My blogging record this last month has been grim, because of school holidays, poorly children and poorly me, so I threw a question out on twitter asking for a topic and the lovely Elin Gregory came back with the subject of this post.
I love time-travel when it’s done properly. It’s like magic though, in my opinion, and there always has to be a price to pay for it. I think that the best known paradox story in time-travel fiction is All You Zombies by Robert Heinlein. He crams it all in there… being your own mother, your own father and your own recruiter to the Time-Travel Bureau. The price the protaganist pays seems to be loneliness. So it works for me in that it fits my criteria. But it leaves me with a sad, empty feeling afterwards and I’m not sure I like that.
My absolutely favorite time-travel story, in fact probably my favorite short story of all time, is The Man Who Walked Home, by James Tiptree Jr, in her short story collection Ten Thousand Light-Years from Home. There has only ever been one attempt to send someone through time and essentially it blew up the world. I come back to it again and again and I can’t really tell you why:
On this spot there appears annually the form of Major John Delgano, the first and only man to travel in time.
Major Delgano was sent into the future some hours before the holocaust of day zero. All knowledge of the means by which he was sent is lost, perhaps forever. It is believed that an accident occurred which sent him much farther than was intended. Some analysts speculate that he may have gone as far as fifty thousand years ahead. Having reached this unknown point Major Delgano apparently was recalled, or attempted to return, along the course in space and time through which he was sent. His trajectory is thought to start at the point which our solar system will occupy at a future time and is tangent to the complex helix which our earth describes around the sun.
He appears on this spot in the annual instants in which his course intersects our planet’s orbit and he is apparently able to touch the ground in those instants. Since no trace of his passage into the future has been manifested, it is believed that he is returning by a different means than he went forward. He is alive in our present. Our past is his future and our future is his past. The time of his appearances is shifting gradually in solar time to converge on the moment of 1153.6 on May 2nd 1989 old style, or Day Zero.
The explosion which accompanied his return to his own time and place may have occurred when some elements of the past instants of his course were carried with him into their own prior existence. It is certain that this explosion precipitated the worldwide holocaust which ended forever the age of Hardscience
Thank you, Elin for the question! It ties in nicely with my own time-travel shenanigans. Lew and Mira both get dragged back in time at the beginning of Lost in Time (hence the name, doh!). It’s not an easy bit of magic and although it will happen again in other books, there is always quite a big cost. For Lew and Mira it’s extremely dangerous to try to get home. It’s not a safe process and they need to make a choice.
I don’t much like time travel stories that just have people whizzing about through stone circles and whatnot like trap doors in to the past, although I know a lot of people find them great fun. I think that’s possibly because I like all my stories with a lot of angst, so easy time-travel immediately becomes a super-power rather than something to be tortured about.
Next week I’m talking to Elizabeth Noble about writing life and her re-released series, Sentries, so do pop back if you want to get to know her better.
Note: I know that for some people, the Tiptree/Sheldon narrative has become problematic because of the manner of her death (CW: Suicide/Murder) in the same way Heinlein’s politics makes some of his writing difficult to stomach for some people. Whether art should stand independent of the creator is a whole other discussion on it’s own. In their specific cases, I think their work transcends that, but I’ve included the links above for completeness .