think).
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Dec 2, 2020 at 19:42
  • Right? I have no idea why he decided to go down the "not really time travel" path and then go right ahead and leave traditional time travel clues! Still, this is not about whether the author's choices were good ones or not, just what I think is the most likely book the OP read that used this particular idea. Dec 2, 2020 at 19:43
  • I suspect his idea was that the different timelines were so similar that the professor in our own 14th century from another timeline sent almost exactly the same message as the one from our timeline in the other 14th century. But time travel (even if its crosswise) tends to make your head hurt if you think about it too hard.
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Dec 2, 2020 at 19:45
  • Oh, I know how he explained away that discrepancy. I just don't know why that's supposed to be better than just saying "It's time travel, yo" and moving on. From a hard-science perspective they're both equally absurd propositions, and from a narrative perspective, it's actually less convincing than just saying "It's time travel!" and moving on. Dec 2, 2020 at 19:50
  • At the time it came out, many-worlds was relatively new in the public consciousness (never mind us SF fans who've known about it since the 1970s or longer), and there were "too many" competing novels with "actual" time travel at the time (I think). That might make a good question, though it might get closed as "opinion based".
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Dec 2, 2020 at 20:13

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