Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Time Travel

I'm avowed fan of science fiction, and one my favourite tropes to explore is 'Time Travel'.

This short story by Desmond Warzel updates Time Travel by drawing from contemporary internet culture to frame the narrative in a novel way.

The story itself is built around one of the most common time travel conventions, that of 'going back and killing Hitler', but manages to stay away from cliche.

Some short stories, especially science fiction short stories, can be built around a single tiny fact, and if that fact is sharp enough, it can puncture the entire trope. The Time Traveler by Gavin Raine, makes a very satisfying 'pop'.

Last but not least, good ideas are often found in strange places. Balloon Juice is typically a political blog (and a good one for the most part IMO), but one day they opened a thread to their readers to discuss 'what events in history you would change if you had a time machine?'.

As with most internet discussions it rambles a bit, but along with the aforementioned 'kill Hitler' suggestions were a number of very interesting ideas;

- intervene in the battle of Yarmouk
- stop the Black Plague
- prevent the assassination of Julius Caesar
- stop the destruction of the Library of Alexandria
- prevent the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand

...and lots more. Its the kind of thread that is fertile with ideas and easy to get lost in.

Part of the thought experiments answer is also a revealing look at ones own priorities. Is stopping the holocaust the most important thing? What if that might have unintended bad consequences? Would the largest appeal be getting rich off Microsoft stock?

What if you could be the first person to write the novel 'Ulysses', or the poem 'Ozymandias'?


  1. My compliments on your excellent and imaginative blog!

    "What if you could be the first person to write the novel 'Ulysses', or the poem 'Ozymandias'?"

    Intriguing question. Latter first: The name, James Joyce, despite his influence upon my generation, now gets, "Oh, you mean the guy who wrote 'Trees'?"

    And when you correct, "That was Joyce Kilmer."
    You get asked who SHE was.

    As for P.B. Shelly, "Ozymandias" was written in competition with a poem of the same title by Horace Smith in 1818.

    Since I am up to neither Kilmer nor Smith, it is unlikely I could've written either piece better than those with whom they either competed or became confused. It would take more than time travel to repace Joyce and Shelly. However, time travel --as it really works- is a frequent topic in my blog, "Trainride Of The Enigmas", to which I invite you.

  2. Would stopping the Holocaust have unintended negative consequences? (Or at least attempting to do so?) Look no further than the classic ST episode "City on the Edge of Forever". He knows, doctor, he knows...

  3. Re Geo: I don't see what could prevent someone from memorizing 'Ozymandias' and then going back in time to publish it before Shelley would have.

    Memorizing Ulysses...ok you got me there, though I am sure someone has.

    Re Red Five:

    I guess its the old butterfly stomp all round - everything has unintended consequences, and some of them are bound to be negative, and the further back your change is made, the more the changes have snowballed.

    Aside from Hitler, I have a hard time not going back and killing Stalin. Its hard for me to think of what a worse than Stalin option could have been.