Storytelling Pros and Cons of Time Travel

If you enjoy speculative fiction as much as I do, it's tough to avoid tales that deal with time travel. Odds are that you probably have a favorite story that deals with temporal hopping. I certainly have a list of my own personal faves -- Back to the Future, Terminator, Planet of the Apes, Time Bandits, just to name a few. Even if you don't believe that time travel can ever be possible, the idea of leaving the present and going into the past or the future is tantalizing.

Like in all science fiction, writers have to develop imaginative explanations to justify the leap in time. It's usually just a mcguffin to kickstart the story, whether it's slingshotting around the sun or hopping into some spruced up DeLorean or phone booth.  It serves as a handy tool to tell thought-provoking "what if" scenarios. Sometimes, it enables a filmmaker to shake-up the continuity of an established universe, as in the Star Trek reboot or the latest X-Men movie. It often just creates head-scratching paradoxes and plot holes.

H.G. Wells popularized the idea with his novel The Time Machine, although it wasn't the first to have time travel as a key plot device. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens for example did it brilliantly.

In the right hands, it can be an incredible device, but if it's not properly thought out it can be a crutch that raises too many unanswered questions, or worse, opens up a can of contradictions, eventually imploding under the weight of illogical entanglements.

Still, it's fun to ponder the possibilities.


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