It always goes wrong, doesn’t it? I mean, in movies, TV, and books; since we haven’t mastered, or even attempted it yet – at least not that we know of, right?
The protagonist changes one little, seemingly insignificant thing, and the future is altered irreparably.
~ Meet Attila the Hun, and the world as they knew it ceases to exist.
~ Step on a caterpillar and an entire species of butterflies vanishes; and with it the forests on 3 continents.
~ Take a souvenir, a trifle of an object – a small coin, or a shell, perhaps – and a kingdom /dynasty /country falls.
~ Meet an ancestor and one ceases to exist.
But time travel isn’t alone in the genre of alternative history narratives. There are also alternate universes and dimensions, and alien/observer stories. All of these fictions share a set of rules governing how the events unfold, or rather, how one is permitted to interact within the given scenario. The rules may differ a bit, depending on which type of altered time line or event we’re dealing with, but basically they often include:
- Don’t come in contact with yourself. The consequences vary, but they’re never good.
- You can’t change historical events/ some historical events are fixed and will happen no matter what is altered.
- Don’t do anything for personal gain. Like meeting yourself, the consequences vary, but the end result is never good.
- Don’t introduce technology that doesn’t yet exist.
- Like camping, leave no trace.
- Don’t leave notes for your future/past self.
- Don’t stray from your original goal/target.
The problems that arise if you don’t follow the rules often complicate things. And of course, no one ever follows all of the rules. But that’s what makes these stories so popular, they wouldn’t be any good if everything went according to plan.
Mistakes need fixed. New people enter the story line, relationships change. People remember, or forget, when and in which time line things happen. Aging is problematic. Ethical questions arise.
It gets dizzying. Which is why we often have so much fun with it.
The idea of improving the present by changing a wrong in the past is the stuff of great stories. The idea that somewhere out there, there’s a universe full of similarities, but somehow different, better than our own also makes for a great diversion. And then there’s the ever present hope that a wiser being than us can intervene and make life better.
But let’s face it, the worst case scenarios make for great fiction too. Like the examples in the beginning – one insignificant change in the past alters the future dramatically. “Dark” episodes and editions where the main characters are all evil are popular; as are tales of true events, like a war or fall of an empire, unfolding differently than it did historically.
Right now it’s so easy to feel as if we’re in a worst case scenario – some weird alternative time line/ universe story that’s playing out. I can only imagine the time traveling, alternative universe, and alternative history stories that are going to be written about our current point in time.
There’s so much that’s wrong.
There’s so much that’s unusual.
There’s so much change.
There’s so much regression.
There’s so much division.
There’s just so much.
Honestly some days I find myself waiting for The Doctor, the Vulcans, The Avengers, Number 5, Marty McFly, Sarah Connor, or any of the many other fictitious time traveling humans or benevolent aliens, to announce their arrival. I keep waiting to discover that they aren’t fictitious, and they’re here to save the world.
But then again, their arrival frequently signals a doomsday scenario. Humanity is often at the brink of destruction when help arrives in these stories.
But not always.
Some days it’s all I can do to hope that we’re in a story, and the narrative is about to change.
What if someone accidentally squashed the wrong bug and our timeline is wrong? What if a time travel policing organization is about to set it right and when the time line is fixed we won’t remember all that was wrong. What if we’re in an alternative universe and somewhere out there is one that’s less troublesome? What if someone’s observing us and waiting for the right moment to make contact and help us regain our balance?
What if time travel is possible and we’re just experiencing a time line glitch?
A girl can dream, can’t she?