Time travel! My other trope-y love. I have been known to pick up media based solely on the fact that they included time travel even if all other signs pointed to the whole idea being terrible.
But there’s so many things you can do with a time travel story! You can do fish-out-of-water stories (i.e., character ends up in incorrect time, either past or future–I mean, it’s the whole premise of Futurama, but even Mark Twain got in on the action). You can explore a past time period through a modern lens. You can stick dinosaurs wherever the hell you want them. You can have wacky shenanigans or tragic separation. The possibilities are truly endless. (As are the time travel related tropes, yikes.)
TVTropes has categories for time travel stories as well, although it breaks it up into nine:
- You Can’t Fight Fate (something always happens despite efforts to change it)
- Stable Time Loop (You have to go into the past because you’ve already done it)
- Set Right What Once Went Wrong (You screwed everything up on your first time travel journey and now you need to go back and fix it, you idiot) Also, connected: Make Wrong What Once Went Right where bad guys go into the past to change something to make everything worse.
- Terminator Twosome (Villain goes back in time, hero follows to stop)
- Temporal Paradox (events in past are changed, or characters use knowledge of the future to change it)
- Reset Button (everything gets reset when timeline straightens out and no one has any memory of it)
- Trapped in the Past (characters stuck in wrong time)
- Alternate Timeline (the timeline splits–we will talk about this more next week)
- Timey-Wimey Ball (all of the above in whatever combination fits the plot at that particular moment)
It also notes four methods of time travel:
- Videocassette time travel (basically, time is a straight line that you can travel forward or back on, and you can see the world changing around you)
- Wormhole time travel (a wormhole or other “time tunnel” is used–this going along with my theory that no one understands wormholes and writers are going to exploit that as much as possible)
- Instantaneous time travel (one minute you’re in one time, the next you’re in another)
- Unseen time travel (the traveling character doesn’t know how they got there, or the audience is never shown the time travel process)
Time travel can be the main plot point of a story or in the background; it can be something that comes up once or twice in a series and is never mentioned again, or something used every week. It can be used to explore history, humanity, the future, time itself, cause and effect–you name it. Or it can just be the pretty box around an adventure or romance story.
It does seem to seep into all scifi series eventually, though, doesn’t it? I mean, even if we discount time travel-oriented series like Doctor Who or Quantum Leap, you get it in Star Trek, Stargate, Supernatural…even Fraggle Rock has a time travel episode.
But I still love it.
Favorite time travel stories or tropes, squiders? I’m pretty indiscriminate, though I will say that I thought Connie Willis’s Blackout/All Clear duology was magnificent. (And I’m fond of Connie Willis in general.)