Monday 15 October 2012

If you could turn back time, if you could find a way...

Today on Demention we are delighted to host guest blogger Kate Atherton, who book blogs on the fabulous For Winter Nights about YA, sci-fi, thrillers and historical fiction. She also has a film blog Movie Brit and you can follow her on Twitter @Wetdarkandwild. 

With the release of blockbusting time travel movie LOOPER, Kate takes a trip through the fascinating paradoxes of TIME TRAVEL and asks - if we could, should we? 
And what would YOU do, if you could...? 

Is it best not to mess with time?

Time will tell...

As certain as day follows night follows day, time marches on and waits for no man or woman – although, strangely, as the years go by it does seem to speed up. But, while most of us have yet to work out how to rein it in, short of investing in expensive cosmetic products, novelists and film makers appear to have discovered the secret to turning back time, taking us (if we have a mind to believe) back in time and even into the future. It seems that time travel does exist after all. 

Of course, there are rules to be obeyed. A transient knowledge of Star Trek moral codes will warn us that if we upset the space time continuum there will be dire consequences. All right it may save humpback whales and release Voyager from an icy tomb but if you mess around with time you may end of up never having been born at all.

Looper is the latest presentation of movie time travel and it sums up confusingly the perplexing paradoxes of moving through time. By killing one's future self in the past and then killing one's past self in the future, how can there even be a movie in the first place?

H.G. Wells has much to answer for. While I'm not completely up to date with time travel in Classical and medieval texts, it's quite likely that The Time Machine was one of the first depictions of such a vehicle or machine in literature. However, considering that it led to an unpleasant encounter with  the Morlocks, the ultimately evolved working man, it's surprising that there were any more. Nevertheless, many years on, Jeremy Irons dusted off the machine only to find himself back in the future in the same place. You'd have thought he would have read up on it first.

Interestingly, Felix Palma re-examines the evidence of the H.G. Wells time machine in The Map of Time – travel through the Fourth Dimension might not be all that it cracks up to be. Although, if you lived in a London predated upon by Jack the Ripper, or you happen to be the Elephant Man, you can understand the appeal. In the latest novel, The Map of the Sky, Palma takes a closer look at H.G. Wells' reports of the invasion by Martians, another event that may lay in store for us for which we should prepare.

My favourite series of children's books focuses upon time travel – Alex Scarrow's TimeRiders. In each of the books the intrepid teen heroes, each rescued out of time, travel back to a different period of time (Jurassic, Roman, Norman, American Civil War and Victorian times) to right the wrongs that have been made in the past by the future. But what if the future has become so terrible that this seems the only solution? Is it right to prevent the changes, even if it does mean that we end up evolving into a race of technologically-advanced lizards?

Which begs the question - what would you do if you could go back in time? 
Is there a dictator you would like to kill or, as in the latest sixth TimeRiders novel, a human monster that needs to be stopped? But as City of Shadows showed, going back in time to kill Jack the Ripper might have seemed a good idea at the time, but its butterfly effect may have catastrophic consequences.

In Source Code, the secret sinister military have discovered a way to send an agent back into the last few hours of time, again and again. While this may have its uses – as here by solving a terrorist attack on a train and saving countless times – it's not necessarily good for the person who has to do the time changing, especially if it means having to be killed first.

Sometimes, though, travelling back in time can remind us of how good we have it now, even if the past is populated by the great artists and writers who lived in Paris in the 1930s. In Midnight in Paris, Woody Allen uses time travel as a form of therapy for a neurotic novelist and an even more loopy muse. The present does have its charms especially, according to Mr Allen, in Paris in the rain. Personally speaking, Paris in the sunshine has a lot more going for it.

It is a fact of time travel that the past does not like to be changed. You only have to watch Twelve  Monkeys to see the truth of that. And then there's Final Destination – five movies (at least) have now demonstrated convincingly that the future does not like to me messed with either. It would seem that the only potential way to alter the future is to reasses and redress the present.

What do you think? 
What's your favourite time travel story? 
What questions and paradoxes fascinate and perplex you?


  1. You forgot Time Cop! Jean Claude van Damme saves the world from someone who looks like Alan Sugar crossed with Bill Gates by travelling through time - brilliant!
    Favourite Time Travel book has to be Making History by Stephen Fry - in which they try to change history by killing Hitler off. Of course things don't go happily to plan...

  2. I'm afraid that I was myself constrained by time in what I could include. There are many examples to choose from. Having said that, can't stand Time Cop so it wasn't getting a mention if I could help it. Arrgh now I've just mentioned it! Kate :)

  3. Hi Kate, and welcome to Demention. What a thought provoking post.

    My favourite cautionary tale about the dangers of time travel has to be the second Back to the Future movie. It's jam packed with all of the paradoxical landmines that I love, and has the bonus of going both forward and backwards in time. (Though Gilliam's Twelve Monkeys is also outstanding.)

    But my ultimate 'out there' idea comes from a 2000AD series by Pat Mills called Flesh, where dinosaurs are harvested for food by time travelling 'cowboys' who send their flesh to a starving populus in the 23rd Century. I won't spoil the ending in case anyone wants to track it down and read it.

  4. So that's what happened to the dinosaurs?! Sorry, Julienne, I've got that damn song stuck in my head too. Thought you'd be too young to be afflicted by Cher ;)

    The time travel novel that's stuck in my head since I was about 13 is Three Go Back by James Leslie Mitchell who was prolific in the 1930s but is only really known now for his Scottish classic Sunset Song.

    Three Go Back starts out quite dated, twee and 'what-ho' but suddenly we're whisked back 25,000 years to the lost continent of Atlantis in an airship, in a way that still makes my scalp prickle. (I nearly cried when I found a re-issue in the Grassic Gibbon centre in Stonehaven, Aberdeenshire but I think it's now on Amazon sellers). It's a brutal, beautiful book, with a kick at the end concerning the fate of the Neanderthals, and you feel wrenched out of the distant past. Wonderful.

    Great post, Kate, thanks!

  5. Thanks so much, Julienne! Thanks for having me here :) I realise now how I missed out so much - Back to the Future (I and II) are wonderful films and time pieces in themselves. I haven't heard of Flesh - I think I'm scared of it! I have the song stuck in my mind too, it's going around over and over again....

  6. The Manga/Anime 'The Girl Who Leapt Through Time' just because it's so true to what a teenager would do - nothing big just get back in time to eat your pudding before your sister does or to change the grades in a test...its fab!

  7. My favourite time travel story is Tom's Midnight Garden which is written with such subtlety. That scene where they ice skate along the Thames together and the ending...such a beautiful book!

  8. Welcome to Demention, Kate! Great post. I love time travel books and films. I admit I was totally befuddled by the Looper trailer, but I still want to see the film! I read a book when I was in my early teens about a teenage girl waking up in her twenties, married to her boyfriend, stuck with a screaming baby and living a total nightmare! I have no idea what the book was called (anyone?) but it made a real impact and I never forgot it.
    Lots of other suggestions here for great time travel books... I will be searching for them. Thanks everyone!

  9. Thanks so much for the welcome, Claire, and everyone! I've suddenly remembered a book that had a great influence on me when I was a teen - Lady of Hay by Barbara Erskine. That features a type of time travel - or reawakened memories of past lives - and takes us back to the reign of nasty King John. Excellent read.

    Three Go Back sounds very intriguing, Julie!

    Kate :)

  10. When I was in my teens I loved ‘Playing Beatie Bow’ by Ruth Park, which is a time slip novel. It’s not too well know over here in the UK, but in its native Australia it won the Australian Children’s book of the year award’ in 1981. I discovered by chance in the 1990’s in a dusty corner of the school library. It is about 14 year old Abigail, who gets transported back to Victorian Sydney and becomes integrated in the lives of the Bow family and the hansom Judah in particular. It turns out the Bow’s have been waiting for Abigale, and she has a crucial part to play in their family history. The book is so beautifully imagined and you really feel that you’re in the 19th century ‘The Rocks’ region of Sydney. ‘Playing Beatie Bow,’ has a real air of Celia Rees about it and to me is YA – way before YA even existed.

  11. I love how we're all time-leaping or looping back to our reading pasts to find lost time travel gems!

  12. I loved Source Code. The twist at the end was excellent. There's so much you can do with time travel... which leads me nicely to: How did you write that whole article without mentioning Dr Who?!

  13. I can't believe that no-one's mentioned Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure - surely the most fun anyone ever had while time traveling.

  14. Oh yes, I loved Bill and Ted - slight pause for a Keanu flashback *smile* - now where was I?
    Years ago I read a book about a teen who travels in time when she looks in a mirror, and ends up being her own mother's mother. Or something like that. No idea what it was called.
    And how about the Terminator films....?

  15. Oh no! Major guilt for not mentioning Bill and Ted!! I hate to admit that I'm not a Dr Who fan... *runs and hides* Kate