Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Bill and Ted's Excellent Post

I've always been vaguely fascinated by time travel stories. There's just something about the outright subversion of linear storytelling, combined with the intricate logical knots you often end up with, combined with the fun of poking through the story a second time to tease out paradoxes, that really just makes me really happy.

The trouble, unfortunately, is that really good time travel stories are kind of hard to do, and thus pretty rare. My favorite example of a time travel story is an unlikely one: Bender's Big Score, the first Futurama movie. Not only was it a damn funny movie, not only was it a really well done time travel story, but it also had Fry/Leela romantic fluff. How could I not like it? Then, too, as far as I can tell the movie remained logically consistent, or at least believably so. (One of these days I'm going to watch it again with a pen and paper, and really check that they didn't create any paradoxes. When "one of these days" actually comes around, I'll be a pretty busy guy.)

There are three main schools of thought about how paradoxes are resolved with time travel. The first is the "yay special effects" school of thought, not generally seen outside of movies. With this approach, if you were to go back in time and kill your grandfather, you'll start to fade out dramatically, and maybe have a few minutes to reflect upon your folly as your body parts start to disappear. The second is the No Paradoxes (reactive) approach, in which any time you try to change the past, something else happens which conveniently undoes whatever it was you were trying to accomplish. A good example of this is the (horrible, recent) movie version of The Time Machine. The third, and most logically sound, is the No Paradoxes (proactive) approach, in which you can't change the past, because you were already there, so whatever you did has already happened. This one doesn't play well on the silver screen, so it's the least known of the three.

I know I said that the Futurama movie was my favorite example of a time travel story, but it can't hold a candle to the greatest time travel story ever, All You Zombies by Robert A. Heinlein. It is about a person who is his own father and mother. Think for a moment about the genealogical implications of that, and you'll realize why RAH is one of the greatest sci-fi writers ever.


Kiriska said...

Hahaha! I read the first sentence of your post, was IMMEDIATELY going to recommend "All You Zombies" because it's AWESOME, and what do you know, you've already read it. :D

I really like time travel stuff that works too. The way everything wraps up so nicely in the end for proactive no paradoxes just makes me happy. The time travel episode of the most recent incarnation of Doctor Who is also quite excellent (it's also the creepyshit crying angels episode). Crichton's Timeline was also good. And really, the third Harry Potter book is pretty good too. XD

Yaaaay, time travel. :3

Paradoxes and existential oddities are some of my favorite things to look up when I go Wikisurfing. :3

Frank Church said...

Credit goes to you for making me read All You Zombies back in HS. Thanks. :) Futurama does time travel unusually well, doesn't it? Like Nibbler's shadow at the beginning of the first episode. I'm impressed that the writers planned that far in advance. And why is Fry so stupid? Well, like you said, because he killed his grandfather! Moral: Don't do the nasty in the past-y.

Frank Church said...

I think what I was trying to say was: Futurama handled the grandfather paradox you mention pretty well. I will confess, however, that I have never seen Bender's Big Score. Sorry about that. And with two midterms coming up...well, perhaps I will watch it for Thanksgiving.

RAH: I'd like to give a shoutout to Time Enough for Love, mostly because I remember the last part - where Lazarus Long travels back in time to the early 1900s - quite fondly. Not so much for the time travel, or the incest (where would time travel be without a little bit of incest?), but because it evoked small town rural America so well. I felt like I was traveling back into my family's past when I read it, almost.

P. Static said...

Kiriska: actually, that reminds me - the alternate timeline thing they did in timeline is a fourth major approach to paradoxes :x Can't believe I forgot that one.

...isn't every episode of Doctor Who a time travel episode, though? :o

frank church: Youuuuuu need to watch Bender's big score. :o I'll totally rewatch it with you over Christmas, if you want - I've been meaning to do that anyway, since I feel like there's a paradox somewhere that I'm missing.

Kiriska said...

Yeah, as soon as I wrote that I was all shit. The Doctor is a TIEM LORD. GOOD JOB. <_<