Thursday, July 7, 2011

A Wrinkle in Time

by Allison Pang

I've always been fascinated with the ideas of time-travel - although less about the travel so much as the idea of how much influence we have on events. I guess that's dipping more into the Butterfly Effect or Parallel Universe Theory, both of which I find extremely interesting.

Earlier in the week we had several posts about possibly going back in time and mucking things up, which by all intents and purposes would completely skew history as we know it. I guess I'd call that "No Fate but What We Make" camp (borrowed shamelessly from The Terminator, yes.) By that line of reckoning, depending on what you did, time itself could be shunted down a completely separate timeline. (A la the grandfather paradox - i.e. you go back in time and shoot your grandfather before he meets your grandmother - therefore you were never born - therefore you couldn't have gone back in time and shot your grandfather - therefore he lived - therefore you were born - etc. etc.).

This starts getting into the PU Theory as well, where the concept is that every little action you make actually splits your universe again and again until you basically have a universe hydra of potential futures. So even though you never interact directly with any of your other selves, your actions will continually influence them...and they continue to influence others splitting from their own. The closer to your own universe the dimensions are, the closer they mirror your own actions...with just a little difference. As they continue to split, the changes add up until they're nothing like what you actually did. (i.e. In primary universe, you knocked a mug off a table. Way down the chain, you actually picked it up and chucked it at a poodle.)

The real issue though is just how much of an effect your actions actually have. At the other end of the spectrum is the concept that certain things (or all things, depending on your point of view) happen for a reason. Call it destiny, maybe, but think about the latest film adaptation of The Time Machine. No matter what the protag did to change events, his fiance died every single time. He could change the manner of her death, but not the actual fact that she died.

From a story perspective time travel can be a "be careful what you wish for" result. Sure, you might be able to change history...but to what end?  (My favorite example of this is the Simpsons episode where Homer makes the toaster into a time traveling machine. He ends up back in prehistoric times and kills a mosquito. When he makes it back to one possible timeline in the future it's raining donuts.)

There have been hundreds of movies and books that have explored these concepts - from The Time Traveler's Wife to Time Bandits, Back to the Future to Hot Tub Time Machine. I could probably spend all day coming up with examples, but I'd rather hear what YOUR favorites are (movie, show, book, whatever)

To help you along:


  1. Fringe had been doing some wicked time-related stuff. Also, while it's not my favorite of the series, Star Trek IV The Voyage Home (the one with the whales), or the old episode The City of the Edge of Forever stands out to me, too. Of course, my MOST FAVORITE is the newest Trek film installment; the time-travel repercussions of Spock and one seriously angry Romulan brilliantly allow for a total reboot of the series. SQUEE!!!!!

  2. Replay by Ken Grimwood is one of my all-time favorites. It works with the idea that Linda was playing with, about having the opportunity to go back and redirect your life.

  3. My favorite is the episode of FUTURAMA where Fry accidentally kills his grandfather, then winds up unknowingly sleeping with this grandmother. Timeline preserved.