How to Travel Through Time

by Bill Adler, Jr.

I've always been fascinated by the possibility of time travel. This was especially true during many high school classes, when my mind wandered a bit too much, but it's also true now. What if -- what if we could travel through time. Such a feat woud make every other invention and technology seem, well, old.

Is time travel possible?

Unfortunately, I'm not a great inventor. Just a mere literary agent and author. So I did what any good author would do -- I wrote a book about time travel. Just published is Time Machines: The Best Time Travel Stories Ever Written.. It's compiled by me, and it also includes an original story by me. Time Machines has stories by Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Connie Willis, Mark Clifton (a favorite of mine from the 1950s), Jack Finny, and others. 

My wife, Peggy, likes to read Jane Austen and watch French subtitled films. I like to read Stephen King and go to see the latest Die Hard movie. But we both enjoy time travel stories. Many people who hold science fiction in disdain love a good tale about somebody traveling back in time—either to repair the future, to observe the past, or to become the part of past.

Why are time travel stories so universally loved? The answer isn’t all that complicated: It’s a human trait to dream of what ifs. What if you were in Dallas in 1963? What if you knew the outcome of each Kentucky Derby for the next ten years? What if you could revisit an old flame and this time do things right? And what if you could see what actually happened when Rome fell? What would it be like to live one hundred years from now? Oh the things we could do.

From A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court to Back to the Future to A Wrinkle in Time to Star Trek: The Journey Home to Twelve Monkeys—time travel stories have fascinated us ever since the notion was conceived. Time travel is one of the most popular genres in fiction It is one of the few science fiction themes that have crossed over to mainstream fiction.

How to travel back in time—that is, of course, the most important question. Authors have solved the problem of time travel through various inventive means: sheer intellect, a rift in space, a long-lost tunnel, tapping into neutrinos, or a fantastically complicated machine are some of the mechanisms that time travelers use. For some readers, the how of moving backward and forward through time is the enthralling part of the story; for others it is what the characters do with their fortune—or misfortune that is interesting. For others still, time travel stories are interesting for what they reveal about our notions of the future at the time the stories were written.

In compiling Time Machines it would have been easy to stick with stories written in the past five years, for there is a plethora of time travel stories. The more recent the story, the more sophisticated the story is in terms of how it applies contemporary physics. Black holes and superstring theory, for example, are some of the more contemporary cosmological discoveries that have made time travel easier. But older stories are equally interesting, because imagination knows no bounds.

Like you, I’ve been a fan of time travel stories since I was a kid. I started reading time travel stories when I was about 10, and some of them, including Mark Clifton’s Star Bright Rod Serling’s The Odyssey of Flight 33, Jack Lewis’ Who’s Cribbing? and Isaac Asimov’s What If , were so wonderful that I remember them vividly thirty years later. (It’s almost as if I was present when these stories were written…) But it’s one thing to remember a story written three decades ago it’s another to actually find a short story three decades old. Persistent and tenacious I am, and I’m pleased to say that I was able to find all these time travel stories and more.

When you come down to the science of it all, is time travel actually possible? I think so but only in one direction. Forward. It’s a well-known physical law that time slows down as you move faster. Not Corvette faster, but much, much faster than that. The closer you travel to the speed of light, the slower times moves for you. So if you travel through space at, say 100,000 miles per second (86,000 miles a second shy of the speed of light) one week of your time may be the same as a year for those you left behind. Travel at that speed for a year, and you will have traveled 52 years into the future. There are numerous practical problems associated with achieving these speeds, including the vast amount of energy needed, and the fact that accelerating to those speeds would smoosh the ship’s occupants against the way. But the theory of time says, "Fine, you can travel into the future."

Nobody knows what the future will look like. Will there be a world-wide war? Will we cure cancer? Will nations live in harmony? Will any of us be able to solve age-old mysteries by actually witnessing them? Will we every be able to travel backward or forward in time? Perhaps. But does it really matter? After all, even if we can’t every travel in time, we have these stories. And they are good enough.  Click here for more information.

More about Time Machines and time travel.

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