Time travel is defined as taking place when there is movement between specific points in time. This is achieved in the same way that objects and living things move through space. In fiction, this kind of travel is made possible by the use of a time machine, device, or method. While nothing is carved in stone, I tend to think that time travel involving machinery or some kind of technology should be defined as science fiction while time travel that makes use of magic or similar methods is probably best classified as fantasy. However, these genres frequently overlap, particularly with time travel stories.
Over the years, novels, movies, and TV shows featuring time travel have included methods involving highly sophisticated machinery, scientific laboratories, various items of jewelry, wearable technology, vehicles, ancient artifacts, books, portals and doorways, dreaming, food and drink, and so many more. Time travel stories have featured journeys to the past, the future, and to alternative timelines created when previous events were changed so that they occurred differently, thus affecting what happened next in various different ways. Time travel has long been a theme in books, short stories, TV shows, and movies and shows no signs of declining in popularity anytime soon, although of course only time will tell.
A common theme in time travel tales involves someone being sent into the past by accident. When they arrive at an earlier point in history, the device or machine is somehow broken, fails to operate properly, runs out of power, is misplaced, or is stolen by the story’s villain. The reader is thus left in suspense, wondering if the heroes will be able to return safely to their own time. Of course, the reader most likely believes that the heroes will eventually escape from danger. However, the plot still has to imply that the lead characters might be marooned in the past permanently or that their lives are in jeopardy. In my time travel novels, the main characters always face serious challenges from the moment that they appear to be trapped in a dangerous historical era.
Some time travel stories simply feature an adventure in a different period in order for the characters to experience what life was like. Perhaps the character discovers an old piece of jewelry that sends them back in time when they wear it or adjust it some way. The characters then witness historical events or meet famous people. Many time travel stories concern the consequences of travelling either backward or forward through time. The idea of changing the past, either intentionally or by accident, is a common theme in science fiction and fantasy. When events that have already taken place are altered in some way, what the time traveler knew as the present day has changed when they return home. This might lead to a further adventure to restore things to what’s perceived as normal, depending on the nature of the alterations to the timeline. As you’re probably thinking already, time travel can sometimes be very complicated but the creators of these kinds of stories are aware of the potential issues at the outset and work hard to make their story entertaining, plausible, and realistic. Some stories in the genre concentrate on the paradoxes involved in time travel, such as the well-known grandfather paradox. This is when the time traveler is responsible for the death of his or her own grandfather, meaning that the traveler was never born. If this is the case then how could they have gone back in time to cause their grandfather’s death in the first place? Time travel has lots of issues like this, some of which I examine in Chapter Nine.
Time travel stories involving journeys into the past overlap with the genre of historical fiction. This kind of fiction involves stories that are set in the past. There are no firm rules, but the setting is usually at least fifty years earlier than when the story is written. The setting is a particular period in history and often includes real historical personalities. The story’s main characters are usually fictional, although the social and other conditions of the time are presented accurately. Historical fiction stories usually take place during a significant period in history. In some stories the characters are part of the events taking place but in others the events merely serve as the background to the story. In The Sorcerer’s Letterbox, the story takes place in 1483 and features the aftermath of the Wars of the Roses and the mystery of Edward V and Richard, Duke of York, known as the Princes in the Tower. The princes appear in the story, as does their uncle, King Richard III, along with some other historical characters. In The Heretic’s Tomb, the story takes place during the period of the Black Death in England in the mid fourteenth century. The novel features imaginary characters but also refers to the effects of the Black Death on society, medieval medicine, and living conditions, and to some of the personalities and events of the era. In The Alchemist’s Portrait, Matthew’s time travel adventures take him to Amsterdam in 1666, the French Revolution in 1792, the American Civil War in 1865, and the Russian Revolution in 1917, all of which needed to be portrayed accurately. The Doomsday Mask has scenes that take place in Berlin in May 1945 and the characters needed to fit into that world. In Flashback, Max finds himself in the mid 1990s, not too long ago perhaps, but he still needed to inhabit an environment that’s correctly portrayed. Next, we’ll look at some of the many time travel stories that have appeared in printed form and on screen over the years.
The Time Traveller’s Guide is available as an ebook and as a paperback on Amazon, Kobo, Barnes and Noble, iBooks, Smashwords and many other locations.