Episode 136: When are we?

On March 6th, Kasie and Rex took on the topic of Time Travel – how, why, and when to do it. Here are the show notes:

Theme for the day

I Don’t Know How But They Found Me: Time Travel


  • Time as a topic — new month!
  • Time Travel in novels
  • How to write a Time Travel story (like there’s an instruction manual)
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

Link to podcast

Segment 1

Last month’s “theme month” inspired us to see if we could string together another set of episodes with similar ideas. So March is “time” month and we’re kicking off with my favorite topic: Time Travel. Because, let’s be honest, it’s fascinating. Who wouldn’t like to go back and fix some bad decisions you made? Or see historical things happen?

Recently, historical fiction like Hamilton, Bridgerton, The Last Kingdom, and Outlander have kept me captivated. I’ve always loved Regency romance and there’s something compelling about Antebellum life — costumes, hierarchy, gentility, and brutality. 

So time travel used to be the realm of science fiction and became a magical skill? Or an accident of magical worlds we are simply unaware of? We’re going to talk about them all.

But first, housekeeping:

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Segment 2

Time Travel is such a broad topic that James Gleick actually wrote a book about it. His interview with National Geographic is here. But I’ll sum it up for you:

  • From the article: The physicist John Archibald Wheeler said, “Time is nature’s way to keep everything from happening all at once.”
  • Time travel starts with Wells The Time Machine in 1865 — the concept does not appear before that
  • Before that, we have just fantasies like Gulliver’s Travels or people falling asleep like Rip Van Winkle
  • Paradoxes — “it can’t happen because it didn’t happen,” is the rationale behind denying that you might change time irrevocably (like killing your ancestors and preventing your own birth)
  • Chinese government banned the concept of time travel because it’s a very dangerous idea – it enables us to imagine alternate versions of our current circumstances
  • From the article: Time is brutal. What does time do to us? It kills us. Time travel is our way of flirting with immortality. It’s the closest we’re going to come to it.

This article is another interview with Gleick (he knows how to sell those books!) but asks an interesting question: H.G. Wells uses The Time Machine to go forward, but not backward. So let’s play with that:

  • What’s better about one-direction only — as in, you can only see what’s already happened or you can only see what has yet to happen
  • Should time travel be both directions?
  • Is it science? Or is it magic?

Considering the premise that time travel is about an attempt to avoid death, and then considering that other efforts have been spiritual (magic) and scientific (machinery, age serums).

Here’s a full listing of time travel in fiction. Exhaustive and obscure. Just up Rex’s alley.

Segment 3

Here’s how time travel works (link):

  • Physics (Ender’s Game, Planet of the Apes) — requires an extensive, expansive universe to flex true physics muscles
  • Intentional (Back to the Future, The Time Machine) — requires the effort of creating a time travel mechanism and mastering the science related to it
  • Unintentional (Outlander, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court) — forces beyond one’s control have manipulated time; you may the lucky recipient of a force’s attentions, or you may have stumbled into a magic rock or simply hit your head
  • Exclusive Access (The Time Traveler’s Wife) — you can only travel to a time you’ve never been to before, so you are affecting things you would not have affected otherwise
  • Time Travel as a Clone (Harry Potter) — the timeline is always the same and if you go back to where you’ve been, you see your own clone there doing the things you are expected to have done.
  • Parallel universe (link to “real” stories) — are there places where the universes collide and people experience the same timeline in different eras; does the parallel universe exist on a different planet
  • Magic — could be a spell, could be a heritage (Discovery of Witches called them timewalkers) or a race of magical being, or could be a power certain beings earn or cultivate, could be an artifact (a stone, a jewel) but the mastery of the magic is a specific plot point
  • Alien intervention (might also be physics, but we’ll let it be its own category) Did you know Slaughterhouse Five was a time travel novel? I did not.

Segment 4

How to write a time travel story (this video):

  • Decide on the rules of the time travel — how does it work? Who can do it? When/where/why do they go? Do they age? Do they wear their current outfit or show up naked? Are they intentional about it or victims of it?
  • Decide on the role time travel plays in the story — is it a compare/contrast like Outlander? Is the time travel really necessary? What’s the purpose? Does it cause personal change? Social change? Prevent disaster?
  • Type of story — the journey and return; keep the details in mind, present life as it was and help the reader appreciate the work you’ve done to make it accurate; keep in mind, too, if there’s a butterfly effect; the arrival of a time traveler in your character’s space; the gimmick story where there’s something like the repetition of Groundhog Day until BIll Murray becomes a better person

This list by Diane Callahan includes the expected steps but adds to them:

  • Clarify the rules
  • Consider a new angle — the grandfather clause and the butterfly effect have been pretty well explored, so what’s your new take on this time travel thing?
  • Get personal — what are the personal stakes for the traveler? What does s/he stand to lose by not being able to control it (unintentional) or gain by being able to do it (intentional)?

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