Karen at Outpost Mavarin has posted another weekend assignment, and this time, I’m going to get it done before the last minute.
Weekend Assignment #200: You’ve recently become friends with someone who unexpectedly reveals that he or she has a time machine, all tested out and ready for adventures. Your friend offers you one round trip to anywhere, anywhen, backwards or forwards in time. What’s your destination? Or would you rather just stay home?
Stay home? Are you kidding? This is the opportunity of a lifetime! See important historical events, resolve debates, maybe even engage in a well-placed assassination or two!
Or travel into the future, and learn what will happen next week, next month, or in the next century! Become as rich as Biff in Back to the Future 2 by betting on sports when you know the outcome of every game! (But, you know, be a better person.)
Which to choose?
As a long time reader and watcher of science fiction, I would be very concerned about traveling to the past. Science fiction writers have come up with three basic hypotheses for the impact of time travelers on the past: (1) the past is immutable, and nothing you do while traveling in the past can have any (significant) impact; (2) the past is not only mutable but fragile — travel into the distant past, crush a bug, and you may return to find the world ruled by a fascist dictatorship or aliens; or (3) the past can be changed, but any change creates a new parallel universe — the original history remains as it was, but a new one comes into existence as well, and you, the time traveler, may be trapped in it.
If my friend can’t tell me which hypothesis is correct, traveling into the past sounds too dangerous. What about traveling into the future? I’m perfectly happy to gain an unfair advantage by collecting newspapers from next week, next month, and next year to assist me in playing the stock market, but those tricks always seem to turn out badly — my stock market purchase could have a ripple effect on the markets that would change the future, and leave me broke instead of rolling in it. Sports betting might be the wiser choice after all; my bets might change the payout offered, but they would be unlikely to change the outcomes of the games, right? Right?
OK, never mind the gambling. I could just bring back an invention from the future, reverse engineer it, and give the world rocket packs (or whatever) a generation early! How could that go wrong?
I could just go to satisfy my own curiosity, I suppose. But wouldn’t that take all the fun out of life? And the Mrs. would probably leave me, just for being so annoying about my lack of surprise.
“Honey, look at this! An alien spaceship landed on the White House lawn last night and brought us the secrets to interstellar travel and curing dandruff! It’s the biggest news story ever!”
“Yeah, yeah, I know. Are we out of coffee again?”
Thwack (sounds of coffee pot hitting me on the head).
Maybe that’s not such a good idea, either. Screw it, I’m not going.
Extra Credit: The first trip is so wildly successful that your friend offers you one more trip, this time in the opposite direction. When are you going this time?
Assuming that the “opposite” of staying home out of sheer panic is decisively going somewhen, then I choose to go to the future and grab those stock market tables. What the hell.
Funny stuff! Thanks! I prefer 4. The past and future, including all the changes, fit together “like a jigsaw puzzle” (Douglas Adams) or “a big ball of wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey stuff” (Steven Moffat).
Thanks, Karen. I just checked up on Moffat on Wikipedia — I had, believe it or not, never heard of him. I loved Coupling, thought it was absolutely hilarious, so I’m glad to know who he is. I was never able to get interested in Dr. Who, so I missed the whole Hugo-award-winning-episode thing.
I started to think about all the perils of time travel you posted, but then my head started to hurt so I chucked them out the window. I hope I’m not the reason we haven’t gone back to the moon! Good post. I’ll check back for some of your fiction work.
Thanks, Mike! Sorry to take so long to approve your comment; I’m traveling today, and wasn’t able to check in until just now. I’ve changed the settings, so that problem shouldn’t come up again.
I haven’t thought about the recent weekend assignment this week because time travel with any of those options makes my head hurt. Which is an answer in and of itself, I suppose, so perhaps I should blog it.