Posts Tagged ‘time travel’

Revisiting Time Travel a New Way

We like science fiction an awful lot on this blog, squiders, and I, at least, also like a good time travel story.

(If you’ve been around here for a while, you’ll know I come back to this topic every few years.)

Time travel can take a ton of different forms, of course, from being the main mechanism in a story to just some flavoring for another type of story (historical fiction, romance, etc.). So I was a bit amused recently when I found myself reading two different books, written almost 40 years apart, that used the same time travel mechanics, and ones that I’m not sure I’ve seen a lot elsewhere.

The books in question are Version Control (Dexter Palmer, 2016) and Thrice Upon a Time (James P. Hogan, 1980).

(I suppose this could potentially be spoiler-y, so read with caution.)

In both, time travel is treated very scientifically, with proper skepticism and with believable limits on how far you can go back and how the mechanism works. As such, we’re not jetting back to the Middle Ages or going back to assassinate Hitler or anything of that ilk. (Version Control deals with a limit of a few years, while Thrice Upon a Time deals in months.)

But both also include the fact that the new timeline overwrites the old timeline. Change something in the past, and the future that did the changing never existed. Not even the time traveler remembers.

(This is handled masterfully in Version Control, and even though I’m a bit sad about the ending–especially since there was another option–I understand why it went the way it did.)

So there’s no hints that the timeline has been changed (unless there’s a purposeful message left–in Thrice Upon a Time messages can be sent from the future to the past, but the act of sending/receiving the message is what erases the previous timeline) and no way for the people in the new timeline to know what happened on the original timeline or what, specifically, has been changed.

So it opens up very interesting questions like: what if you actually made things worse? How can you tell if it’s worth the risk to change the past when your present will no longer exist? If you did change that one event, would you actually accomplish what you meant to?

And no way to test, because the previous timeline is gone and can’t be recovered.

Very interesting take on the concept. Less adventure, more think-y.

I enjoyed Version Control and am not quite done with Thrice Upon a Time, though at this point I’m not sure if I would recommend it. It gets bogged down in long infodumps in the first half of the book, but has improved now that we’re finally using the time travel concept instead of just talking about it.

Know another book that uses this same time travel mechanic, Squiders? Read these books? Thoughts?

Fun Scifi Tropes: Time Travel

Time travel! My other trope-y love. I have been known to pick up media based solely on the fact that they included time travel even if all other signs pointed to the whole idea being terrible.

But there’s so many things you can do with a time travel story! You can do fish-out-of-water stories (i.e., character ends up in incorrect time, either past or future–I mean, it’s the whole premise of Futurama, but even Mark Twain got in on the action). You can explore a past time period through a modern lens. You can stick dinosaurs wherever the hell you want them. You can have wacky shenanigans or tragic separation. The possibilities are truly endless. (As are the time travel related tropes, yikes.)

TVTropes has categories for time travel stories as well, although it breaks it up into nine:

It also notes four methods of time travel:

  • Videocassette time travel (basically, time is a straight line that you can travel forward or back on, and you can see the world changing around you)
  • Wormhole time travel (a wormhole or other “time tunnel” is used–this going along with my theory that no one understands wormholes and writers are going to exploit that as much as possible)
  • Instantaneous time travel (one minute you’re in one time, the next you’re in another)
  • Unseen time travel (the traveling character doesn’t know how they got there, or the audience is never shown the time travel process)

Time travel can be the main plot point of a story or in the background; it can be something that comes up once or twice in a series and is never mentioned again, or something used every week. It can be used to explore history, humanity, the future, time itself, cause and effect–you name it. Or it can just be the pretty box around an adventure or romance story.

It does seem to seep into all scifi series eventually, though, doesn’t it? I mean, even if we discount time travel-oriented series like Doctor Who or Quantum Leap, you get it in Star Trek, Stargate, Supernatural…even Fraggle Rock has a time travel episode.

But I still love it.

Favorite time travel stories or tropes, squiders? I’m pretty indiscriminate, though I will say that I thought Connie Willis’s Blackout/All Clear duology was magnificent. (And I’m fond of Connie Willis in general.)

In Defense of Science Fiction: Time Travel

For the next two weeks, I’m going to look at typical aspects of science fiction that seem to have fallen out of favor for whatever reason. First up: time travel.

Why has this fallen into disrepute? Well, according to modern science, the amount of energy necessary to go back in time is infinite. And, of course, you can’t draw infinite energy because you’ll destroy the universe (personally, I think there’s a story there anyway). So, say the naysayers, time travel is out.

It’s impossible.

Now, if we want to get really science-y, we can talk about spacetime and how you can move forward in both time and space since they’re essentially the same thing, and blah blah blah.

My point is this: sure, maybe modern science says no. But here’s the thing – science, especially physics, changes all the time. Sure, back a hundred years ago when it was a less-developed field and we hadn’t figured out how to split atoms or that the universe was expanding, it was easy to justify time travel. Why couldn’t you go forward or backwards in time? There was nothing that said we couldn’t!

But even now, I don’t think you can rule it out. The universe is too fluid, our understanding constantly changing. There’s tons of fun theories right now that could be used to explain time travel. Sure, maybe the ol’ warp around the sun to go faster than the speed of light theory is bunk, but with a little twisting, the sky (the universe?) is the limit.

Besides, I don’t think you can knock it if you haven’t tried it.

And science fiction is about possibilities. What if this? What if that? To look at a classic aspect and write it off just because modern mentality says it ain’t so – that’s anti-scifi. A hundred years ago, no one thought we could make it to the moon either.

Subgenre Study: Time Travel

Squiders, I am bringing this to you even though I have overdosed on candy and may die.  That’s how dedicated I am.

Time Travel is generally considered a subgenre of science fiction, but there’s been some controversy lately.  You see, Einsteinian physics state that time travel is impossible.  No can do.  You’d have to destroy the universe to do it, and that’s just not worth it in a lot of people’s eyes.  (Those fools!)  As such, some people are now clamoring that Time Travel be considered fantasy, since it’s not scientifically plausible.

Those people are tools, by the way. As we discussed in Hard Science Fiction, not all science fiction has to be scientifically applicable.  (You know what else is theoretically impossible with current physics? Faster Than Light travel, the backbone of Scifi series all over the place.)  Intent and feel, as always, are important when determining genre.

So, Time Travel, a common trope that science fiction writers love to exploit over and over and over…whether you can slingshot around the sun to rescue some whales, fly through time and space in a police box, or whether your genes determine that you can puncture the fabric of space-time.  (I’ve read a couple of books now where people are genetically predisposed towards time travel.  It’s like the best of scifi’s two favorite tropes, time travel and genetic modification.)

Time travel can involve people from the past going into the future, people from the future going into the past, or people from the present going whichever way they want.  They can bounce around in their own lives or visit the span of human history.  They can influence events or merely watch.  They can go by machine, ship, genetics, or their own minds.

Often time travel is mixed with alternate history and alternate universes.  (All of which are awesome.)

And for those of you that are sad that science says it’s impossible, well…Einsteinian Physics has some problems, and some of the new physics show that it might be possible.  (New Physics also like multiple universes.  New Physics is awesome.)

What are your favorite time travel tales, Squiders?  I highly recommend the rather excellent The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger if you haven’t read it.