Thursday, June 06, 2013

Future Travel

Bumped.  I think Earl's list in the comments, and my responses, were more about future settings.  This clarifies for me that what I really wanted to ask about stressed the idea of actual time travel to the future.

I’ve imagined traveling to the past many times.  Traveling to the future just doesn’t hold the same romance for me.  But traveling to the future – even to a possible future* – would certainly be a lot more useful.  Things that aren’t easily changed, like earthquakes, asteroid strikes, or four-foot ocean rises would be especially nice to know.

I have no experience wandering in imagination in that world.  Science fiction writers imagining futures near or far have shown pretty limited accuracy.  (So far, that is.  There’s lots still TBD.) But there is a problem-solving, puzzle aspect to this as well.  If you got to move forward say, twenty years, what spot would you like to land on? I have a couple of thoughts, but others who have imagined this more may know that some scripts go boring very quickly.  For traveling in the past, we know that Medieval and Renaissance, WWII, and one’s personal past are some of the good ones.  Victorian England has been making a run recently.  I’d like to know where the well-worn paths of the future are.  Anyone up on these imaginings?  And if not, have a hand at the fresh puzzle yourself:  where does your time machine land?  (Or if you prefer, what do you bring with you?)

*In Jorge Luis Borges fashion, this should suggest to us that time travel to the past might not be to the past, but a possible past.  We don’t think that way, and always assume that there was only one real past, which we remember or can rediscover with varying degrees of accuracy.  But any given state of affairs might have many possible causes.  Reversing the flow of events, there might be just as many possible pasts as there are possible futures.  I dunno.  Never been there.  Seems unlikely, but fun to imagine.


Earl Wajenberg said...

The website and champion time sink lists several standard SF futures. Off the top of my head, there are:

Twenty Minutes Into The Future, which is often our own world plus one interesting technical wrinkle, to see how we react to it.

Post-Holocaust. The standard was nuclear, but variations have shown up. Best viewed from a respectful distance.

Space Opera. Star Trek and Star Wars are the best-known examples.

Crystal Spires and Togas. Not often the main setting, but a New-Agey future of cosmic harmony and such that is often moving behind the scenes and is even further away than Space Opera.

Dying Earth. The sun is fading, the continents have drifted into their last arrangement. People have gotten more eccentric with every passing eon. Magic works again. SF and fantasy meet.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Yeah. I knew those but didn't see them.

Y'all keep commenting.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Even weirder...

I wrote a 120,000 word post-holocaust (unpecified) novel 30 years ago, and just now made the association, hours after Earl prompted me.

Sam L. said...

IIRC, Spider Robinson wrote one in ASF&F ~20 years ago about a "time-traveling" couple (showed up in Callahan's saloon). Missionaries, tossed in the clink somewhere south of the border, and released after 10 years. The presence of the familiar made their confusion by the new much worse--where did this come from, how did it come to be?

james said...

Travel can be to see and return, or to stay for a while and maybe change things.

In travel to the past we bring some value with us--technical info or knowledge about the (local) future. We might be able to make a little life for a while. (Though since you'd not be from any known tribe and nobody could vouch for you, the reality might not be quite so pleasant.)

In travel to the future we're beggars--we have no guarantee that anything we have will be valuable.

Earl Wajenberg said...

"Science fiction writers imagining futures near or far have shown pretty limited accuracy."

Accurate prediction is rarely a goal, in SF. It's generally just about telling a story where the future is the appropriate setting. There may be an element of prediction in the sense of extrapolating a trend. Post-holocaust SF, very popular in the '60s and '70s, often had a cautionary theme. But the main point of the story might be a fun adventure involving mutants with superpowers, or a tale of courage and survivalism.

To take a modern example, Lois McMasters Bujold writes a space-opera series set in a galaxy full of human colonies linked by wormhole bridges. The plots revolve around biotechnology and genetic engineering. She would doubtless be tickled if some of the specific predictions came approximately true, but the overall point of her stories is (1) how biotech can and will make really big changes in people's lives, but (2) it will be people's lives, and however weird the circumstances, and whatever weird contortions of family and appearance biotech creates, they will still be people, for both ill and good. (She's very goood at characterization.)

Texan99 said...

I've been reading science fiction since I can remember, my childhood home being stuffed with it. So I've been doing it long enough to have seen a lot of predictions not pan out, and a lot of major social and scientific changes that no one guessed fifty years ago: what the control of fertility would do to women's roles and the family, how soon commercial space travel would become routine, the escape from Malthusian crisis for the time being, the world's surprising ability to avoid nuclear war to date, advances in microbiology, and (one of the biggest) the real impact on society of having everyone routinely plugged into a worldwide web of almost limitless information.

james said...

Now that I think of it, nobody answered your question. Since time travel isn't a thoroughly tested technology, I'd sent/retrieve a probe first.

I know, boring.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Not at all. An excellent launch for the next post.