If you're an aspiring time traveler, you need to pick up a copy of the brand-new how-to book So You Created a Wormhole: The Time Traveler's Guide to Time Travel (Berkley Trade, 326pp., $15). If you are already a time traveler, you should probably pick up a copy, read it, then go back in time till before you time-traveled in the first place, and use your new knowledge wisely.
Wait, does that make any sense? Time travel is some intense and tricky stuff. I got ahold of authors and time-travel experts Phil Hornshaw and Nick Hurwitch for further intel on the matter.
SFBG The book contains several film references (Back to the Future, Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, The Terminator, etc). In your opinion, which film offers the most accurate depiction of time travel? Which is the least accurate?
Phil Hornshaw Back to the Future is a pretty reliable resource for the perils of time travel, even if it does take a few liberties in the service of being awesome. Granted, you can’t go into the future and find yourself there — how could you be there in the future if you left from the past? — but the ideas of timelines being corrupted and for the most part, of needing antecedents in the past in order to create the future, is handled pretty deftly in Back to the Future.
Conversely, Terminator is a pretty terrible time travel movie, even though evil robots are super-cool, because of the problem of Kyle Reese going back, creating John Connor, and then getting sent back by John Connor in order to create John Connor in order to get sent back by John Connor. Those kinds of stories can work, but they make your brain ache. And that’s just not very nice, James Cameron. But really, there’s not really a “worst” time travel movie because they’re pretty universally terrible at being time travel movies. That was a big reason for the Time Traveler’s Guide in the first place.
Nick Hurwitch Agreed. You can’t go wrong with the Holy Trilogy — that’s Back to the Future, not Star Wars, kids. But the time travel movies that always bug me are those that send their characters to the era during which the film was made for the rest of the movie. For example, in Time After Time, the movie starts out in the late 19th Century, but the hero and the villain are quickly sent to San Francisco, 1979. The movie was made in, you guessed it, 1979.
That’s to say nothing of all the hundreds of movies and television shows that get time travel completely wrong — but at a minimum, don’t be lazy. Hopefully after reading this guide, the audience at large will have a better grasp of what works in a time travel movie and what doesn’t.
SFBG The book points out that time travel can have catastrophic results when executed improperly. Which rule of time travel is the most important?
NH You should never, under any circumstances, visit yourself in the past. History is easy enough to screw up simply by hopping around through time, but any interactions with other versions of yourself increase the risk of paradoxes exponentially. You could prevent yourself from traveling back in the first place, get yourself killed, be mistaken for yourself, or, more often than not, engage in hand-to-hand combat to the death with yourself. If you’re going to mess up time for the rest of us, at least stick to stepping on butterflies.
PH Yeah, that’s a good one. Also don’t make out with your mom or dad. That actually applies all the time. You don’t have to be a time traveler to apply that to your life.
SFBG Is time travel an activity suited for beginners? What kind of pre-training do you recommend, and will a montage be necessary?
PH The biggest danger of time travel is getting killed within the first 10 minutes of your arrival, so if there’s one thing a novice time traveler should be good at, it’s running. We also recommend bringing along a firearm, so if you’re looking for a montage, I’d recommend track-running and then gunplay. We don’t recommend them at the same time as that’s generally frowned upon no matter what time you’re visiting, but both are useful skills.
NH Many idiots less prepared and less intelligent than your readers have shot off through spacetime and managed to make it back alive, or at least only partially maimed. That’s a crapshoot, though. The best way to get your feet wet (or singed by electricity, as the case may be) is to sign up for the Qualified Users And Negotiators of Time Travel Universal Ministry (QUAN+UM) internship program, WEDGIE (the Wormhole Educational Development and Guided Internship Experience). It’s the bottom rung of time travel, sure, but you learn the ins and outs of quantum physics, proper shotgun etiquette, laboratory-mopping, and sandwich-making.
SFBG Two of the most obvious reasons to attempt time travel are the "do-over" — re-living some important past event — and the "betting on sports games/lotteries in the past after learning the final score/winning number in the future." The book strongly discourages both. Can you elaborate on why?
PH Do-overs never go all that well. When you head to the past to do over something you already did, you have your past-self to deal with. He or she is, you know, there — doing the thing. Doing it poorly, usually. How do you get rid of yourself in order to do something over? You can’t kill them or really remove them from the situation because you risk further complications. Plus, you’re Old You and they’re Younger You and it gets all complex and confusing. It’s generally inadvisable. As for time gambling, it has to do with the Biff’s World Effect — which is that acquiring a bunch of money through time travel generally makes you a jerk.
SFBG If a time traveler finds your book mid-journey, which is the first chapter he or she should read?
NH That of course depends on what era they find themselves in. The survival guide portion of the book is organized by era, so should they be in Prehistory in need of shelter or a dino pal, then the Prehistory chapter is for them. Or, if they’re next up to joust at the Renaissance Festival — an actual festival during the Renaissance — the chapter on medieval times might just get them out alive. For general panic on the run, however, Chapter IV: The Perplexing Pandemic of Potential Paradoxes, is your one-stop shop for things you’re likely about to screw up.
PH There’s a lot of generalized knowledge right at the front of the Survival Guide portion of the book. Really, though, you should never time travel without reading the whole book. And you should always have a copy. And a backup copy. As many copies as you can comfortably carry. The more copies you have, the safer you probably are. We have no science to back that up.
SFBG Which do you prefer, traveling forward in time or backward? Why? And what is the time and place of your favorite or ideal destination?
PH There’s a period right before the Robot Uprising and subsequent Robopocalypse when things are pretty great. Robotic butlers, plenty of technology, food for everyone — generally, everything is beaches and mai tais. Immediately after this comes the Robot Uprising, life underground and the near destruction of humanity, and after that comes peace between robots and humans, immediately after which aliens arrive and subjugate Earth for quite a while. But after that — things are pretty cool. Especially if you like space adventures, which everyone does, obviously.
NH Riding dinosaurs is one of the most underrated facets of human existence, sadly underserved due to a lack of time travel. It’s also pretty neat using just a single leaf as a blanket. But if you put a gun to my head, nothing beats forming a ragtag team of castoffs and space aliens and bounding around the universe as a smuggler and/or freedom fighter.
SFBG QUAN+UM is a mysterious entity often referenced in the book. What are you at liberty to reveal about the organization? Why are the official colors purple and orange?
NH Only that they have the best damned bowling team this side of the Cretaceous. As for the colors: it’s a science-y thing. You wouldn’t understand.
PH Purple and orange are great colors for intern time travel test jumpsuits because they stand out when you’re trying to recover bodies, but have you seen them together? It’s so horrific, it has been known to drive people insane. Also, as it happens, purple and orange are radioactive when combined.
SFBG Do you think time travel will ever be an option for uber-rich tourists like Richard Branson and Ashton Kutcher, a la space travel? Would this be a disastrous business venture that would ultimately require a hero or machine-man to travel back from the future to prevent?
NH If we learned anything from Jurassic Park, and we did, it’s that tourism and playing God with science do not mix.
"Hold onto your butts."
PH QUAN+UM exists because of jerks with money and crazy people in their basement, making radioactive mini-fridges and trying to ride in them to visit the Wild West. We’re not really supposed to talk about it, but to answer your questions, yes. And yes. Repeatedly. In fact, that’s kind of what we’re doing in 2012 right now. We won’t say who needs a strict talking to, however. He knows what he did.
SFBG What's the most dangerous foe (dinosaurs, wizards, Nazis, alien overlords, etc.) one might encounter while traveling through time? What's the most important thing to know about them?
NH Yourself. No other foe is as dangerous to you or to the sanctity of the timeline. The most important thing to know about them is that they know everything about you. The second most important thing to know about them is that they will turn hostile, inevitably. It’s best to be unpredictable and use moves and tactics that you would never use, otherwise they’ll have a leg up in the battle. Or ... a leg even, anyway.
PH Also dragons.
SFBG This sign appeared last year outside of the Guardian offices. Please advise.
NH Uh-oh. What was the date, exactly? Looks like another intern is trying to “take matters into his own hands.”
Check out Hornshaw and Hurwitch's web site for more info on So You Created a Wormhole: The Time Traveler's Guide to Time Travel, which contains extended discussions on riding dinosaurs, the Robot Uprising, and other topics.