Friday, December 31, 2010

Is Time Travel Right For You? (Part One)

Time Travel was a big dream of mine since I was a kid.  I suppose I went through the period where I wanted to be an astronaut and all that.  But somehow the idea of going places people had already been to and seeing history take place before my own eyes, even if it was totally impossible, has had a hold on my imagination.  When the New Year rolls around my thoughts turn to the very serious and perhaps very rather comic possibilities of such a "trip" to see what really happen in the near and far past.

"The Time Tunnel" was probably the first exposure I had to the realm of this sub-genre.  The special effects today look rather cheesy and no one would mistake The Titanic on this first episode of the 1966-67 series for the ones Ronald Neame and  James Cameron employed  in their films "A Night to Remember" (1958) or "Titanic" (1997).  But the idea of how people would react to events of the past and if they could change these events with their foreknowledge seemed intriguing.



Of course this has been the stuff of popular science fiction for decades.  H.G. Wells wrote his short story "The Time Machine" in 1900.  H.G. reportedly sold that story for a pittance to a publisher who made a small fortune off of it.  In  1960 MGM made a feature-length film of the story with Rod Taylor and Yvette Mimieux.  Although in the Wells story the Time Traveller has no given name in this one he is named George and the girl he meets in the far-distant post-apocalyptic future is named Weena.  (Hell of a name to give  a girl, but things are rather downhill for the human race by the time George gets to the future. The Morlochs are pretty much using them for food, and even a nice blond lady doesn't even know how to wear her hair without asking some strange guy for tips. Anyway, even though I'd rather travel to the past, I have to rate this film as a favorite. )

Of the novels on time travel that I have read the most interesting in my opinion was Jack Finney's 1970 book, "Time and Again".  Finney (1911-1995) was an acknowledged master of the time travel story and published several novels and short stories o the subject, along with thrillers like "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" and some comic novels. 

  There are no time machines in this story, but, like the "Time Tunnel" series, the book concerns a super-secret group called "The Project" that recruits men and women to try and travel back into time using a sort of total immersion method, coupled with being in the same place that existed in the time needed to travel back to.

In the case of the book, the time traveller is Simon Morley, a commercial illustrator living in New York City. He is recruited by a mysterious fellow from US Army intelligence named Rube Prien into The Project because of his observed qualifications.  It turns out that Morley can travel back into time and is sent from 1970 to 1882 (via the Dakota apartment building, the same one John Lennon and Yoko Ono lived in ) to try and decipher a clue about a half-burned letter that may point to some kind of global disaster in the future.  The main scientist on the project D.D. Danziger is adamant that the past must not be altered; there is no telling what might occur. Rube Prien is more "liberal" in the promethean idea that the world can be a better place by tweaking the past.

Morley's interest in the past mirrors my own, which makes him a favorite character for me. He's the kind of guy who looks into an old photograph or a

bit  of film and wonders what life was like for those people, people now long gone who are now only an image but were once as real as I am sitting here typing away to you and you are reading this:

"... the sense of wonder, staring at the strange clothes and vanished backgrounds, at knowing that what you're seeing was once real. That light really did reflect into a lens from these lost faces and objects. That these people were really there once, smiling into a camera. You could have walked into the scene then, touched those people, and spoken to them. You could actually have gone into that strange outmoded old building and seen what now you never can - what was just inside the door. (Time and Again, page 19)


In Victorian New York, Si Morley falls in love with Julia, a beautiful woman who also is the object of the man he is pursuing to find out the mystery of the letter.  After many twists and turns, Morley does alter something important in time--the meeting between two people who will eventually become parents to a member of The Project--and he stays in New York to settle in to a more sedate and tranquil life .  (Julia does a little time travel of her own and is less than impressed with dangers of the modern metropolis.)   "Time and Again" is  a fine novel, one that spawned a very good sequel, "From Time to Time", (1995)  and one I would recommend to anyone who likes a good suspense novel, and won't mind a little stretch of the imagination. 

Part Two coming soon.




  1. "Of the novels on time travel that I have read the most interesting in my opinion was Jack Finney's 1970 book, "Time and Again"

    I'm stopping right here, because this is one of my favourite books...also "The House on the Strand," Daphne du Maurier.

    There's so much I want to say, & I want to look at the videos, but I have things to do before I go to bed, & I'll come back tomorrow!

  2. And now your dream can come true Doug because we have perfected the art of living in the past here in the United Kingdom (a clue is in the name) and you can be transported to a former age by simply visiting this website

    See men in wigs and strange costumes, watch Black Rod first have the doors of parliament slammed in his face until he hammers 3 times on the gothic oak portal of the magic kingdom, where there are also Green, Purple, Scarlet and Blue Rods all awaiting her majesties pleasure in Pugin's enchanted faerie castle.

    Step back in time with us Doug and see what a meaningless pantomime of unbelievable fantasies lie just below the surface of modernity - in a place stranger than the Memphis of King Ramses himself!

  3. As I was saying to my niece Weena just the other day.... 'be careful who you ask about the way you should have your hair, you can meet some very strange people at bus stops'... an uncle can never be too careful when giving advice to the young, I always say.

    As it happens bus stops have always been very good places for meeting time travellers.... In affluent times they attract the unlucky ones, but in hard times they're the ones who can still afford the fare!
    People at bus stops are always bucking trends in my experience, its just one of those things you notice as you get older I think!

    Personally I would never go time travelling unless I knew which social class I was going to manifest within.
    I wouldn't want to slowly coalesce in a leper colony for instance or appear at a point where some poor cat rescuing old granny is being accused of witchcraft by a torch bearing mob.

    I'd be looking at the Queen of Sheba or something like that myself, you wouldn't want to risk contact with the great unwashed would you Doug?

  4. LOL!!! Practically rolling on the floor as a matter of fact, AA. I'll have to visit the link you have here after work and get back to you.

  5. I think it's all depends on where one is fly from and too. Many have stayed home this year I think Doug.

  6. Stranger than the Memphis,Tennessee, of King Elvis of Graceland even. ;-)

    Yes, the antique customs might be said to have their place---but perhaps their place is now, like Elvis Presley's mansion---a place for a theme park. Let the government and the elected agents govern more in a demotic locale, without all those Westminster gothic or Old Republic neo-classic trappings, respectively, and see if we can ween the arrogance out of our political systems.

    I've seen on television of the Opening of Parliament-- and all those wigs and rods and funky trapezoid hats do seem to be part of enacting strict ceremonials, things best left for tourists like myself to gawk at, but which have nothing to do with the everyday lives of Britons.

    Not that I'd let my own government off the hook. Indeed, given our shorter time span, we have even less excuse for enacting past "kingdom of Nod" pageants.

    In Washington DC proper---and the major state capitals I've seen such as state house in Sacramento, California--you see all the trappings of glided neo-classical splendour and rotundas fit for a Medici Pope. Our legislatures are all adorned like palatial palaces. What does this do to the temporary custodians of a republic? My wager is that it makes some of them haughty and aloof.
    Thanks for the link, AA. And the good laugh(s) to start my morning.

  7. Your concern for your niece's welfare at public transport spots is a model of avuncular protocol, AA. If you ever write a book about the care and feeding of nieces, I shall trumpet its publication all over the English-speaking world!

    If you take abus in my neck of the woods you can count on being late to wherever you are headed, no matter what kind of economic class you've descended into. Infrequent and outmoded buses and trains are the very spirit of democracy,or the very spirit of shortchanging public transport funding despite rising gas prices, take your pick.

    Yes, by all means one must not time travel to some spot where good breeding and formality is not strictly observed. Torch-bearing mobs are usually not made up of the reasonable and open-minded sort.

    Woody Allen once wrote a short story where his time traveller suddenly found himself appearing smack in Winston Churchhill's bathtub! I would prefer the Queen of Sheba. In either case one would have to be properly attired.

  8. If anyone is time travelling from the future, Jack, its clear they have brought us few new solutions to social ills as yet. Mr. Albert Einstein is the likeliest candidate for that unlikely possibility I'd say.

  9. "The main scientist on the project D.D. Danziger is adamant that the past must not be altered; there is no telling what might occur. Rube Prien is more "liberal" in the promethean idea that the world can be a better place by tweaking the past."

    I think I'm a little too pragmatic to believe that the past could be 'tweaked,' or it wouldn't be the past. Nor does Rube Prien seem to have given much Î Ï�ομηθεÏ�Ï to perhaps what might be considered a 'noble.' idea. Even if it were possible, one 'tweak' would set off an unpredictable chain of events.

    However, I believe it may very well be possible in the future, to time travel. From a poet's view, (obviously not a scientist!) I can imagine that 'echoes' of reflections, colours, images, voices exist from the past forever...we just need to discover them. If we traveled to the past, I believe it would be serendipitous. We'd have no choice as to where we would 'go.'

    I don't believe in travel to the future, as it's not yet occurred.

    This is all very fascinating, but as I got Time and Again from the shelf, I realized I'd confused it with The House on the Strand. If you haven't read it, please do.

    Dick Young is lent a house in Cornwall by his friend Professor Magnus Lane. During his stay he agrees to serve as a guinea pig for a new drug that Magnus has discovered in his biochemical researches. The effect of this drug is to transport Dick from the house at Kilmarth to the Cornwall of the 14th century. There, in the manor of Tywardreath, the domain of Sir Henry Champernoune, he witnesses intrigue, adultery and murder. As his time traveling increases, Dick resents more and more the days he must spend in the modern world, longing ever more fervently to get back into his world of centuries before ...

    In this case, he can't touch anyone, much less talk with them. The 14th century in England is very intriguing to me. I think I shall read it again when I go to bed this morning...soon...& bore you no further with my rambling!

  10. Yes, I remember Rod Taylor and his Weena, hehe!
    Clearly, if time travel to the past were ever going to be possible people from the future would keep popping up all over the place in the past and present.
    But time travel into the future IS theoretically possible, according to Stephen Hawking and one or two other astro-notables.
    As time itself slows as one approaches the speed of light, a craft travelling just under that speed could take around a day to travel hundreds of years. Thus making the huge distances between one Universal lifeform and another a potential none-problem after all.
    The craft required for such journey would have to be huge and mostly be made up of fuel (No petrol stations in hyper-space). It would take decades to get the craft up to speed, so to speak. But once there, genuine time travel would occur.
    This would be way more impressive than sling-shooting around a poxy black hole. A craft orbiting a black hole (With enough distance between the two, and enough power to overide the hole's gravity) would experience time slowing down by about 50%. Not too time-travelly really.
    One would have to orbit the planet earth something like 6 times a second to get an equivalent effect.

    I wonder why the Morlocks had blue skin? Must be someone they ate! Hoho!

  11. Time travel was one of my favorite parlor-notions as a youngster, also.

    I sat in the downstairs-all-purpose-room the day before school started in 1967; it was warm, dry, and a wonderful early-evening in Oregon - As the sun went down, I watched Titanic sink, and the two 'heroes' of the Time Tunnel series jump over the side and into a freeze-frame.

    Things weren't quite the same. As the rain came down through that fall and into the spring, I watched them try to warn Custer of the upcoming disaster; watched Nero take over a young Mussolini, and saw them change the outcome of the Battle of New Orleans.

    Today - well; 'they' are learning more all the time, Doug. Hawking may be right. Then again, my character Jamieson in the "Lux Perpetua" series might be right, also. Both theories are far from any sort of resolution.

    It was interesting to me that there's a third theory - that there really isn't any such thing as 'time' in the linear sense; that what we really have is now, and 'back in time' or 'forward in time' are more historical than physical concepts.

    Ah, well....

  12. Yes, Lucija, that is one of the main themes of "From Time to Time", Finney's sequel to his major time travel novel "Time and Again". The aim of one "project" is to change the course of events to prevent the outbreak of World War I. A very noble undertaking , of course, but there's a twist to the whole matter that shows that playing with time can be have unintended consequences!

    I think your take on time travel would be more likely than what we get in fiction---time travel to a fixed point would be even more difficult.

    "The House on the Strand" sounds quite interesting. I'm always on the lookout for an interesting book in the time-genre and I think Barbara Tuchman's historical study of West Europe in the 14th Century and the Black Plague and 100 Years War between England and France, "A Distant Mirror", was a great read! Thanks for the recommendation!

  13. Yes, that's an interesting use of space travel, a couple of those calculations of space-time I admit I hadn't heard about, Oakie.

    I suppose one day, God and or human folly willing, there will be such advancements toward light-speed craft that will shrink the universe the way jet planes have made arduous voyages about the world a thing of the past (unless you're an adventurer- boating enthusiast.)

    The "Star Wars" high-tech stuff can come to pass in other words, it's just that we might be spared the terrible smell of unbathed Wookies in the local pub, and some of George Lucas's more hackneyed dialogue. :-)

    Blue Morlocks in the moonlight? I think the Morlocks got into some surplus oil-based paint from the 20th Century and got it all over themselves, thinking it was some type of fancy tanning cream. :-)

  14. i see you were also "bitten" by the time tunnel bug about the same time and on the same show as I was. I remember watching that first "Titanic" episode and recall the others you mention. That "Time Tunnel" project was good value for the money because Tony and Doug were always right in on the action, meeting interesting people and getting out while the getting was good.

    Interestingly, to me at least, was that the show ran only one season but it enjoyed a long shelf-like in reruns through the 1970's. I gather it was on the SciFy Channel too a while back but I missed it. I suppose revivals of television shows, movies and books make us all time travelers because, as you noted, such memories also bring back to us the places we lived in when we first saw or read these fantastic stories. The combination of actually being in a place like Elizabethan England and actually walking amongst my human kind always got to me more than setting foot on Mars.

    I'd like to look up more on your "Lux Perpetua" series, Will. Is it online?

    That's the thing--what the hell is Time anyway and how do we resolve going about understanding it. Even the best minds aren't totally in synch, so its still a parlor game to figure out what if any travel could be done. But as a tool for stimulating interest in major events and unsolved crimes in history and creating alt-history stories and documentaries, its quite valuable.

  15. "It was interesting to me that there's a third theory - that there really isn't any such thing as 'time' in the linear sense; that what we really have is now, and 'back in time' or 'forward in time' are more historical than physical concepts."


    I've always felt linear thinking has inhibited comprehension of many things, as well as discovery. Our very lives are charted by watches & calendars. To me, all existence evolves in a cyclical way, & intertwines. This reminds me of an assignment in design class, in junior college, (although, in this case, the second sphere above wouldn't relate).

    I also feel time expand, contract, fold & bend.

    The above assignment was for an optical illusion, not for my concept of time, but they seem to apply these many years later. Having been a professional artist most of my life, the visual can often express (to me) better than words. I wish I could remember the name of the physicist who presented his string theory visually. It was so fascinating & comprehensive, I got the video from CSpan.

    I see from the preview that these are way too large! But I'm not about to go back & change them in flickr! :)

  16. Far more interesting than my little blurb!

    Aha, "A Distant Mirror"...14 century! I'll see if Alibris can find a used one for me. Thank you.

  17. Hope you can find that one, Lucija...Thanks also for sharing the art work and those thoughts on the ordinary flat conception of time. These are really works of art.

  18. Oh, PUHlease, no! Ink on illustration board! Now I'm embarrassed. );