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Time Travel on a Budget

Updated on October 10, 2014

H.G. Wells - The Father of Science Fiction


A Wormhole is All You Need

The literature of time travel is based on one idea: it is theoretically possible to travel in time. When Einstein postulated his General Theory of Relativity he turned physics on its head. E=MC² is the familiar equation that says energy equals mass times the speed of light squared. The formula opened the gates of scientific inquiry as no other formula ever had. It also spawned some fascination theoretical possibilities, one of them being the ability to travel in the dimension of time.

The theoretical formulation known as the Einstein-Rosen Bridge is also known as a wormhole. The term wormhole was first used in 1957 by a theoretical physicist named John Archibald Wheeler. Find one and you can go back or forward in time, with or without the flux capacitor that Michael J;. Fox used in Back to the Future. Physicists use the language of mathematics to communicate with one another. When a physicist tries to translate a mathematical formula into readily understandable language, trouble ensues. That's because theoretical physics is really explainable only in numbers. But nevertheless they try.

The Einstein-Rosen Bridge is a case in point. It's difficult to understand using standard English rather than mathematics. Try to picture a two dimensional surface and then try to fold it along a third dimension, creating a sort of bridge between the two dimensions. Now if you picture a circle or mouth in the two dimensional plane, the mouth would be spherical in three dimensions. See what I mean? It's not easy to picture, but physicists theorize that this bridge or wormhole can actually be an entrance to a different time.

The Time Magnet Series Book Two

The Literature of Time Travel

Even without an explanation from the theoretical physics folks, time travel would still be a hit as a sub genre of science fiction. H.G. Wells, often referred to as the father of science fiction, wrote The Time Machine in 1895, before Einstein's General Theory of Relativity, and well before the idea of a wormhole. Mark Twain wrote A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court in 1889, even before Wells' time machine.

One of the most recent popular novels involving time travel was Stephen King's 11/22/1963. The book is about a man who finds a wormhole and steps through it intentionally to go back from 2011 to the early 1960s. His goal is to kill Lee Harvey Oswald before he assassinates John F. Kennedy. He travels back and forth in time, letting us in on a fascinating look at life in America in the early 1960s, with all of the plot twists, scenes and character development we've learned to expect from Stephen King. I won't spoil your fun by telling you the end, but the book is a wonderful read so you should find out for yourself.

The Time Magnet Series Book Three

The Butterfly Effect

The Butterfly Effect is a scientific theory hatched by an American mathematician and meteorologist named Edward Lorenz. He was an expert on chaos theory. The idea behind the Butterfly Effect is that the tiny atmospheric disturbance created when a butterfly flaps its wings can set in motion a string of events that may lead to a gigantic hurricane a continent away. The Butterfly Effect is also a staple of time travel literature. The idea, in books on time travel, is that if you go back in time and change anything, your action can have an enormous effect on the future, just as the flapping wings of a butterfly can create climactic chaos. Stephen King has a lot of fun with the Butterfly Effect in 11/22/63. In the great 1985 time travel comedy, Back to the Future, Marty McFly, played by Michael J. Fox, struggles valiantly to make sure that his mother falls for his father, otherwise Marty wouldn't exist.

The Time Magnet Series Book One

Alternate History Novels

An alternate history novel is one that weaves a story based on a different history than the one that actually occurred. Fatherland, by Robert Harris is one of the best in the genre. The book starts in Berlin in April 1964, Hitler's 75th birthday. The Third Reich is still around, because Harris came up with an alternate history: Hitler and the Third Reich were not defeated in World War II. This book did not involve time travel, but alternate history stories work perfectly with the time travel genre.

Alternate history novels are popular because it's a fascinating task to speculate on what the present would look like if certain changes occurred in the past. Any serious novelist knows that the evolution of a story from an idea to a concept and finally to the story itself, begins with a string of "what if" questions. This is true for any kind of novel, not just alternate history or time travel. What if the hero was injured before he could save the damsel? What if he saves the damsel and she turns out to be an evil person? What if the hero is killed before the end of the book?

In time travel books, especially ones involving alternate history, what if questions are what makes the story. What if the cloud cover didn't break up near Midway Island in 1942? The American bombers wouldn't have seen the Japanese fleet and wouldn't have attacked it, and the war in the Pacific could have drawn on for years. What if Dewey had defeated Truman? What if the atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima was a dud? You can ask these questions over and over and suddenly you may notice something: you have a story to tell.

Time travel and alternate history novels are such a rich source of literature and film because the "what if" questions, in the hands of a good novelist or screen writer, can give us a great story.

The writer of this article is the author of three time travel novels, The Gray Ship, The Thanksgiving Gang, and A Time of Fear

Copyright © 2013 by Russell F. Moran


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    • Glenn Stok profile image

      Glenn Stok 

      3 years ago from Long Island, NY

      Russ, I didn't say it was possible. I said it was conceivable. But backward travel is not even conceivable. Only forward time travel is conceivable. We do it all the time. We are always traveling forward to time, constantly leaving the present in the past. Anything further is fiction.

    • rfmoran profile imageAUTHOR

      Russ Moran - The Write Stuff 

      3 years ago from Long Island, New York

      Glenn. Backward or forward, time travel is a practical impossibility - But it's a hell of a lot of fun in fiction.

    • Glenn Stok profile image

      Glenn Stok 

      3 years ago from Long Island, NY

      I always find discussions of time travel interesting. You brought back memories of when I had studied chaos theory years ago. Even without time travel, any action can have an enormous effect on the future, as you had mentioned. For this reason I don't think that backward time travel is possible, even with wormholes.

      However, traveling forward through time is conceivable as it doesn't interfere with history, which would cause a drastic change to the future.

    • rfmoran profile imageAUTHOR

      Russ Moran - The Write Stuff 

      5 years ago from Long Island, New York

      Thanks Ron. It is a fun concept to work with because, like a box of chocolates, you never know what you'll get.

    • rfmoran profile imageAUTHOR

      Russ Moran - The Write Stuff 

      5 years ago from Long Island, New York

      Sid - Sorry I missed your post from a few weeks ago. And thanks for the heads up on relativity and quantum mechanics. I shall make the change.

    • RonElFran profile image

      Ronald E Franklin 

      5 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      Time travel stories are some of my favorites, and I enjoyed reading your hub. You mention the Butterfly Effect. A lot of the SF time travel stories I've read rely on the opposite idea - that the fabric of time is pretty tough, and it takes a lot of strategic effort to cause a lasting change. Otherwise, events tend to average themselves back into the same channel over time. Both scenarios have provided the seeds of some great stories. Thanks for an interesting hub.

    • SidKemp profile image

      Sid Kemp 

      5 years ago from Boca Raton, Florida (near Miami and Palm Beach)

      Thanks, RFMoran, for a very interesting read on a favorite subject. I believe Ray Bradbury was the first science fiction author to catch on to Lorenz's Butterfly Effect and use it in fiction. In his story, which I think was called The Sound of Thunder, tourist time travel lets people go back to watch the dinosaurs, but when one man accidentally steps on a butterfly, the present is changed emotionally in a profound way.

      And, of course, we find time travel in TV and movies, as well. It became a staple in Star Trek for everything from stopping the Borg in their tracks, to putting Data back together into one piece, to saving the whales.

      And then there is the literature of traveling to the future and suspended animation, not just the past. Not only The Time Machine, but also The Sleeper Wakes, Woody Allen's comedy movie Sleeper, and Demolition Man with Stallone and Snipes and Sandra Bullock and the Three Seashells.

      A note on the physics, though. Einstein's theory of relativity, alone, implied that time travel was impossible. But relativity, when combined with quantum mechanics, opens up possibilities such as wormholes. And we've actually demonstrated that we can't say that time flows in one direction, or that information is limited to the speed of light, in the latest quantum mechanics experiments. So, we may not yet have holes in time that let us travel back (or forward), but we do have holes in our theory of time that we can explore.

      Thanks for an enjoyable ride!

    • rfmoran profile imageAUTHOR

      Russ Moran - The Write Stuff 

      5 years ago from Long Island, New York

      Thank you and aloha Stephanie. Go for it. It's a mind blowing blast.

    • Hawaiian Scribe profile image

      Stephanie Launiu 

      5 years ago from Hawai'i

      Wonderful ideas! I'm still in the "pondering" stage for a novel, and both alternate history and time travel are fascinating. Voted up, interesting, tweeted and pinned. Aloha, Stephanie

    • rfmoran profile imageAUTHOR

      Russ Moran - The Write Stuff 

      5 years ago from Long Island, New York

      I love the genre too Bill. The novel I'm working on is a Civil War trip from 2011. Looking forward to your book!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I love this hub, Russ! Alternate history novels are always interesting and usually give birth to great conjecture. My own novel is about time travel so obviously I love this hub. :)


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