Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Let's Not: Time Travel

Let's Not: 
Some Common Mistakes to Avoid
When Traveling Through Time
Back to the Future Marty Guitar

Maybe the idea came to you in a vision.

Maybe it came when you were reading a physics journal.

Or when you fell off the toilet.

Turning it into reality took decades. While your scientific peers were winning awards, discovering particles, curing diseases... you spent long nights alone in a workshop, in a monomaniacal fugue, focused upon this singular, hopeless dream. They called you a fool. They called you mad. They called you wrong, and that hurt most of all.

They said it was a boondoggle, but now you've proved them wrong. It's finished. It is... a time machine. There it stands, gleaming in the light of a workbench lamp. You itch to step inside and turn it on, to traverse the eons and witness all the wonders of the future and the past.

But wait!

Before you go gallivanting around the Roman Forum in 29BC or visit the Chinese moon base in 2014, let’s spend some time (of which you now have plenty) considering a few common mistakes that people in your situation
often make. Remember, those who do not learn from the future are doomed to repeat it.

1. The Tourist From the Future

Let’s not travel through time just to sight-see, okay? It never goes well. IT NEVER GOES WELL.

Think about it. Would you sight-see in a place where one misstep could spell disaster for you and everyone you love? Would you go sightseeing in a place where a single broken engine part would result in your permanent exile?

Then don’t be a tourist in the fucking past, you dumbass! Because that’s what the past is. It’s a place where anything you do could potentially change everything about the world as it is today. Instead, consider going to Angkor Wat in the present. Sure, it's not as splendid now as it was back in the day, but at least stepping on a butterfly won't erase your children from history.

2. The Term “Space-Time” has TWO Operative Words, Genius

Do not attempt to travel through time until you understand how your machine travels in space. This is important.

Why? Because things move. And you know what's a thing? The planet you're standing on.

Travel back in time just one minute, and you might end up fifteen miles to the east, because the Earth has rotated that far in the intervening time. Worse, you might end up a thousand miles beneath the Earth’s surface, or a thousand miles out into space, since the Earth is also traveling around the sun. And the solar system is moving through the Milky Way (9000 miles in that one minute.) And the Milky Way is moving through the Local Group. Etc. Etc.

The point is, your planet isn't always going to be where you left it.

Time Machine / Space Machine. "Dude, where's my planet?"

So experiment a little and see just how your time machine feels about relative space. Just be careful how you do your experiments. For example, try not to send it back in time by one minute, if it's been sitting in the same place for more than a minute. The universe does not appreciate those kinds of shenanigans at all.

3. Better Safe Than Stranded

If you were driving through the Sahara, you’d take a spare tire and extra gas, right? So let’s not travel into the technological desert of the past without spare parts, extra fuel, and anything else you might need if a lucky shot from a Yokut warrior puts a hole in your time machine's (curiously external) gas line.

Still, don’t get cute with time. Don't try to send your original time machine back into the past, so you can use it for spare parts there. Because, buddy? That’s just asking for a universe-shattering paradox.

4. The Sex Talk

Do not have sex with anyone in the past.

This proposition (so to speak) is fraught with peril. It's fraught up to eleven. There is literally no way to stuff more peril into a single fraught, than by having sex with someone in the past. It is the most fraught you can ever get with a time machine. And, let me tell you, that's pretty goddamn fraught.

Guys (cause, let’s be honest, this is mostly a guy problem,) there is no end to the history you could screw up by screwing. You could produce a child that was never meant to be. Or you might erase a child if, say,
your lady-love is still pining after you when history says that Jeb was supposed to be getting her pregnant out behind the gas station. You cannot just add and subtract children from history (even boring children) and expect there to be no repercussions.

Not to mention the fact that you could give someone an STD that wasn’t even invented yet. Or, for that matter, have you considered the financial difficulty of owing child support back-dated to before you were even born?


If you’re a guy, and you’re ordered back in time by a superior officer? And he strangely has your nose? And your eyes too? And he once accidentally called you “Dad” instead of “Corporal”?

Then you should definitely bang his mom.

5. Speaking of Which: The Bodyguard Dilemma

Maybe you didn’t build your time machine at all. Maybe you liberated it from a world-destroying artificial intelligence that just sent a nigh-invincible cyborg back in time to kill your own mother, before you were born.

Resist the natural instinct to send a bodyguard back in time to protect her!

Instead, send an engineer back in time half an hour, to break the fucking time machine. Is it possible that this will cause a paradox that cancels itself out? In principle, yes. But, do you know who thinks that time paradoxes don’t work that way? The ultra-intelligent AI who invented time travel. You know, the same AI who just sent a cyborg on a mission into the past which, if successful, would obviate the AI’s need to build the time machine in the first place.

So, there you go. If Skynet thinks it can work, that’s good enough for me.

6. Don’t Shoot Any Dinosaurs

Enough said.


I mean, why would you even want to?

8. Yours is a Time Machine

If, for whatever reason, you have to travel forward or back to some critical point, where your presence is absolutely needed in order to avert disaster?

Leave yourself plenty of time. I mean, you have a time machine, so why not? You wouldn't drive all but the last mile to work, on the theory that you have 15 minutes until it's 9am. No, you'd park right up front, in the handicapped spot if you thought you could get away with it. Then you'd dick around on the internet, reading shit like this until work started.

So leave yourself plenty of time! And that doesn’t mean enough time to drive your unreliable DeLorean across town. If your car breaks down a lot (or even if it doesn't!) just go ahead and leave yourself enough time to walk there. If you’re early, then you can stop at Denny’s or something. No biggie.

In fact, why not arrive the day before? Then you can enjoy a leisurely stroll around the city, taking note of all the damage to space-time you caused on your trip to the past. Then, at the moment of truth, you can sally forth, call the police on a payphone, and tell them you just saw a bunch of terrorists heading for Lone Pine Mall.

Because you’re not a fucking moron.

9. That’s Why You Always Leave a Note

So, you’ve successfully travelled through time, accomplished your mission, put Edgar Allen Poe in a headlock, whatever. Now you’re back home, safe and sound. It’s time to kick back on the couch and watch some T.V., right?


Grab a pen and paper, dial your time machine back to five minutes before you first used it, and send yourself a note. Not a complex note, mind you. Not instructions, because that could create a paradox. Just a simple note, letting yourself know that everything turned out okay. You know, to set your own mind at ease.


If, when you’re preparing to use your time machine for the first time ever, such a note from your future self does not appear? Do not under any circumstance travel through time.

10. Now That I Think About It…

In fact, just don’t travel through time at all.

Seriously. Just don’t.

Yeah sure, you might save your family from becoming dorks, introduce bicycles to the Dark Ages, save the Eloi from the Morlocks, gank a new Zed-PM for your pals in the Pegasus Galaxy, or fulfill a decade-long dream of erasing your wife's personality. That's all fantastic.

But at what risk? You’re putting the entire space-time continuum in danger for your own, ultimately petty needs. The whole universe doesn’t revolve around you, you know, even if you are a hyper-intelligent machine intelligence—in which case, you really should have known better in the first place.

Terminator trollface

I’m not saying I’m mad at you, Skynet. I’m just disappointed.


  1. So you mean I can't jump to the end of time, wait around a few days then get boared and go back judging people to potentially replace them with alterntive versions of themselves based on what would happen if another sperm got lucky?

    There goes my evening's entertainment, I guess I'll have to do something less likely to destroy all of existence now...

    Also, keep them coming. It did make me giggle.

    1. I hear that's a thankless, unfulfilling job anyway. You become so bored with it that you eventually get sloppy and fall for some cheap deception, like the old backfiring time gauntlet trick.

    2. I also fail to notice typos but yes the backfiring time gauntlet trick. How I loathe that one, going through puberty was a pain but for the 42nd time. When will I learn to carry a backup gauntlet?

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. This was great lol I am a big fan of time travel stories and I always consider how dangerous and ridiculous it can be. Love the part "...but at least stepping on a butterfly won't erase your children from history." Very amusing! Keep up the great work :)


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.