Time Travel in Science Fiction
An article by
Dr. David Lewis Anderson
Later in 160 A.D. in his work “True History” Lucian Samosata dealt with a trip to the moon. In the fourteenth century there were many imaginary voyages in Greek and Roman literature. Later in 1627 “The New Atlantis” by Francis Bacon had strong elements of science fiction. And later in the seventeenth century many trips to the moon were made by Francis Goldwin, Cyrano de Bergerac, and Johann Kepler. And there are many, many more.
Time Travel Emerges in Science FictionHowever time travel itself didn’t emerge in science fiction until only recently, in the late eighteen hundreds and what a good story line it was!
Time travel emerged in science fiction in the end of the nineteenth century. At this time stories about time travel forward were really not remarkable. In fact, there was little difference between time travel forward and a long sleep which would have a character falling asleep and waking up far into the future. This type of story line was just really a simple way of speeding up time.
In 1889 Mark Twain introduced his classic work “A Yankee in the Court of King Arthur.” And then, in 1895, H. G. Wells introduced his classic work “The Time Machine.”
Time Travel to the FutureOne important question when time traveling in science fiction is “Which way to go?” Do we travel to the future? It is simple and cannot affect the present. The time traveler is the point of view to describe the new world. In this type of story the reader sees the future world through the eyes of the time traveler.
Since it was first published this book has never been out of print, something most books almost a century old cannot claim.
Perhaps it was successful because it took the reader hundreds of thousands of years into our future where we could see the consequences of our biological and social evolution, where we saw an alien and terrifying world.
This stands alone not only as a great work of time travel in science fiction but it is also now recognized as one of the modern classics of the English language.
Time Travel to the PastWhich way to go? We could travel to the past. This is much more exciting to today’s science fiction readers. It is infinitely complex and exciting and is filled with unlimited possibilities and stories.
One of the most popular early works about backwards time travel was Mark Twain’s “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.” Although Mark Twain’s great story didn’t explore any of the paradoxes of backwards time travel it still remains a classic today.
Escape to the PastAnother way to go in writing a science fiction story about time travel is called “escape to the past.” In this type of story the time traveler from the future returns or escapes to the present day. Today this type of story is not very popular, perhaps because it might be hard for us to identify with characters from the future who may be superior to us. But never-the-less, it is an option that was very popular in science fiction of the past.
Time Travel Paradoxes
There are hundreds of stories about similar paradoxes that are created in science fiction stories. Time travel to the past can quickly create story lines with an infinite complexity of knots and excitement. But are these truly paradoxes? What I mean is that, for example, most people would say that it is nonsense to suggest that moving objects shrink and grow heavier or that an astronaut that travels to a distant start and returns will be younger than her twin brother she left behind. But this isn’t science fiction. This is today’s science fact. So perhaps, paradoxes are simply places where our rational minds bump into their own limitations.
The Time PoliceAnother interesting tool used by science fiction writers is the “Time Police.” These are the heroes that show up just in time to prevent someone from altering the past and destroying the future timeline and our existence as we know it.
Alternate Worlds and Parallel UniversesAlternate worlds, it’s an easy idea. Simply take some event in world history and imagine what the consequences might be if we travel back and time and cause that event never to happen. It sounds so simple but think of the consequences.
- An asteroid misses the earth and the dinosaurs live and become smarter
- Or Hitler wins the war
- Perhaps Napoleon wins at Waterloo
- Or Columbus fails to find America
- Or the south wins the American Civil War
- And again, the list is endless.
But alternate worlds open up the possibility of worlds of choice and the possibilities are endless. In these types of science fiction stories there is a strong belief that action counts and that the future is truly in our hands.
Multi-Dimensional BeingsOne of my favorite but less well known spacetime stories is Edwin Abbot’s “Flatland.” Think about it. To the two-dimensional people living in this Flatland, the three-dimensional creature as it passed through their world would appear to be remarkable, appearing out of nowhere, moving in ways they had never seen or could understand.
To the Flatlanders this creature would appear to be frightening, magic, perhaps even a God. It can make a person wonder. What would a fourth-dimensional being look like to us if it passed into and through our three-dimensional world?
On the other hand, how would that four-dimensional being see our world? Let’s go back to Flatland for a moment. As a three-dimensional being it is easy for us to look at Flatland, like we do at a simple piece of paper and see every part of their world at once.
But how would a four-dimensional being see our world? What would our world look like to a being that could move through time as easily as we move through space? They would probably see all three dimensions from all perspectives at once.
Actually it was said that Albert Einstein often asked the same question in a slightly different way. He always wondered what would it be like to view the world if you were riding on a beam of light. Remember as we move faster and faster toward the speed of light, at the speed of light we would see everything compact into a single point and we could see everything at once.
Now, after more than 100 years of science fiction... these possibilities have a basis in solid scientific fact.