Tuesday, May 13, 2008

As time goes by

Last week I finished up a mentoring project with a high school senior who wanted to research the plausibility of time travel. He put out a request for a mad scientist to help him, and came up with me.

B. D. and I read several science fiction books together, from the Jack Finney classic "Time and Again" to more recent ones like Michael Crichton's "Timeline." The idea was to come up with a chart listing all the ways that time travel is presented in sci fi and compare them to what we know from conventional physics (not that worm holes are that conventional). How far off, if at all, are these stories?

It was fascinating enough to explore the texts and match the sci fi writers imagination with that of 20th century physicists. I called on fellow mystery writers Ann Parker and Simon Wood for their insight also.

But as the student and I were talking during our last session, I couldn't help make it personal.

What if I could travel in time? No hand-waving, like, "well, it can happen on the quantum level where particles live for only fractions of a billionth of a second." What if we life-size people could travel back and forth in space-time?

The dream of time travel isn't new. But the reality of it has never seemed closer. Reading just one issue of a high tech magazine can lead us to believe it's no longer an academic question.

Would I take that trip in time? Would I go back to the past or ahead to the future? For what purpose? To interview some of my heroes, like Amelia Earhart and Susan B. Anthony? To watch the world's first dollhouse being built? Or, just to be nosy?

How about you? Maybe you'd like to see your 6-year-old granddaughter — in the future, when she's a grandmother herself. Or interview Agatha Christie.

Would it matter if you couldn't come back?


Kathryn Lilley said...

I'd be one of those who'd be using up all their Time Traveling Minutes, as soon as they were earned! Except that I wouldn't want to "abandon" any loved one in the present by disappearing in time, so that would probably stop me. I once saw a bad sci-fi movie, but it contained an interesting idea. The time travelers were allowed to interact only with people who were about to die in an accident--so they would pop in before an airplane crash, etc. There was another movie that showed time travelers taking people from the past who were about to die in an accident, to repopulate a dying earth of the future. It was also a bad movie, but the message of both of them was that it would be too risky to allow people to go back and forth in time to "mess" with history. Star Trek also did an episode like that, and of course, Captain Kirk romanced the doomed heroine of the past, the one who was destined to die in order to save humanity--of course, when she begins that fateful walk across the street and gets hit by a car, he prevents Dr. McCoy from saving her. And humanity is saved!
Hmm...this is a rambling comment this morning--I've obviously already had too much morning java, lol.

Anonymous said...

Kathryn, I LOVED that Star Trek episode! Spock gives Jim that look that says, "You know what you have to do." Bones gives him that look like he's crazy. But he does the right thing. What a guy. :)

Camille--Agatha Christie, Roald Dahl, Dr. Seuss, Dorothy Sayers...you name it. But I think it would have to be some kind of combination time-travel/parallel-universe: one where I wouldn't act like a giddy fan and one where they would be relaxed and talkative and not worrying about me stalking them!

Linda O. Johnston said...

Fun post, Camille! My first published novels were time travel romances, which used fun but unrealistic things to explain the traveling in time. I'd researched the potential reality for it for a manuscript that didn't get published, since I was told, in those days, it had too many genre crossovers--romance, sci-fi, historical, contemporary, and mystery combined! Today genre crossovers are much more accepted.
In any event, I came up with the possibility of using quantum physics for time traveling, at a time when scientists posited that it could only happen, if at all, via black holes. Now, they're looking at quantum physics, too!

Camille Minichino said...

I hope you didn't toss that manuscript, Linda! It can work now.

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

While I admit I'd like to be a voyeur and see other times, I only want to live right now. It would break my heart to see history repeat itself--and to leave behind the people I love in the here and now.

Besides, as a writer I have the best of all worlds--I can live in my head in whatever timeframe I can imagine!

Anonymous said...

I would love going back ONLY if I had all this wonderful knowledge, experience and expertise I enjoy now. I guess I'd want to re-do somethings, for sure, and I guess that would not be a good idea after all. Nah, guess I'll stay in the here and now and marvel at all you wonderful writers who can pick any timeframe imagineable, as Joanne said. So you see, you do have the best of both worlds - enjoy. xoxoxx

Ann Parker said...

Fun post, Camille!
I'd love to go back in time for a wee bit. If it were possible, heck, I'd go back to 1880 and just soak up everything, especially how people talked. But I'd not want to do this unless I could be GUARANTEED to return to the present, to home, family, and friends.

Allison said...

Camille, could another series be in the works for you with a cozy mystery-time travel theme?

I'd love to go back 3 years ago when I had lost a great deal of weight - I'd keep myself from eating whatever it was that threw me off the diet wagon that fateful day, then I could come back to a still-thin (present time) me.

Camille Minichino said...

Something to think about Allison ... a time-traveling series protagonist. There are lots of those cross over mysteries, but I don't think there's a series. hmmmm.

I think I know the exact tubs of ice cream I'd have to avoid if I wanted to change the course of my diet history!

Margaret Lucke said...

Fascinating post, Camille, especially since the novel I'm writing now features time travel. I didn't intend it that way. I thought it was a ghost story until one the characters informed that, no, she wasn't a ghost, she was visiting from a different time. It's been interesting trying to figure out the "rules" by which the time travel operates. The personal questions you raise are intriguing, especially "Would it matter if you couldn't go back?"

Margaret Lucke said...

P.S. to previous post:

Camille, have you heard of Ron Mallett? On Sunday I heard an episode of the public radio program "This American Life" that featured him. Shortly after his father died of a heart attack when Ron was nine, the boy read a Classics Illustrated comic book of H.G. Wells "The Time Machine." He became obsessed with the idea of inventing a time machine so he could go back and tell his dad to quit smoking before it was too late. This led to his getting a Ph.D. in physics and a lifetime of research in the fields of general relativity, quantum gravity and time travel. He's a professor at University of Connecticut. He's written a book called "Time Traveler: A Scientist's Personal Mission to Make Time Travel a Reality" and his website is: