WILA: Time Travel

 

What I like about...


One day, when I was in university, I was lying on my parents’ couch not feeling well and Back to the Future was playing on TV. I had seen the movie as a kid, but dismissed it as a “boy movie”. This was the first time I’d really sat down and watched it as an adult and realized just how good a movie it was. It was charming, exciting, and funny. Soon after I declared it my favourite movie and have been a huge fan ever since.

I don’t know if BTTF marks the beginning of my passion for time travel stories, but it’s definitely a key component. But the goofy, enjoyable time travel of BTTF isn’t the only kind I love. Anyone who knows my tastes knows that simply uttering the phrase “it has time travel” piques my interest. But what is it about time travel that I love so much? Today I’m taking a look at one of my favourite story-telling concepts and why it excites me so.


Second Chances

We have all made mistakes we wish we could go back and fix, or something has happened that we wish we could change. That’s the fantasy of time travel; it gives you that chance. In And Then She Vanished by Nick Jones, Joseph Bridgeman’s little sister, Amy, disappeared one day while they were at the fair. Her disappearance destroyed his family and left Joseph a sad, broken shell of a man. One day, he discovers he has the ability to travel backwards in time, and this propels him into the past to save both Amy and himself. A brilliantly written exploration of grief and the lengths a brother will go to for love, this book was powerful to read.


Saving the World

Joseph Bridgeman only wanted to save his sister, but some time travellers want to save the world. In 11/22/63 by Stephen King, Jake Epping discovers a portal to the past inside a diner and decides to travel back and prevent the assassination of JFK. Although this is a very American fantasy, I loved this book. It is one of my top favourite Stephen King books and it’s easy to get invested in Jake’s quest even if you aren’t all that passionate about JFK.

In the TV show, Bodies, three detectives in different time periods find the same body in the same alleyway. These bodies are all part of a global conspiracy that will define the future (or past) of the entire world. The characters have to determine what is going on and how they want the future to go. Similarly, in the movie, Twelve Monkeys, a virus has ravaged the world and time travellers come back to prevent the spread of this virus.


Adventure/Escape

In Back to the Future, Doc Brown builds a time machine so he can travel forward and witness human achievement beyond his lifespan. As well, he has a passion for the old West and would love to visit that time period, too. Through the course of the trilogy, he gets to achieve both of these dreams, even if the results aren’t necessarily what he expected. 

A rather unsettling vision of humanity’s future is shown in the classic, The Time Machine, by H. G. Wells. The titular time traveller goes about 800,000 years into the future and learns that the human race has split into two species: the beautiful, but simple, Eloi and the brutal Morlocks. Michael J. Sullivan in his book, Hollow World, also explores the future of humanity by sending his main character 2000 years into a near-utopic future where everyone lives a peaceful, prosperous life, but at the cost of their individuality.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the biggest time travel tv show all about adventure, Doctor Who. For those who might not know, The Doctor is a “Time Lord”, a near immortal being who travels through time and space, usually with a human companion, exploring the universe and getting into trouble.

Inevitability

One of my favourite story-telling tropes is a good, mysterious prophecy that is fulfilled when the characters do their best to avoid it. Greek mythology is full of stories like this, Oedipus, Paris, etc. The very actions they take to avoid the prediction are exactly what make it come true. A lot of time travel fiction fits into this mould. In order to avoid a particular outcome or change the past, the traveller goes back in time to stop things, but instead, it is the travel itself that either causes the event they are trying to prevent, or only makes things worse. 

It’s hard to discuss examples of this trope without deep spoilers, but one example I can talk about is the movie, The Butterfly Effect. An admittedly mediocre film that I enjoyed (at least the first time I watched it), it’s about a man who finds out he can travel into his own past by looking at old journal entries or photos. His life and those of the kids he knew did not turn out well and he tries various ways to fix things. Let’s just say that it doesn’t go well and leave it at that.

Types of Time Travel

An important aspect of time travel is not just the when or where, but the how. When Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale were working on Back to the Future, they originally planned that the time machine would be a refrigerator. They quickly realized they needed a time machine that can move around and decided to make it a Delorean instead, because as Doc Brown said, “If you’re gonna build a time machine into a car, why not do it with some style?” And it was an excellent choice because the Delorean has become as iconic as the movies themselves.

The mechanism can really define the time machine and the story constraints, as well as add another layer of creativity. Many stories use a machine, like in Bodies, wormholes/black holes (Interstellar), special abilities (Heroes), or leave it a complete mystery (Groundhog Day).

In general, time travel is one of my favourite story types, but there are two categories of time travel stories that I left out. One is time loops. I love time loops and will be writing a separate piece just on those. The other type is what I call “Time Cop” stories. This is like Loki or the later books in the Joseph Bridgeman series, where there is a group of travellers who are tasked with “fixing” or “policing” time. That type of story interests me far less than other types. Same goes for the infinite universe theory of time travel. But, the point of this series is to discuss things I like and to focus on the positive. 

So, in conclusion, time travel is fun and sometimes complete nonsense, and I love it.

Recommendations:

Books:

And Then She Vanished by Nick Jones
A Fold in the Tent of the Sky by Michael Hale
11/22/63 by Stephen King
Chronos: An Anthology of Time Drabbles
Hollow World by Michael J. Sullivan - My Review
The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton
Kindred by Octavia E. Butler
Flash Forward by Robert J. Sawyer
Summer of Love: A Time Travel Story by Lisa Mason
This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone
The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North

Movies:

Happy Death Day 1 and 2
Back to the Future 1, 2, 3
Twelve Monkeys
Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny
Interstellar
Edge of Tomorrow
Totally Killer
Groundhog Day
Safety Not Guaranteed

TV Shows:

Bodies
Dr. Who
 

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