T is for time travel stories.

I’m not going to talk about whether or not time travel could ever work. These stories are fun, and that’s all I’m concerned about at the moment.

Some television series are about time travel: Doctor Who, Quantum Leap, Seven Days, Continuum (which my clone just mentioned as I was typing this, thus reminding me and giving me another title for the list), etc. Some feature individual episodes concerning time travel, such as the “Mobius” episode of Stargate: SG-1, or some episodes of Blackadder.

Sometimes time travel is used as a mere plot device to get the characters to a different setting from their usual, where whatever adventures ensue. Sometimes time travel and its implications are the point of the story. Is it possible to change the past? What happens when this occurs: a closed loop, a split-off into a new, almost-the-same universe, or a complete rewrite of everything that comes after the change? Is it moral to change the past? Would killing or imprisoning a mass-murderer before he or she gets the chance to kill thousands justify other, innocent people never existing in the new-and-improved timeline?

Sometimes time-travel stories contain the trope of ‘this is how it always happened.’ In the first trilogy of Pern novels by Anne McCaffrey, it wouldn’t have been necessary for Lessa to go back in time to bring the other dragonriders forward if she hadn’t done it — from the perspective of the past — because their descendants would have already been in her time and there would have been enough dragons to fight Thread. The story has a sense of inevitability; the past cannot be changed, even though time travel is possible.

Sometimes stories show how truly catastrophic any change to the past could be. “A Sound of Thunder,” the short story by Ray Bradbury, should how the death of a single butterfly causes everything to change millions of years later. There’s also a movie inspired by the short story, and although the story goes in a different direction after the butterfly-death part, it’s well worth watching.

Sometimes, alas, time travel is used so the author can cheat, to have something happen and then have it not happen, without there being any reason for the whole sequence. You know it when you see it, or read it: the kind of story that leaves you with a feeling of “What was the point, then?”

Do you have any favorite fiction that features time travel, either as a major part of the story or as individual subplots?  Do you like time travel in fiction, or do you think it’s silly (or both)?

About Thomas Weaver

For several years, I’ve been putting my uncanny knack for grammar and punctuation, along with an eclectic mental collection of facts, to good use as a Wielder of the Red Pen of Doom (editor). I'm physically disabled, and I currently live with my smugly good-looking twin Paul, who writes military science fiction and refuses to talk about his military service because he can’t. Sometimes Paul and I collaborate on stories, and sometimes I just edit whatever he writes. It's worked out rather well so far. My list of non-writing-related jobs from the past includes librarian, art model, high school teacher, science lab gofer… Although I have no spouse or offspring to tell you about, I do have six cats. (The preferred term is "Insane Cat Gentleman.") I currently spend my time blogging, reading, editing, and fending off cats who like my desk better than my twin’s.
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4 Responses to T

  1. I love sci fi and the series you mentioned about, i was quite impressed in the modern Lost in Space series. http://aimingforapublishingdeal.blogspot.co.uk/


  2. Hey great post! The best time-travel has to be accomplished in another T word – the Tardis. Your sense of the form is perfect. I hope you are enjoying the challenge of A-Z. Keep up the good stuff.


  3. Great post; I always find stories involving time travel fascinating. I also love Douglas Adams’ assertion that…

    one of the major problems encountered in time travel is not that of accidentally becoming your own father or mother. […] The major problem is quite simply one of grammar […]. [An] event will be described differently according to whether you are talking about it from the standpoint of your own natural time, from a time in the further future, or a time in the further past and is further complicated by the possibility of conductiong conversations whilst you are actually travelling from one time to another with the intention of becoming your own father or mother.



    • Grammar, yes. “I was walking the dog a hundred years from now, and I decided that I wanted to stop for ice cream yesterday before going home.” (Reminds me of the song about “the train that goes tomorrow is a mile upon its way” — even though that’s actually “the train that goes to Morrow”.) I’m sure we’ll develop special grammar to handle it, though, if we ever need it (or we’ll have given up on correct grammar entirely by then).


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