Sunday, April 19, 2009

Time Travel 2: Time Wars

A long time ago... or a short time ago... or some time in the future? One of the familiar tropes in time travel stories is the guardian of the timeline. In a world where time travel is possible, the past is seen as yet another venue for terrorists to threaten the world for the sake of their cause and for unscruplous opportunists to try to make a buck without a care for the damage they do. And this new temporal peril calls for a new kind of hero, or a force of heroes, to save the present day--or the future, depending on one's frame of reference. Future warriors fighting their battles in the past! That's pretty cool stuff.

Some classic examples of this kind of story are Poul Anderson's The Time Patrol stories and Simon Hawke's longrunning Timewars series. Also Fritz Leiber's The Big Time, which won the Hugo in 1959.

In film, we mustn't forget Timecop (1994), one of Jean-Claude Van Damme's somewhat less objectionable films, and the three (soon to be four!) Terminator films, which--like the killer robots themselves--"absolutely will not stop, ever." And we mustn't forget The Sarah Connor Chronicles.

What can you add to my list?

Killing machines chasing people through our every day landscape. Time soldiers taking the place of Robin Hood or the Three Musketeers, fighting battles with sword or musket rather than with blasters. Stories in this sub-sub-genre tend to explore the exciting prospects afforded by time travel rather than exploring its logical or physical paradoxes. And one doesn't have to think about such stories for very long to be struck by the utter implausibility of the thesis that a military operation could somehow protect the integrity of the timeline. Still, these stories do raise one of the most philosophically interesting questions about time travel: whether it's coherent to talk about changing the past. But that'll have to wait until the next post.

No comments: