Thursday, February 12, 2009

Flying Cars and Saving Lincoln

The first attempt at a story I ever made was a time travel story. In fact my first few attempts at stories were time travel-esque. All of them were pretty lame and clocked in at around three pages each. Hey, I was ten.

The idea about time travel floated in from somewhere; but I cannot exactly place the original source. It was a few years before Marty McFly and I had not been exposed to H.G. Wells at all. But I think I loved history even as a little turd in long pajamas so the jump to create a story in which I witnessed or participated in an historic event doesn’t seem like a giant leap.

I found a huge black binder and I covered it with tinfoil. To me that was how a book was bound. In the crinkled aluminum on the front cover, I wrote “The Time Possessor”. Man did I think that was a cool title. I inserted some loose leaf paper and went to town. It was the story of a guy who unwittingly travels back in time through his words only. He mentioned something about Ancient Rome, and blam! He was there. Then some stuff happened.

I wrote another three-page masterpiece for school called “A Lesson in Time”. This one was more scientific. A professor makes the machine somehow, he travels to Custer’s Last Stand, he can’t warn anybody in time… Thanks for playing, Rod Serling, and everyone who ever wrote a “Twilight Zone” episode.

My fellow pulp story writer/stick-figure graphic artist Eric and wrote a lot of stuff back then. I think we had more ideas than talent back then, and now I think everything’s reversed. When you are ten, everything is super heroes and super powers. For me, there was always a nagging to go back in time and do…something.

Then came 1985 and Back to the Future. It was my favorite movie as a kid and not for the Oedipal back story and Lea Thompson. It was the car. The goddamned DeLorean that already looked like a spaceship; plus it had the added bonus of producing nuclear lighting that shot it through time at will! Are you shitting me? The X-wing Fighter officially was knocked down a notch on my coolest vehicle list.

After that I made a mental catalogue of all the time travel stories out there. Amongst them: The Terminator, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure , Austin Powers, Time After Time, 12 Monkeys, The Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur’s Court, “Quantum Leap…and now my favorite show, “Lost.

Time travel is fun to write about because it is the one concept with a prescribed set of rules that cannot be proven. They can only be scientifically theorized. No one can say it’s even possible, but so many people have opinions about it. To me, its like wondering who could win in a battle between Frankenberry and Cap’n Crunch. (My money’s on the pink dude.) Until someone can do it and prove something its all make believe.

SPOILER ALERT – I am hereby conceding that I am not that damn smart. I could kick your ass at Jeopardy! but I can’t outthink quantum physicists and theologians. I know some of this has been covered. I know because I’ve read a lot about it. It’s all theory. I only really know what I know from watching movies.

And here is what I’ve learned.

1) Time travel and time itself are concepts. The paradoxes that can occur in time travel exist because concepts and logic have snags we call paradoxes. Again, until someone makes it happen, it’s all speculation.

2) There are two primary theories about how time travel works. (Wikipedia has an interesting article about it. Mine’s funnier.) They can be easily explained with movies and fiction.

3) People usually can only follow one of theories. They either believe A or they believe B. Its love or hate. Like the Yankees.

I call the first concept Single String. The Single String concept is the one at work in The Terminator and on “Lost”. Simply put, all time travel is still part of a single linear string of time. Everything that has happened will happen and everything that will happen will happen. You can’t change anything. It is close to our concept of Fate.

In the world of SS, you can’t go back and save John Lennon from being killed. Its impossible, because John Lennon WAS killed. No matter what you do he would still die.

Single stringers are also the guys who say: “If time travel was possible, wouldn’t we know about it already?” These guys are buttholes. Is that the first thing the time traveler would do? Rush back fifty years and blog about the next fifty Super Bowls?

The second concept is Multi-string, or as I affectionately refer to it: First person.

First person time travel is Marty McFly’s time travel. It’s also how it was done on “The Twilight Zone” and on “The Simpsons.” It is the theory that if I go back in time and shoot Hitler in the moustache, when I return, the world will be a different place for me. There are several strings and time travel is more like sand in a clamshell; it causes a disturbance that produces something new. There are an infinite amount of strings and if I dislodge myself from my place on my original string and jump ship, I will return on a very similar looking but completely different string.

When Homer went back in time by grabbing the magic toaster, he stepped on bugs and accidental killed dinosaurs (because he’s Homer.) Every time he returned his reality changed. Eventually he gave up when the family’s forked lizard tongues were “close enough”.

Marty McFly gave his dad a new sense of confidence in Back To the Future which slightly altered his life in 1985. He warned Doc about being murdered and he changed the Twin Pines Mall to the Lone Pine Mall. Marty ended up on a different string.

Confused? The common paradox is now called the Grandfather paradox. If I go back in time and run over my grandpa with a Zamboni, will I cease to exist? In single string theory, the answer is: “You can’t do it.” First person: “Yep. You will cease to exist.”

Each theory has its own paradox problems:

The First person paradox is easy. If I go to a different string after I dislodged myself from my own, where is the version of me in the new string? Maybe only one version of me can exist? Maybe it’s all horseshit? Who knows.

The Single String paradox is one I came up with on my own. It’s about going into the future, not the past. Say I travel into the future a month from now. I see my family and myself from the bushes. I’m spying on myself to see what was going on. Same old Jim typing on the computer. Lame ass. I sneak in the house, I check my bank statements. I check my mail. Same life.

I go to the liquor store and I see the list of lottery numbers from the past few weeks. I make a mental note of the numbers and the date they won. I zip back to the same time when I left.

According to Single string theory, I can’t play those numbers and win. There is NO way. For the full week that I could buy the ticket that will win the $147 million jackpot, I’ll never get to the store and I’ll never buy a ticket and win.

That’s why that Fate theory is bullcrap. It really only applies to the past. Marty McFly would play the lotto. (See: BTTF Part 2 for gambling in the future.)

It’s belief at this point…not science...not yet. It’s like humanity wondering what the sun was and how it worked. We went thousands of generations before we understood what the sun was made of and how it affected us. We’re still just caveman at this point when it comes to time. But we can write about it.

Oh, and “Quantum Leap” was just stupid.


  1. combine time travel and string theory and i won't shut up

  2. You just totally screwed my day. Now my mind is traversing the multitude of possibilities to flip time travel on it's head and write a new "twist" to it all.


  3. Hmm! You forgot the idea that time travel isn't possible; not because of Single String, but because there IS no string! I know you like the Butterfly Effect (which movie I'm pretty sure, along with that Simpsons episode, is based in Bradbury's "Sound of Thunder") but I favor more of No String. Me and my dad talked about it-- he made a good point. In the No String theory, you could travel forward in time by traveling very fast and therefore aging slower, then slowing down and finding that 20 normal-speed years have passed. But you can't travel backward, because each moment is just that, a moment, and once it's gone it only lives on in memory. I used to sort of believe in First Person (which I think DOES agree with plenty of quantum physics theories of alternate universes and endless possibilities, and how electrons exist simultaneously in all possible places until observed-- What the Bleep?) but since reading a couple of books this year I've been swayed over. Grendel and Nausea. But yeah never know! (Although I think Single Stranders suck!)
    ...Can you tell I'm into this?