Sunday, 14 May 2017

From The Future

Which is more likely: that a lone nineteenth century scientist could invent and use a time machine (see here) or that a means of time travel will be discovered in the future, like maybe in 19352 AD, and that our descendants will travel pastward to observe us? Wells projected future societies. Time travel, suspended animation and precognition were means by which his characters learned about such societies. But no one in any of those societies time travelled.

Wells' successor, Olaf Stapledon, reversed the process. His Last Men observe us, the First Men. Poul Anderson, of course, did both. Modern men time travel in "Flight to Forever" and There Will Be Time whereas representatives of future civilizations time travel for different purposes in two other novels and a series. The Time Patrol recruits in past ages.

"Fellows like H.G. Wells have always been writing about us taking a jump into the future, to have a look at our distant descendants, but of course we don't. We can't; we don't know enough. But, what about them, taking a jump into the past, to have a look at us? That's far more likely, when you come to think of it.'"
-JB Priestley, "Mr Strenberry's Tale" IN Peter Haining, Ed., Timescapes: Stories of Time Travel (London, 1997), pp. 34-43 AT p. 41.

In Elliot S. Maggin's Superman: Miracle Monday, twenty ninth century time travel technology is expensive and a research student wanting to visit the twentieth century needs financial backing.

6 comments:

Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

I can certainly tell how fascinated you are by the idea of time travel!

But I disagree with the quote from Priestley's character. I grant a person from the past will very likely have trouble understanding possibly advanced futuristic societies (and a mere difference in languages will begin such difficulties!) I don't think it would need to be impossible for a time traveler from the past to go to the future, to learn about the future. The difficulty for an SF writer trying to use the idea of a time traveler from the past going to the future lies in plausibly describing that future society.

So, I'm puzzled by the Priestley quote. After all, beginning with Wells himself, we see time travelers from the past visiting the future. The human race being what it is, imperfect and fallen, I can all too easily believe some of those futures will be bad. Wells himself showed us the decadent or degenerate Morlocks and Eloi. And Poul Anderson showed how unsatisfactory, even hellish, a futuristic society can appear to a time traveler from the past in "Welcome."

But a really advanced future society which is at least not TOO bad will be very hard for even a Poul Anderson to describe from the POV of a traveler from the past. For example, we never get to see what Danellian society is like in Anderson's Time Patrol stories. We get hints that it's very strange, perhaps even frightening, and that's it.

I myself have wondered what might succeed Danellian civilization when it too finally falls. Altho set a million years to our future, that is not such a long period compared to the expected lifespan of our Sun alone. There will be plenty of time for something to happen to the Danellians.

Sean

Paul Shackley said...

Sean,
I think that Priestley's character just meant that we don't know how to travel through time.
Might the Danellians use time travel to find out about anything bad in their future and prevent it?
Paul.

Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

Re the Priestley character, then he said it pretty clumsily and awkwardly, in such a way that it would be easy to misunderstand him.

Re the Danellians: hmmm, interesting. Can time travelers from the past prevent events to their FUTURE from happening? On the face of it, that seems impossible. And might the successors of the Danellians act to prevent them from interfering with the future?

Sean

S.M. Stirling said...

It's occurred to me that if history is mutable, and time travel is possible, then the logical end-product of enough time travel is a world in which history is changed so that time travel is never discovered. The system only becomes stable at that point.

Paul Shackley said...

Mr Stirling,
Yes! Larry Niven's argument in his article, "The Theory and Practice of Time Travel." But the Time Patrol exists to prevent this.
Paul.

Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

You beat me to mentioning how the Time Patrol is ITSELF the stabilizing factor. (Smiles)

Sean