Friday, April 19, 2013

Q is for the Quantum Mechanics of Time Travel (NOT!)

Yes, we all like The Terminator and the Back to the Future movies. Star Trek IV was a fun little jaunt into 1980s Earth, and who can forget the zany adventures of Dr. Who? And, of course, we loved it when Charlton Heston growled:

And who could forget Bruce Campbell getting hurled back in time in Army of Darkness? 

Yet maybe I'm just a spoil sport, but I'm not a big fan of time travel. Maybe it was all those episodes of Star Trek: TNG, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager where they multiplied some tachyon particles by the space-time continuum to solve their problems. "Hey look! It's Admiral Janeway from the future to help Voyager fight the Borg and finally get home--yay!"

Gimmie a break.

Or it could have been in the Dragonlance "Legends Trilogy," that soured my taste for time travel, where the wizard Raistlin goes back in time to kill Fistandantilus to free himself from the Fistandantilus's possessing spirit. But if Fistandantilus is dead does that mean his spirit will still forward in time anyway and possess Raistlin? But if Raistlin stops Fistandantilus from doing that, the Raistlin wouldn't become powerful enough to go back in time to kill Fistandantilus.

Huh? Um yeah... here's the obligatory head explosion:

So, if you are reading this, then take note: this is my covenant to the readers of my fiction and the players around my gaming table--

I will never use time travel as a plot device.

Time travel is often a cop-out, a cheap deus ex machina reserved for writers of comedy. Not like there's anything wrong with comedy--I just don't write much comedy. Part of the horror of going through life is that you can't relive the past, for better for worse. Furthermore, the past probably wasn't as great as you'd think it'd be. Yeah, I'm a medievalist, but I wouldn't want to live in the 12th Century. I like manufactured goods and decent plumbing.

Even more so, from a creative writing standpoint, time travel overly complicates things. You almost always have to explain why time travel works and why things in the present don't get altered by actions in the past (or why things don't spin of into a parallel universe). The Raistlin/Fistandantilus scenario is a perfect example of this. Also, what happens when the present catches up to "The Future." Originally, in Star Trek, the Eugenics Wars have come and gone. And how many times has "Judgement Day" been pushed back in the Terminator franchise.

It's just too much to deal with--writing is hard enough as it is.

So, no time travel for Domikka or any other of my stories or adventures.


  1. GURPS had a terrific supplement in the 80s that outlined the different ways to handle time travel.
    GURPS Time Travel
    It did a great job of unraveling the many ways Time Travel can work. Unfortunatley, a lot of shows do not even consistently use the same rules for time travel (Star Trek and Doctor Who for example).

  2. I think alternate timelines are a better plot device than time travel. Such as in the 1632 (also known as Ring of Fire) series, where a small West Virginian town is hurled into 1630's Europe and end up changing history along an alternate route.


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