Who hasn’t wanted to change the past at some point? Whether it be opting for a different investment option five years ago or ducking under that tree branch in sixth grade, it isn’t difficult to see the appeal of time travel. I’ve long been a fan, probably starting with Back to the Future and various episodes of Star Trek, and moving into more complex storytelling with Quantum Leap and David Gerrold’s The Man Who Folded Himself.
And as I’ve gotten older, this device never fails to intrigue me. Perhaps there’s nothing much new about the time travel mechanics in Futurama, but it makes for some pretty entertaining stuff. This evening I barely talked myself out of buying The Best Time Travel Stories of the 20th Century, edited by Harry Turtledove. The author lineup is enough to make me pick it up eventually, once the transition to a new job is complete, but pondering the collection made me realize something a bit surprising.
Despite the entertainment value, I don’t think too many of us actually believe that time travel is possible. Yet there are complex rules governing the science behind this fictional idea that we all pretty much agree on. Tampering with the past can have unforeseen consequences, whether you kill a butterfly in prehistoric times or take a sports almanac from the future and use it to make bets. Chances are pretty good that you will still exist even if you go back and kill your grandfather, because you will somehow end up in bed with your grandmother.
I can’t think of any other fictional idea that has such agreed upon functionality. When I get around to reading Turtledove’s compilation, I’ll be pretty surprised to find anything truly new there, though I have little doubt that I will nevertheless enjoy the ride.