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Quackcast 17# - TIME TRAVEL!!! -avel -avel -avel
Banes at 8:35AM, May 27, 2014
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Hello!

This is Banes from the future. I've come back to warn you of a grim, grim fate that awaits us all. Please contribute to the Quackcast on the subject of time travel.

Last time, you didn't contribute and it DESTROYED THE DAMNED WORLD!

We can't allow this to happen again. This Dystopia is a true horror. All the toilets operate backwards. A nightmare!

So here we go:
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Quackcast 17-something: TIME TRAVEL

What do you think of the mind-bending story device of time travel? What variations do you like? What variations do you dislike? Or do you dislike it altogether (some people do).

What are your favorite time travel stories (or experiences, if you happen to be a real time traveller)? What movies, books, comics, songs, or whatevers about time travel do you like? Which do you not like and why?

Have you ever attempted to write something involving time travel? Would you like to? What are the challenges? What are the rewards?

This lines up with “alternate futures” and “alternate realities” so feel free to talk that stuff, too.
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I'll start.

I just saw X-Men-Days of Future Past and it's a big time travel adventure. It was great. I don't know if this is the most common type of time travel story but it's got to be one of them: Where the heroes from the future go back to correct something in the past that leads to some kind of horribleness.

Actually the first comic I ever bought for myself was an issue of The Hulk where the Avengers had been scattered throughout history and believed themselves to belong in these various times. The Black Knight became….uh….the Black Knight. I think Thor was some kind of pirate. This story blew my mind and alternate realities/time travel has been one of my favorite conventions ever since.

Time travel that involves present day heroes going into some period of
history or other can be fun, too - you can have your contemporary
characters dressed as knights or cowboys, and it's a cool way to change
up the setting, especially in an ongoing series.

But for me, the better stuff is when characters are involved with THEMSELVES at different ages or in different contexts. Back to the Future played with that, especially the second movie, where Marty and the Doc traveled back to the events of the FIRST movie, and were hiding around corners and having adventures while trying not to effect the previous versions of themselves.

The time travel that's more personal, where characters can see themselves in different time periods is always fascinating - that's a far better use of time travel to me. It can be surprisingly emotionally moving (at least it is to me!).

And seeing “alternate presents” is my absolute favorite thing, where the characters can be completely altered, and we can see what could have been. Series that aren't even sci fi have done it - The show Nip/Tuck did it, giving a character the chance to see what her life would have been if she'd made a different decision. It was the best episode to me, because I love that stuff so much. Even Friends did it, in a two part “What If-?” episode.

Finally, I've never written a time travel story (I've tried, but it's incredibly tough to do), but the characters in my comic are pretty well established - I will definitely do a “What If-?” story sometime soon, where I can see the characters with altered circumstances and relationships.

Remember to contribute - or see the DAMN WORLD DESTROYED!
last edited on May 27, 2014 8:38AM
El Cid at 6:40PM, May 27, 2014
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A philosophical question.
 
There's a freight train speeding out of control. After it passes the next fork in the track, it will hit a trapped clown car full of innocent people. You have control of the switch which can divert the train onto another track.
 
If you divert the train, it will kill a railroad worker who's down there minding his business, totally unaware of the situation. This person will only die if you interfere in the course of events.
 
So, doing nothing will result in many deaths, but that was the natural course of things. Interfering will result in one death, but a death you caused, and of a person who otherwise would have and should have lived.
 
Is it morally correct to throw the switch?
last edited on May 27, 2014 6:51PM
El Cid at 6:51PM, May 27, 2014
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Personally, I can't stand time travel as a plot device. For one thing, it's confusing as hell. Also, when you introduce time travel into the mix, you've right away created a universe where no consequences matter, because nothing happens which can't be undone. The main character dies? Well, let's just go back in time right before that piano fell on his head and push him out of the way! It's not all bad, and there's plenty of potential for fun fish-out-of-water type scenarios and general weirdness, but overall it's probably my least favorite type of story. So I guess I'm the anti-Banes on this one. Whenever a show I like does a time travel episode, it's usually my least favorite, if I can even manage to watch the whole thing.
 
Alternate realities are interesting, in that technically every work of fiction is an alternate reality. But stories where you have a character from our reality interacting with a somehow skewed alternate reality suffer from a lot of the same flaws and tropes you find in time travel stories. I prefer these over time travel stories, though.
Gunwallace at 9:34PM, May 27, 2014
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When I used time travel as a plot device in Character Development I knew it was time to end it. It's the kiss of death … like jumping a shark, or having the two main characters marry. 
David ‘Gunwallace’ Tulloch, www.virtuallycomics.com
PIT_FACE at 7:06AM, May 28, 2014
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El Cid wrote:
A philosophical question.
 
There's a freight train speeding out of control. After it passes the next fork in the track, it will hit a trapped clown car full of innocent people. You have control of the switch which can divert the train onto another track.
 
If you divert the train, it will kill a railroad worker who's down there minding his business, totally unaware of the situation. This person will only die if you interfere in the course of events.
 
So, doing nothing will result in many deaths, but that was the natural course of things. Interfering will result in one death, but a death you caused, and of a person who otherwise would have and should have lived.
 
Is it morally correct to throw the switch?

Ahh, a very pertinent time travelling question. However I see it this way, as much as it sucks, you kill the one man. After you become aware of the situation you no longer can claim “innocence” for letting many people die.  if you throw the switch and let the one man live, but kill many others, being aware of the situation, you have instead directly killed all of those other people instead.  Just beause your hand isnt on the switch doesnt mean your not killing people.
PIT_FACE at 7:09AM, May 28, 2014
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….dear god people, don't let me post when I've been drinking wine before 10 am. WAY TO DROP THE BALL!
Banes at 8:34AM, May 28, 2014
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Hahaha, Pit!

I went back in time to correct that situation for you, but accidentally replaced your wine with…other wine.

Breakfast of champions!

Coincidentally, I heard the “freight train” question on the car radio the other night, and the reply was “I'd have to jump off the train. I'd jump off. That's my answer.”

I laughed quite hard, and veered into a clown car full of people.

By the way, aren't you guilding the lily a bit by making it a clown car? Everybody wants to run clowns over!

Sadly, time travel can spell the end of a series, even a series that has a sci fi or magical basis.

Some series can get away with it - though even Star Trek would be wise not to overuse it. I'd never want to see it in Star Wars.

Futurama got away with it a few times, but they ideas they had were fantastic and smartly written…plus the series is a comedy/parody that allows them to get away with a lot. And most importantly, they almost always tied it to the characters and their relationships. They had emotion to those stories. That might be the most vital element.

Some of the greats - A phenomenon causes random areas of the world to shoot forward in time for hours, days or years. You suddenly find yourself in your own future, having lived that time  but not remembering it. So Fry is pining for Leela, who can't see it happening (ZZZap!) They're married! She's apparently decided to marry him! And he can't remember how he managed to do it.

Then there was the trip back to Roswell, which allowed Fry to…uh…meet his Grandparents (spoiler alert) and left Bender stranded for 1,000 years.
Of course, the whole series begins with time travel in a way - It's the Rip Van Winkle variation, where Fry is cryogenically frozen and wakes up 1,000 years later.

And the clever one where a device allowed a person to go back in time ten seconds. Fantastic! Actually, that was the series finale.

I caught an episode of “Supernatural” (a show I liked in its early years, but seems to be going on for decades too long at this point) where the heroes travelled to the old west for some reason. It was pretty lame - and used in a cheesy way, just to wear different costumes and make some dumb jokes.

I'll stand by my love of “alternate realities” and “what ifs” though. For me, if it's a series I like, with characters who are solid, a “bizarro episode” or “what if” show is often my favorite episode or issue. If it's done well, it shows different facets of the characters, and gets me on a personal level, too. I'm like “what if I could live a completely different life?”

Another episode of Supernatural saw Dean living a different life, where his mother hadn't died (her death had been the catalyst for the entire series). The brothers weren't monster hunters and their relationship was completely different. Best of all, the story resolves in a way that you wouldn't have wrinkled your nose at, El Cid. Well, unless that whole series was a nose wrinkler for you…which would be understandable. Mine was exhausted from wrinkling by the time I stopped watching…and I was a FAN!

Maybe I'm touched by the notion of “What would have happened if I'd done this differently?” and “What if I could change this one thing?” and “What if I had a pointy goatee and was evil?”, not to mention the idea of going back to help the younger me get through some of the more difficult times. It gets me on a deep level.

Hmmm…it's all TV and movies I'm thinking of. Not a lot of comics or books are leaping to mind so far…

Though I found this one by Alan Moore:
Machine. Unexpectedly, I'd invented a time
last edited on May 29, 2014 3:45PM
ozoneocean at 9:10AM, May 28, 2014
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The best logical time travel stories are closed loops. You avoid the alternate reality thing -I fear that veres away from timetravel into dimensional travel, which is a different thing.
Closed loops is what they go with on Star Treck:
Everything you think you're changing in the past was actually supposed to be changed by you anyway. The mystery of those stories is working out how the time travel antics were actually part of the normal history of the present day all along.
In those stories it's not that the universe auto-corrects itself by forcing you not to change history even when you do, it's that there simply IS no way to change history, and that fits in well with predeterminisim. :)
 
Even Mark Twain used that with a Yankee in the court of King Arthur I think. There's a dent or hole in a brestplate of a suit of armour he's being shown and he's told it was caused by some attacking knight or something… But after he goes back in time he finds it was caused by him shooting his pistol I think. -I've only seen the movie version.
 
I like those stories for their logic, but they're also a bit fatalistic.
 
For shere entertainment value I love stories where modern people go back in time and interact with people of that time period because it makes it a real adventure for the viewer; it's easier to put yourself in those stories, as if YOU are the time traveler exploring some ancient place and those ancinet people are speaking with you.
Dr Who does that, but that was also the main story style of a lot of early fantasy and scifi- instead of just writing straight historical fantasy many writers in the late 1800s and early 20th century would zap the protagonist back in time so you have that modern perspective. They'd either do it by some clever mchine and lots of electricity or it's just be their mind that was transported into the body of someone or something in the past, (sometimes they'd do it through dreams).
 
 Mark Twaid did it by dreaming, H.G. Wells used a time machine, but he also did the dream thing as well… One of my fave stories is St. Dragon and the George by Gordon R Dickson, a short story from 1957, and later a novel series. In that a man is transported back in time by a machine, but only his mind. It ends up in the body of a dragon… I loved that series as a teen :D
 
HippieVan at 7:02PM, May 28, 2014
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ozoneocean wrote:
The best logical time travel stories are closed loops. You avoid the alternate reality thing -I fear that veres away from timetravel into dimensional travel, which is a different thing.
Closed loops is what they go with on Star Treck:
Everything you think you're changing in the past was actually supposed to be changed by you anyway. The mystery of those stories is working out how the time travel antics were actually part of the normal history of the present day all along.
In those stories it's not that the universe auto-corrects itself by forcing you not to change history even when you do, it's that there simply IS no way to change history, and that fits in well with predeterminisim. :)
 
I had no idea there was a term for that! That's probably my favourite kind of time travel story as well.
 
I dislike any time travel story where the writer gets too caught up in the whole “alternative worlds” thing. It always seems to get to the point where it's so complex it's actually just dull. Like the second Back to the Future movie, which is terrible.
 
I'm not a huge Doctor Who fan, but I think that show generally does a pretty good job of dealing with time travel and allowing it to be a little more fluid than the closed loop, but not so complex that they spend the whole time explaining how everything works. It might be a little bit wishy-washy for people who insist on an explanation for everything in their fiction, but for me it works.
 
The Doctor has a conversation with one of his companions when they're in the past that sums it up pretty well. Something like this:
Martha: “But what if I kill my great-great-great grandmother and stop myself from existing?”
Doctor: “Were you planning to?”
Martha: “No.”
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ironhand at 8:49AM, May 30, 2014
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The best kind of time-travel stories are the ones where the writer has nailed down the specific rules and sticks to it - so the whole idea might be confusing, but it does actually make sense once you have a good think. I'm with ozoneocean on the closed loops…I always love it when time itself is really the enemy in some cases - and it becomes clear that you cannot alter what has been done. I always like the close link it has with destiny and the like, too.

That being said, I do also like the even more confusing aspects of time, such as the "everything is happening now" aspect. Jonathon Hickmans' “Red Wing” does that perfectly - explaining that time is not linear etc. A very good read which I would recommend to all time-lovers or people who want to spend a couple minutes after reading trying to get your head around it. 

I like time-travel stories, but I hate them, too. But like I said, if a writer manages to nail down the rules, then the stories are very compelling. Time-Travel stories are sometimes some of the best stories and certainly the ones I always like to go back to so I can try to wrap my head around it once again.
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Genejoke at 9:29AM, May 30, 2014
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Time travel…  as a plot device used wrongly… a big fat MEH!  But time travel stories can be fascinating.  An ongoing series that uses it can suffer for it greatly as others have mentioned, but if used sparingly it can be okay.  Alternate dimensions, love them.
I guess it's all in the skill of the writer and nature of the plot itself.
bravo1102 at 12:35PM, May 30, 2014
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I like playing with relativistic time travel like Forever War or the suspended animation Twilight Zone episode “Rip Van Winkle caper”   Falling asleep in one era and wake up 100 years later and so much is different.  Even Planet of the Apes used that one.  Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court  was actually a carefully crafted parody of medieval stories like Ivanhoe where the reality is nasty, brutish and short and there is no chivalry. It actually ends up with a scene presaging World War One with an entire medieval army massacred with Gatling guns.  Much like the excellently done battlescenes in Time Slip/ GI Samurai where modern JSDF soldiers take on a Japanese medieval army but … lose.  It is in the end a closed loop that reflects the deal-making side-switching of the Warring States period. And seeing Sonny Chiba as a Japanese special forces troop who just happens to be a master with a katana is swesome. 

I've always wanted to do a story where the great interstellar project goes up to relativistic speeds and when they arrive it's far in the future. There they find the colony that FTL travel made possible in the interim with a scientific breakthrough no one thought possible.  And like you thought you were so advanced?  Well you're the Da Vinci flying machine and we're like the SR-71.

I remember a pulp SF story where a time traveler goes back in time and everything fails and he gets stuck so in desperation he becomes a science fiction writer.  There is also the classic Michale Moorcock novel Behold the Man where a time traveler has to find the historical Jesus.  he gets there and finds oth there was no historical Jesus so he assumes the role.  Great book.  
last edited on May 30, 2014 12:40PM
El Cid at 2:48PM, May 30, 2014
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bravo1102 wrote:
…There is also the classic Michale Moorcock novel Behold the Man where a time traveler has to find the historical Jesus.  he gets there and finds oth there was no historical Jesus so he assumes the role.  Great book.  
 
I'd be more inclined to believe that was the story behind Joseph Smith than Jesus. But scientology is the real deal.
 
That FTL thing is the reason why I'd never volunteer to be on one of those generation ships. Imagine you get on a spaceship and embark on a five hundred year journey to a nearby star… and then four hundred years later they figure out how to get there in a couple of days. Wouldn't you have (fossilized) egg on your face then!
ozoneocean at 3:54AM, May 31, 2014
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Another style is the ghost story/time slip. A giod example is where a person goes into an old  shop to buy  something and notices they only have old things for sale… Later on they go back to return something to the shop and they find out it was destroyed by a fire in 1911 and there hasn't been a building there since. 
 
It's the same with meeting strange travelers on the road or witnessing a troop of Roman legionaries who're marching along and don't seem to notice anything around them… 
Maybe echoes of the past are a better description? It's an interesting crossover between time travel and ghost story.
 
bravo1102 at 5:24AM, June 2, 2014
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The timeslip is an explanation that can be used for many of the encounters on American Civil War battlefields.  Check out Ghosts of Gettysburg.  One great one is when two secretaries stay late in the seminary building and the elevator goes to the basement rather than the first floor.  The door opens and it's a Civil War hospital (which it was) and the surgeon is beckoning to them to help.

I used the device in a D&D adventure I wrote where the top blows off a tower the characters are exploring and they're in 1939 Poland in the midst of a Stuka attack.  Scared the piss out of them.

One theory of time facinates me.  It sees time as a linear stream that it is possible to step out of and reenter whenever you want.  And some beings may live outside of it and be in all times at once and some places may be outside the stream and a day there is a century or a minute in another place like the old tales of a stay among the faeries.  Always loved the distinct feel of “other” including the different sense of time in medieval stories of faerie glamour.  I've always beleived it has everything to do with time travel.  And remember Rip Van Winkle slept a century because he bowled with the Dutch gnomes living in the hills. (the cursed crew of Henry Hudson who like the Flying Dutchman live outside of time and can appear anywhere and anywhen.)

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