For those of you who know me, it is no secret that I hate Time Travel as a plot device. I think it was possibly Star Trek (something I don’t generally hate) that drove me to that particular cliff and parked on the edge. Something about going back in time to save the whales just seemed absurd (Though I bet there is some guy on the Sea Shepherd having a nerdgasm at the thought of it).
The problem is the Paradox. You have to understand it to write a good time travel story, however even when it is clearly addressed, often times writers fall short. It’s the whole “what if someone (let’s even assume for fun it’s the guy who invented time travel) goes back in time and kills himself?” issue.
Take the latest Star Trek movie. Great movie, fun, lots of action, and awesome performances. Then there’s the time travel. It ultimately centers around future-Spock. In the future, he fails to destroy some anamoly that wipes out a planet. The blowback throws Spock back in time along with some guy that holds a grudge about Spock’s failure. This guy in turn captures Spock and throws him on a desolate planet with a scenic view of the planet Vulcan. Bad guy then blows up the planet to make poor Spock cry.
Later, Spock explains to Kirk that he is from a different time stream. A logical, scientific sort of explanation that neatly avoids the whole paradox question. Travelling in time doesn’t mean back and forth travel in the same Zip Code. It means hopping into new alternate realities. Bravo!
There’s a problem though.
So, why is Spock crying? Why is he sad or even motivated to assist this Kirk? He just explained there are an infinite number of realities out there with infinite possibility and he ISNT FROM THIS ONE. He must also realize, logically, that there are countless “timeframes” where Vulcan has in fact been obliterated by war, astronomical event, maybe even dinosaur flatulence. This COMPLETELY negates the bad guy’s motivation. In fact, there’s even an alternate reality out there where Nero SUCCEEDS in destroying as many planets as he feels like.
In fact, if I’m Spock, I’m calling up Nero to explain what a complete dumbass he is. That’s probably how the story should have ended. Spock gives a lesson to Nero on the paradox, explains why seeing his planet explode wasn’t really a shocker and suggests to Nero that in an infinite stream of alternate realities, his family and planet are still alive and there’s no reason to be all touchy about it.
There are also implications for the story as a whole. Why should we even care what happens? Instead of the story leaving you feeling like something substantial was accomplished by the protagonists, you’re left with an empty feeling and the realization that what you saw/read is a simple probability which has already played out differently billions and billions of times already. Your own explanation for the paradox has made your entrie work inconsequential.
Next time – Time Travel that DOES work.