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The SF Signal Podcast (Episode 090): Panel Discussion of Time Travel

In episode 90 of the SF Signal Podcast, Patrick Hester asks our irregulars to weigh in on: Time Travel!

Time travel has been a popular part of Science Fiction for over a hundred years. H.G. Wells used it for The Time Machine in 1895. Mark Twain used it for his novel, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. Heinlein, Lewis, Jones, Bradbury, Asimov, Ellison, Butler, Tutrtledove ad Willis have all written stories that involved time travel in some form. Star Trek did it, so did Quantum Leap and The Time Tunnel, and Voyagers!

  • As a trope/plot point – is time travel overused in scifi today?
  • Do you like time travel stories?
  • Do you have a favorite?
  • Who has done it well?
  • Who has not done it well?

This week’s panel:

© 2011

Featuring original music by John Anealio.


About Patrick Hester (527 Articles)
Patrick Hester is a writer, blogger, podcasting dude, Denver transplant and all around Functional Nerd. Don't hate him cuz he has a cool hat.

7 Comments on The SF Signal Podcast (Episode 090): Panel Discussion of Time Travel

  1. Outstanding podcast, everyone! I think I responded to Patrick too late to be part of this one and it’s too bad because it really was so good. I sat listening this morning and forgot it was recorded. I kept trying to throw in my comments. At the 30 minute mark, I was nearly turning purple because no one had mentioned what I think is the end-all-be-all of time travel, Robert Silverberg’s Up the Line–and then Derek mentioned it. Thank you, Derek. Funny because DeNardo plugged The Best Time Travel Stories of All Time and it was after reading that book that Barry Malzberg suggested to me Up the Line. I think he would have included it in the anthology if it was shorter.

    Carrie mentioned The Time Traveler’s Wife. When that book first came out, I refused to read it out of some silly notion that it was an outsider encroaching on science fiction and what the heck could they know. I like to think I have recovered from this viewpoint in the years since, in large part because I finally did read the book and it was outstanding. (Don’t bother with the movie.) Rob Sawyer uses that book as a good example of science fiction when recommending books. Someone–I think it was Derek again–mentioned the sketch of the characters moving through time. I always wondered what Niffenegger’s notes looked like for that novel, which as far as jumping through time (and remembering who knows what) was about the most complex I’ve ever seen.

    Both John and I (at least) have written columns on time travel and I have a general interest in the taxonmy of science fiction stories. Carrie (I think) mentioned a way of slicing up the stories that I hadn’t considered: those where time travel is controllable and those where time travel is not. In thinking about this since I heard it mentioned, I think these ultimately produce two very different types of stories, but I’d have to go through the list to see just how different and in what ways.

    The Kennedy thing was a subtrope of time travel for quite a while. There is the King novel that comes out tomorrow (I need to finish McDevitt’s Firebird quickly so I can start on that one when it appears on my iPad). Barry Malzberg’s The Destruction of the Temple was also along these lines, in his usual style, superbly written. I know that I’ve read others.

    Was it Gail who mentioned Asimov’s “The Ugly Little Boy”? Very good example of reverse time travel. And thank Hoarce Gold, editor of Galaxy for that. Asimov had written a rather different story which Gold returned with his usual caustic comments, but within them was the seed of an even better story which became “The Ugly Little Boy.” In McDevitt’s Time Traveler’s Never Die, Aristarchus is brought in to the present.

    John mentioned Connie Willis’ Blackout/All Clear. At the time I write this comment, it is my absolute favorite piece of time travel fiction I’ve ever read. It combines three of my interests, time travel, history and World War II. And it is Connie Willis at her best.

    I could go on and on but I’ll cut it short with one final observation. As I make my way through all of the Golden Age issues of Astounding as part of my Vacation in the Golden Age, I must admit that the time travel stories from 1939-1941 have, so far, been pretty poor compared to what we have today. There’s been one exception, J. B. Ryan’s “The Mosaic” from the July 1940 Astounding (Episode 13 in my Vacation). Of course, the next issue I’m reading is the October 1941 which contains a little Heinlein yarn (written as Anson MacDonald, I believe) called “By His Bootstraps”…

    Really loved the podcast everyone, and Patrick, great opening. Super job everyone!

  2. “It’s not that great” must be code for “steaming pile”…;)



  3. Jeff Patterson // November 7, 2011 at 7:51 pm //

    Say what you will about the movie Time Rider, it’s the only story I know of where the time traveler is NOT AWARE he is in the past. That conceit in itself is pretty clever.

  4. Jim Stiles // November 7, 2011 at 8:50 pm //

    Larry Niven once said that stories where time travel into the past was used were effectively fantasy because the story logic eventually devolves into double-talk.  I am inclined to agree with Niven on this point because of the physics principle of causality.  Traveling backwards in time will inevitably lead to cause and effect paradoxes, unless one believes that backwards time travel will create new timelines, which would seem to contradict Occam’s Razor.

    Isaac Asimov once wrote a novel, Pebble in the Sky, where experiments in faster than light travel using a beam of tachyons at the University of Chicago accidently punches a hole into time that transports a character into the 11,000 years into the future.  The character eventually saves Trantor and the rest of the galactic empire from a genocidal attack.  The latter portion of David Brin’s Foundation novel Foundation’s Triumph, serves as a followup to the novel and reveals the true identities of some of the background characters in the earlier novel (spoiler: they were robots).

  5. Trevin Sandlin // November 8, 2011 at 1:12 pm //

    I enjoyed this discussion quite a bit, but was disappointed that some of the true classics of the genre went unmentioned by the panel, as well as a few modern overlooked pieces:

    “A Sound of Thunder” by Ray Bradbury – the only menion is the terrible movie?  Come on folks…this story is what helped (along with chaos theory) spawn the phrase “Butterfly Effect.”  Yes, the movie is terrible.  But the 1952 short story is one of the true classics of both the time travel sub-genre as well as SFF itself.  For crying out loud…there’s a Simpsons parody of it.

    “No Enemy But Time” by Michael Bishop – a classic novel that uses time travel to discuss other things and (sadly) a rarity for SFF in dealing with Africa and African-Americans as a theme.  Winner of the ’82 Nebula Award.

    “Bring the Jubilee” by Ward Moore – criminal for this not to be mentioned, since it is considered by many to be one of the best alternate history novels ever written.  It is also a time travel novel where the time travel is less important than the other aspects of the story.

    And two more recent, often overlooked books I would add would be:

    “Time On My Hands” by Peter Delacorte – 1997 novel where the protaganist is hired by an eccentric scientist to go back in time to kill Ronald Reagan while he’s a studio actor in the 30s.  Wonderful novel where changing the future isn’t as easy as it seems, and an excellent description of pre-WW2 Hollywood.  Has long needed the sequel it deserves (sadly ends on a bit of a cliffhanger)

    …and my absolute favorite, Ken Grimwood’s 1987 novel “Replay.”  For my money, the best time travel novel of the last 30 years.  Won the 1988 World Fantasy Award.  What if you were 43 years old…had a heart-attack…and then woke up as your 18 year old self?  How would you change the life you lived?  Would you “do it right” this time?  Would you try to change the future?  What if it kept happening, always on the same day when you’re 43, but each time you wake up a little later (in your original life)?  What if you found out there were others who were “replaying” their lives?  Just a fantastic novel in every way shape and form – can’t recommend it highly enough.

  6. Laura Ess // November 9, 2011 at 5:42 am //

    I noticed at the end there was talk of a Spoiler in regard to Planet of the Apes. Maybe not a spoiler for the original film, but definately for the Tim Burton remake, though the closing scenes made no sense at all. The recent Rise of the Planet of the Apes is much better.

  7. I have no idea how I missed mentioning Bishop’s “No Enemy But Time” or Grimwood’s “Replay.” Goin to blame old age.

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