Why time travel intrigues us

I had the great pleasure of reading the following post by James Wymore over on Will Macmillan Jones’s blog yesterday, shared as part of a book tour celebrating the release of Forbidden Future: A Time Travel Anthology.  The link there will take you to Amazon, where you can read more about the book.  It sounds fascinating, and at $.99 (for a limited time only), is a real bargain.

Anyway, I liked James’s post so much that I emailed him for permission to repost it here.  He was kind enough to grant my request, so without further ado, here ’tis:

Few fiction tropes have been delved into so deeply and so frequently as time travel.  Even if only as a thought experiment, I’ve never met somebody who didn’t speculate on how drastically one small difference in the past could change the present.  To be human is to enjoy 20/20 hindsight.  We seldom know the full consequences of the choices we make now, but we can always point to the critical moments in the past.  Just a nudge.  One small word, whispered in an ear at the right moment, and the entire future unfolds differently.

On the other end of the spectrum sits the future.  Just speaking to my grandmother, the changes she’s seen in her life are so mind-boggling that it gives me chills thinking of how much more life will morph in the upcoming decades and centuries.  Most of us would never risk the friends and family we love now to travel to the unknown future.  Yet the question in the back of our minds remains…what would I see if I lived so much longer?

The linear forward march of our single chronological dimension is an unyielding task master.  Time is the great equalizer.  We all of us have just 24 hours a day.  No amount of wealth can buy extra hours.  No political power can extend it.  Humans can abuse each other in so many ways.  But the only punishment we ethically apply is to take from the perpetrator the one universal resource: time.

Why do we love time travel?  We love it because it is the ultimate control.  With a single machine, who wouldn’t want to smooth over the rough roads of life?  Such a device would bring unlimited wealth and power.  To control time is to control everything humans have and are.  Truly the greatest of the Titans was Chronos.

The very thought of time travel is the pursuit of human greatness.  To conquer the last barrier, to bypass the final equalizer, that is the dream that connects our ideals to the universe and makes the small acts of our lives into legends.  A time machine is not only the power to right all mistakes, but the oculus through which the extremities of human potential can be viewed.

No matter what we regret or love, a time machine lets us overcome all barriers.  Yet the final lesson in it is so much more subtle…and human.  The last message of time travel is simple.  No matter when you live, you have only now.  Even if you could change to the past or the future, your time continues to tick and tock by.  Whenever your footprints touch the earth, the sands in your hourglass are limited.  We could waste and wear out a life looking at all the great and horrible moments of human history through the end of time, but the cost would be the only time we have.  We would lose our only life in the pursuit of more.

Thus the final lesson is to live each moment, each second as it passes.  These are precious.  Fill them with more than the past, so that nothing in the future could be better.  Good moments are never wasted.  A life well lived is above time.

That final paragraph is an excellent one, and well-timed considering the season.  As the year winds to a close, I like to reflect on the past twelve months and consider how I might do things differently in the coming year, a sort of pre-New-Year’s-Resolution resolution, if you will.  And I think nothing could be more fulfilling than to live each moment more fully than the previous ones, so that nothing in the future could be better.

(c) 2013.  All rights reserved.


26 thoughts on “Why time travel intrigues us

  1. Stuff Jeff Reads says:

    Great post! I’ve been watching lots of Doctor Who with my youngest daughter, so we are steeped in time travel. I also got her to watch the old film version of H. G. Wells’ “The Time Machine” with Rod Taylor. 😉


    • Kay Kauffman says:

      Thanks! I’m stoked I could get permission to repost this. 🙂

      I’ve actually never watched Doctor Who, although it seems like something I’d enjoy (I just need to find the time – ha!). It’s wonderful that you can share something like that with your daughter, though – my husband and I are like that with our kids about Star Trek (and, to a lesser extent, Star Wars). Time travel is a fascinating concept, though, isn’t it? I just spent the better part of the last hour reading a variety of articles on its possibility and the science behind it and, while some of it made my eyes cross and my head hurt, I couldn’t help being intrigued and wanting to learn more. 😀


  2. Roger says:

    You haven’t watched doctor Who? Philistine!!
    If there were not time travel to write about pretty much my entire writing career (such as it is) would be buggered.


    • Kay Kauffman says:

      I know, I know! I think I maybe saw part of an episode as a kid (it was either that or Red Dwarf, and I don’t remember which it was) and didn’t like it, then promptly forgot about it. Now I have a bunch of friends who watch it and I’m curious. I just haven’t had the time to sit down and watch it.


      • Roger says:

        When I was a kid, Doc Who was for children. Since it was re invented it is definitely for adults. I wouldn’t let any child of mine watch it now. But I watch it myself.


        • Kay Kauffman says:

          I’ve heard that from a bunch of people. Sometimes I see something and think I shouldn’t let my kids watch it, wondering how I’ll ever find the time to watch it then because their bedtime is almost as late as mine, and then I think, “Well, they’ve already seen The Hunger Games – is this really so much worse?” Of course, if I’d realized what The Hunger Games was about beforehand, I wouldn’t have let them watch it for a few more years.


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