Time travel in fiction

Whether it be in books, comic books, television shows or film, time travel has been a plot element in countless works of fiction, from hard sci-fi books to mainstream popcorn flicks. Do any of them get it right?

Maybe “get it right” isn’t even the correct term when we’re talking about the impossible…how about “which of them handle it in a credible and (internally) logically consistent manner?”

I can think of plenty that don’t (starting with the “bottomlessly stupid”):

Back to the Future: Marty travels back in time and inadvertantly interferes with his parents’ falling in love. The result is that he and his siblings begin to disappear from the family photo (starting with the oldest) one body part at a time.

Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure: A plastic garbage can, emblazoned with WYLD STALLYNS, falls onto Ted’s (?) dad’s head after Bill and Ted muse about how they wish they could go back in time and position a garbage can over him. After it falls on him, they remark that they’ll have to remember to go back in time and put the garbage can over his head when they’re done with their adventure. This one is making blood shoot out of my ears even as I type.

So…are there any depictions of time travel in fiction that handle it better than these? I always thought the Rachel Summers storyline in Uncanny X-Men was pretty consistent, but then again, I was 12 at the time I read it.

I always like to give a shout-out to the Time Travel page when these threads come up. A long listing of books and movies using time travel as a major plotline, along with links to other sites and more. It hasn’t updated since 2002, but it’s historically fine.

James P. Hogan wrote a number of fairly well thought out time travel books (before he became a total nutbar).

12 Monkeys is especially good from a logic point of view.

The Twilight Zone episode about trying to save Abraham Lincoln was also pretty good.

OTOH, Jack Finney’s Time and Again is very bad on that count: the hero goes back to prevent the birth of the man who invents time travel. So how can he get back there to do it?

Of course, James Tiptree, Jr. brilliantly used a deliberately illogical time travel trope in “Forever to a Hudson’s Bay Blanket”: You can time travel and switch places to an older or younger version of yourself, and live as yourself at that age. A man goes into his future and visits the week he dies, killing him in the past, too. This is a blatant paradox, but, as Tiptree says (paraphrased), “Sure it’s an impossible paradox. But if it happens to you, who do you complain to?”

I’m sure these are on the page Exapno’s linked to, but they’re worth pointing out
Robert Heinlein’s By His Bootstraps is a classic of the type of time-travel story where the hero revisits the past. Repeatedly. Heinlein went to a lot of effort to keep it consistent. Heinlein went back to Time Travel in other stories and novels, but this was his best and most consistent treatment of it.
Robert Forward went on record to say that he’d accept the Grandfather Paradox if someone could prove it to him scientifically. He wrote the novel TimeMaster to present a case of time-travel in which the events are self-consistent (so you can’t chasnge the past. By going into the past you become pasrt of the events that have already happened. He sidesteps the Free Will issue.)

Disaster in Time is pretty good, but not your typical time travel movie.

As was the '80s TZ episode about trying to save Kennedy. Kennedy also figured into a pretty good episode of “Red Dwarf”, never mind that the device the guys were using to travel had previously been established as having zero range.

David Gerrold’s The Man Who Folded Himself is a classic in the field.

Gerrold admittedly wanted to try and cram every time-travel cliche into a single story. But, from what I recall, he didn’t go to any effort to try to “get it right” and be self-consistent in the style I thought the OP was asking for.

I think Ken Grimwood’s Replay got it right, but I don’t remember enough of the details to explain why I think so. I just don’t remember any stupid paradoxes.

Charles Dickinson – A Shortcut in Time – this book was low-key, no messing about with major historical events or grandparents, and the small things that were changed were accounted for in the present.

What I liked best about this book is that Dickinson didn’t attempt a cockamamie scientific explanation. The travel just happened when people passed a certain point in the landscape, during thunderstorms. Which might be cockamamie, if you want to think he was positing that lightning can zap you into the past, but the story was so good, I forgave this. :slight_smile:

Huh. I could have sworn I made an update to that in 2014, effective for 1934. I wonder what happened to it? I mean, will happen … or will have happened back before … willan on happening …

Dammit! Those pages in my copy of Dr. Streetmentioner’s book are blank! How am I supposed to figure out the right tense formation for this?

Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series handles it very well, I think. Claire and Jamie are not able to change big things, like preventing Bonnie Prince Charlie from making a bid for the Scottish throne, but they’re able to do little things, like saving his tenants at Lallybroch

Will someone please travel back in time and tell the creator of that site that dark-blue links on a black background are evil? Or maybe tell me not to read it so I don’t get a headache from it.

The fight with the future Red Dwarf crew changed reality. Three examples are the time machine being able to travel in space, Starbug changing in size and all the indian food being wiped out.

The Technicolor Time Machine by Harry Harrison has no glaring errors and incorporates one of the oddest uses for time travel ever.

and can’t have this thread without a shout out to The Time Machine by H. G. Wells.

I think RAH’s ‘All you zombies’ is a better - and much creepier - take on it. YM-seems to V

Harrison is a hoot when he writes time-travel meetings between a character’s two selves (in different points along the character’s personal timeline). In both The Technicolor Time Machine, and in one of the Stainless Steel Rat stories, he has the character get really mind-boggled by having his future self show up and give him something he needs. The future self makes some smartass crack to/about the past self, and the past self gets offended, and promises that if he ever gets to be the future self, he’ll be more courteous and polite. In the meantime, his resentment over the disrespectful treatment builds, so when he is the future self, he can’t resist being really rude. :smiley:

Connie Willis’ books Doomsday Book and To say nothing of the dog had a very interesting take on tine travel, I thought. I like those a lot.

I suggest putting a bullet in your brain before reading “The Doomsday Book”. Jesus Christ, what a downer of a book.

The Time Traveller’s Wife was wholly consistent - and it is in fact that very consistency that makes the book so painfully moving.

The Doomsday Book was consistent in its time travel, but bloody depressing.

The Time Traveler’s Wife was also nicely consistent. I like the book without being too fond of either of the main characters, but I empathise with the fact that it’s Henry’s impossible problem which has made both of them the way they are, and it’s because of the believability of the time travel that empathy is possible for me. Audrey Niffenegger said that neither of the main characters are people she likes a lot. I think that’s interesting.

Several classics are mentioned/summarized in this IMHO thread.