Beat the Clock: Stories of Time Travel

Image of a clock with three separate minute hands. Text: Something for Sunday; August 25, 2019; Beat the ClockWe humans do love our time travel stories. People often point to The Time Machine by H. G. Wells as the start of the genre, but according to Wikipedia that’s not only far from the first time travel story, it’s not even the first time travel story written by H. G. Wells. James Gleick wrote a delightful book about time travel in science and fiction, and National Geographic has an article about our love affair with the concept. Time travel is a well-known trope, cropping up again and again in various universes and franchises: the Marvel cinematic universe, Harry Potter, Star Trek, maybe even Star Wars. And, of course, Doctor Who, a Time Lord known for his articulate explanation of the nature of time.

Animated image of the 10th Doctor Who describing "a big ball of timey wimey...stuff."Some of my favorite books are time travel stories. I could list dozens of them, but here are my top five (in the order of their publication):

  • Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, by Douglas Adams, where time travel creates and resolves a number of paradoxes and saves humanity
  • Replay, by Ken Grimwood, in which a man dies and wakes up again as his younger self, to live his life over and over
  • The Doomsday Book, by Connie Willis, one of a series of marvelous books she set in a universe where historians explore the past directly
  • Night Watch, by Terry Pratchett, where a very down-to-earth policeman meets his younger self in the delightful fantasy of Discworld
  • The Time Traveler’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger, where time travel drives the emotional power of the story

There are also many time-travel movies I’ve loved, including these (in the order they were released):

  • Terminator 2: Judgment Day, my pick for the best of the Terminator movies, where the goal is to preserve humanity from a future robot uprising
  • Back to the Future, the first of a three-movie series in which Marty McFly tries to find the best timeline for himself, his family, and his town
  • Frequency, in which the hero uses an accidental link through time to try to save his father’s life, and then untangle the consequences
  • Looper, where the mob uses time travel to orchestrate untraceable hits, and the hit man finds himself as his next target
  • Interstellar, which has an interesting alien vision of time, and some really cool robots

Then there’s this fascinating indie film, The History of Time Travel, free on Amazon Prime video, which I’ve watched several times now to figure it all out:

So with all this love I have for time travel, I guess it’s inevitable that there’s an element of time travel in my own book. It’s not time travel of the type found in these stories, though. It’s about two realms of reality where the directions of time are perpendicular. People jump from our world to another and return to our own world at the same moment they left. Decades of experienced time are compressed into seconds. This has particular consequences for people who die in the alternate world, and therefore die here in that one moment. But if someone else later travels to the other world, will they find the person there still alive? And, if so, can they save that person’s life? Would they then be alive back here in our world? This is the kind of question I’ve had to struggle with as I create this book. It’s been a challenge and a lot of fun to work through it all, but there are times I agree with Chief O’Brien of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine when I say:

Two versions of Chief O'Brien of Star Trek: DS9 talking to each other. Text: "I hate temporal mechanics."Do you enjoy time travel and time paradoxes in your fiction? What are your favorite time travel stories?

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