Time Travel

Erik Kain

Erik writes about video games at Forbes and politics at Mother Jones. He's the contributor of The League though he hasn't written much here lately. He can be found occasionally composing 140 character cultural analysis on Twitter.

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25 Responses

  1. Jaybird says:

    _Door into Summer_ by Robert Heinlein handles it surprisingly well, or so I thought when I was 14ish.Report

  2. Freddie says:

    Bill and Ted’s. Seriously.Report

  3. greginak says:

    Primer is very good. Very low budget and low tech, but a must see for time travel fans.Report

  4. matoko_chan says:

    Read this guy’s book.
    Dr. Gott investigates the possibilty of time travel in an Einsteinian universe with movies and scifi.
    My favorite time travel device is “djinn particles”, also featured in that Russian guy’s book…..the River of Time i think.

  5. Lev says:

    It’s all about Primer. It’s a film that does make sense, though you have to watch it a bunch of times to get what’s going on.

    I’m about to up the nerd quotient by 50% (as if it isn’t dangerously high already) and say that some of the best time-travel stories I’ve seen were on Deep Space Nine. Quite a few Star Trek time travel episodes sucked because they focused merely on the cerebral aspects of paradoxes and whatnot, but DS9 focused mostly on the moral and emotional consequences of seeing your future (or past), and they didn’t overdo it (*coughcough Voyager). The two episodes about the “Bell Riots” take place I believe in the 2020s, where people have moved all the homeless into “sanctuaries” (read: prisons) that are about to explode with violence. It seems unlikely, but watching the thing makes it feel eerily plausible. This goes double given our society’s proclivity for jailing people. There’s another episode where the crew meets their descendants from 200 years in the future and have to decide whether to go through with the accident that would let them continue to exist. Not the most original story, but it’s amazing because the show does a good job of navigating the sci-fi concepts while fulfilling long-running character arcs. And, of course, there’s the episode where Sisko lives the life of a 50s sci-fi writer, which is arguably the series’ best, and it actually makes some good points about racism, such as how it’s the well-meaning but cowardly among us that allow bigotry to triumph, not just the bigots themselves.

    Now I’m getting an urge to break out my DS9 DVDs again.Report

    • Zach in reply to Lev says:

      2nd-ing Primer. 12 Monkeys is better, though. I like the surrealist “time travel” scenes in Wild Strawberries that Woody Allen copied in Annie Hall, also.Report

      • William Brafford in reply to Zach says:

        If we’re counting greginak above, I guess I’m fourthing Primer. I enjoyed that one, though I need to watch it again with a notebook handy.Report

  6. Michael Drew says:

    Making sense in terms of the laws of physics and making sense narratively are obviously different things. In terms of the former I can’t help, but in terms of the latter I would defend BttF Parts I&II to the grave. I don’t know of a movie that really maximizes the dramatic possibilities of time travel better than those, but then I’m not much of a movie buff.Report

  7. Ian M. says:

    I’m going to put in a word for A Matter of Time by Glen Cook, The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers, and the deeply divisive and challenging Light by M. John Harrison. For movies, I think Time Bandits deserves a mention. The Dechronization of Sam MagRuder by George Gaylord Simpson made sense but was bad in most other ways. To pick one to read, it would be The Anubis Gates – arguably Powers at his best.Report

  8. AW says:

    Most believable? Defintely Time Bandits. Einstein’s field equations of general relativity originally included an eleventh equation which posited a time hole in the wardrobe in Einstein’s bedroom.Report

    • Ryan in reply to AW says:

      I will third Time Bandits. It’s an outstanding movie.

      Also that episode of the Simpsons where Homer sneezes and kills all the dinosaurs.Report

  9. Will Wilson says:

    Only time I’ve seen time travel done well in a book was Asimov’s “The End of Eternity” — unless, that is, you count the weirdness in Lem’s “Fiasco”.Report

  10. sam says:

    I can’t recall the title of the story, but it was about a guy who builds a time machine that uses enormous amounts of power. He uses the machine to go back in time so he can make investments that will allow him to pay for all the power the machine uses to enable him to go back in time to….Report

  11. E.D. Kain says:

    Here’s a good list of time-traveling science fiction stories. There was also one, and I forget both the author and the title, but the premise is that a time traveler goes back in time and introduces penicillin during the Roman empire. The earth’s population increases so much that earth runs out of all its natural resources; they harvest the sun for energy; it becomes almost intolerable. So they send another guy back to the same time with a gun and two bullets. It was a clever story the way it was told.

    I haven’t seen “Primer” though I guess I’ll have to. Time Bandits was great (another Terry Gilliam film, just like Twelve Monkeys!) and I stand by Monkeys as one of the best time travel films out there. If you haven’t seen it, you really should.Report

    • Jaybird in reply to E.D. Kain says:

      At the time that I saw 12 Monkeys, I was doing a great deal of research into the free will debate. That movie probably tipped the scales for me toward La Planckian fatalism for a good year or so. Beautiful, brilliant, lovely, depressing movie.Report

    • Joseph FM in reply to E.D. Kain says:

      Ah I love those kind of stories. One of my favorites in that vein is L. Sprague de Camp’s “Aristotle and the Gun”. I never read that one, but I think I will. (Wiki tells me it’s “The Deadly Mission of Phineas Snodgrass” by Frederick Pohl, and was written in response to de Camp’s novel “Let Darkness Fall”).Report

  12. Clint says:

    Back to the Future. I & III.

    In terms of short stories, I always dug “A Sound of Thunder” by Bradbury. However, the worst movies of all time (time travel or not) may be the “Sound of Thunder” adaptation and Back to the Future II.Report

  13. E.D. Kain says:

    Star Trek IV – The Voyage Home – I’m not a trekkie but I really liked that one.Report

  14. Nick_L says:

    Time’s Arrow, by Arthur C Clarke. A short story, but a memorable one.Report

  15. mw says:

    “The man who walked home” – A 1972 short story by James Tiptree Jr, who I only recently learned was a pseudonym for a woman science fiction writer – Alice Sheldon.

    I read it the year it was printed, and I don’t think I’ve re-read it since. For me it is one of those stories that just stays buried in your subconscious and regularly gets dredged up into conscious memory by unlikely connections. It is the story of a scientist who is blown thousands of years into the future by an experiment gone awry, and is trying to “walk home” down a path through space-time. The story is told through the perspective of those seeing instances of his short manifestations on earth as he makes his way back – triggering superstitions and misunderstandings with each appearance.

    I am reminded of it every time I arrive on a blog or community site where I am not a regular contributor, then leave a comment on an older post, knowing that the other commenters on the post have all moved into the future. Like umm – now.

    I am going to have to find it and read it again, just to see if it was as good as I remember it.

    I’ve never seen Primer. Will seek it out.Report