The Stories and Plots of Time Tales
“The bad news is time flies. The good news is you’re the pilot.”
Time Correction and Time Disruption Plots
We all want to make the world a better place. It is part of human nature to put right life’s mistakes. And what Time Tales do is stretch that principle to include what are perceived as mistakes in history that have led to an unjust and less pleasant world. An example of this might be Stephen King’s 11.22.63, where a man travels through a Time Portal back to 1963 in the hope of preventing the assassination of JFK and so fix the world. However, as Stephen King noted, “[It’s] not good to fool with Father Time.” In the novel, saving JFK has unexpected consequences and things end up in the new timeline to be far from perfect.
More personal stories usually have better outcomes. In SEE YOU YESTERDAY, two Brooklyn teenagers, C.J. Walker and Sebastian Thomas, build a makeshift time machine to go back in time and save C.J.’s brother from wrongly being killed by a police officer. The driving force here is injustice. ERASED, known in Japan as BOKU DAKE GA INAI MACHI, is a Manga series written and illustrated by Kei Sanbe (a live action film was released in 2016 and a television drama series followed) and features a character called Satoru Fujinuma, a young man living in Chiba, the capital city of Chiba Prefecture in Japan, who possesses an ability known as ‘Revival’ that can send him back in time moments before a life-threatening incident occurs, thus enabling him to prevent it from happening. When his mother is murdered, Satoru uses his ability to go back into the past and not only save his mother, but also prevent a kidnapping incident that took the lives of three of his childhood friends.
The Time Disruption plot is the other side of the coin in that it normally features someone going back in time with the intention of creating an imbalance in the present to give them some sort of personal advantage. This scenario is one of the most popular in time fiction as it usually involves a counteraction to stop it. “We travel through time to help history along… give it a push where it’s needed. When the Omni’s red, it means history’s wrong. Our job is to get everything back on track. Green light, kid! We did it!” Those were the words of Phineas Bogg in the opening narration of VOYAGERS! the 1980s television series that featured a hand-held device much like a pocket watch called the Omni. Stories included preventing Abraham Lincoln from being kidnapped, saving Teddy Roosevelt from being shot by Billy the Kid, rescuing the Mona Lisa from the Titanic and assisting Thomas Edison in his discovery of electricity. All in a day’s work for you average Time Traveller.
In a similar vein there are numerous ‘stop-the-bomb’ scenarios, where the time traveller is tasked with preventing some sort of terrible catastrophe or explosion (DÉJÀ VU, SOURCE CODE, plus several Time storylines in the television series HEROES). A bizarre take on the bomb scenario is TOMORROW I’LL WAKE UP AND SCALD MYSELF WITH TEA. Needless to say the plot is as strange as its title and involves death by a bread roll and a portable hydrogen bomb taken back in time to Hitler’s Germany. One for the Time Tale connoisseurs.
Averting catastrophes is the theme of the television series SEVEN DAYS (1998-2001). The premises here is that a secret branch of the US National Security Agency has developed a time travelling device based upon alien technology found at Roswell that is capable of sending ‘one human being back in time seven days’.
A more up to date version of this type of Time Tale is TIMELESS, where a Time Task Force is put together in order to stop interventions in history from a renegade time traveller. The Mission Team of agents seek out Garcia Flynn, a rogue NSA (National Security Agency) operative who seems to be set on a crazy course of revenge. However, as the series goes on, he and the team of agents work together to stop the true threat to American life which is revealed to be a secret organisation called Rissenhouse. It’s never absolutely clear what the ultimate goal of Rissenhouse is. However, you can assume from its members – Henry Ford. J.P. Morgan, Joseph McCarthy – and those people Rissenhouse wants to kill – Connor Mason, JFK and Harriet Tubman – that its long term aims aren’t Civil Rights. TIMELESS is an adventure yarn with lots of action, good jokes and great characters, but the underlying theme is America under threat from the far right. It probably wasn’t Donald Trump’s favourite show. But TIMELESS is an example of what a Time Tale, even of the adventure yarn variety, is capable of when it has a social conscience.
You could of course argue that the Time Correction Plot and the Time Disruption plot amount to much the same thing. Both seek to alter the past, the only difference between them is which side of the moral and political fence you sit. BRING THE JUBILEE, a novel by Ward Moore, is set in an alternate present where Germany is at war with America. In this story, a time traveller goes back to the Civil War, changes history and thus creates a new future which is, in effect, our present. Time Correction? Or Time Disruption?
“Whether it’s the best of times or the worst of times, it’s the only time we’ve got.”
“In the future there’s a lot of cash. We make fire with it.”
The challenge of our time is climate change, and so it shouldn’t come as any surprise that the environment and green issue feature very strongly in contemporary Time Tales. A variation on the Correction Plot then is ‘Endangered Futures’, the main difference being that with the Endangered Futures scenario, our present day is the Time Traveller’s past.
A primary example is the popular televisions series TRAVELERS (using the American spelling for the series). The concept here is that the world of the future is so threatened by our actions in the current day that a team from the future, in fact many teams, must be sent back to our time to make the necessary corrections to save themselves. What makes this series a little different is that it’s a disembodied consciousness that is sent to our world and it is this consciousness which then takes over a host’s body at the moment of their historical death. Think INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS meets THE A-TEAM with a strong environmental message thrown in.
In TRAVELERS there is much talk of wars, famine and disease in the future, but clearly all is not well politically either, for in that future, a ‘Faction’ has developed and our era has become the battle ground. As the Faction battles with The Director, the AI machine which comes ups with the various missions, numerous assassins are sent back in time to do their worst, often giving the series a TERMINATOR vibe. This was particularly the case in one episode where a young girl called Anna Hamilton, an important future American president (the 53rd President to be precise), needs to be protected at all costs.
In THE TERMINATOR itself, of course, a Bad-Guy Android is sent from the Future to kill Sarah Connor, whose as yet unborn son is the leader of the rebellion against the androids. In the sequel, TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY, a Good-Guy Android is also sent back in time to impede or disrupt any further plans to kill Sarah Connor or her now young son John. And both movies are great action yarns. RETURNER (2002) incidentally is a Japanese science fiction film that follows a similar scenario in that aliens, Dagga, have conquered Earth and so someone is sent back in time to kill the first alien scout and in the cult science fiction movie A.P.E.X. (1994) the threat to the future is people carrying a deadly virus.
SIJIPEUSEU: THE MYTH (SISYPHUS), the Korean time adventure series written by Lee Je-in and Jeon Chan-ho, is essentially an endangered future story plot very similar to THE TERMINATOR. In fact, the writers make a direct reference to THE TERMINATOR storyline in the series. Gang Seo-hae (Park Shin-hye) is sent back in time and her task is to make sure that Han Tae-sul (Cho Seung-woo), a Mark Zuckerberg techno-genius kind of guy, does not create the code that results in the building of an ‘uploader’ time machine that will, in the endangered future, lead to nuclear war and a deadly apocalypse.
The series is an action thriller and the main emotional arc comes from the developing relationship between Gang Seo-hae and Han Tae-sul. The forces of antagonism against the two protagonists are multiple. There is the Control Bureau, a Government group who police illegal time migrants, plus there is a gang of ‘brokers’, who are sort of bandits who steal from time travellers as soon as they arrive. The ultimate villain however is ‘Sigma’, also known Seo Won-Ju/Seo Gil-Bok and played by Kim Byung-chul, who is a mysterious figure who seems somehow to be manipulating events – “It was all part of my plan!” The future is eventually saved, but, as with other Time Tales, it does ultimately require a self-sacrifice.
THE LAZARUS PROJECT (2022), written by Joe Barton, is a television series where time travellers prevent extinction level disasters by means of a time loop. The movie MILLENNIUM (1989) offers a twist on the Endangered Future concept for it involves time travellers from years hence, where the human race has become sterile, abducting aircraft passengers who as in TRAVELERS would have died anyway and taking them to that future to populate the world again.
There are also Time Tales that are set in a Dystopian or Endangered Future. An example of this is LA JETÉE, set in the aftermath of World War III in a post-apocalyptic Paris and its remake 12 MONKEYS. Others include DIVERGE and 2067, plus the Indie 2011 psychological thriller SOUND OF MY VOICE, and of course STAR TREK IV: THE VOYAGE HOME. In this popular 80s movie, Kirk’s Earth of the future is in grave danger from an alien probe that seeks to make contact with the now extinct humpback whale. The only solution is to go back in time to our 1986, collect a whale – no easy task as it turns out – and then take said whale back to the future in time in order to reply to the probe before it destroys the entire planet. Such stories as LA JETÉE or STAR TREK may actually be set in the future but as with most Time Tales they are really about the concerns of our present day, be it war and conflict, or the environment.
The German television series DARK is a bleak and tragic fable. Its focus is not really the environment but it is partially set in the year 1986, the time of the nuclear accident at Chernobyl. In both of DARK’s complex Time Loop scenarios, there is an apocalyptic accident at the nuclear power station in the fictional Winden and much of DARK is set in a post-apocalyptic future. Grim indeed.
“The best thing about the future is that it comes one day at a time.”
“If a coin comes down heads, that means that the possibility of its coming down tails has collapsed. Until that moment the two possibilities were equal. But on another world, it does come down tails. And when that happens, the two worlds split apart.”
Parallel Worlds and Multiverses
There are many Time Tales with ‘Parallel World’ and ‘Many Worlds’ scenarios. An example of a Parallel World would be DOPPELGÄNGER, the 1969 British science fiction written by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson and Donald James (also known as JOURNEY TO THE FAR SIDE OF THE SUN). In this film, astronauts return to a sort of ‘back-to-front’ Earth and eventually realise they are on a near literal mirror-image version of our planet, rather than the one they journeyed from. In the Parallel Word scenario, the other world or universe is independent of our world, but always in parallel time with it. But what about IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE? Is that a Parallel World? Well, not really because although it is in parallel time it has only just come into existence as a result of the angel Clarence asking his superiors to create a world without George Bailey so George can see the importance of his life. It might be better to say that Bedford Falls and Pottersville are Alternate Worlds in that in Bedford Falls is the world where George Bailey is alive and Pottersville is the world where he was never born. Besides, in the end, Pottersville ceases to exist, for George, in the redemptive nature of the story, is essentially ‘reborn’ when he chooses life over death. The clue after all is in the title of the movie: It’s a Wonderful Life.
Multiverses are even more complicated. In Many Worlds tales, two or three, or sometimes an infinite number of worlds are created, usually as a result of different choices made somewhere along a timeline that then splits and leads to alternative consequences and so alternate worlds. This can be seen in IF I HADN’T MET YOU, (SI NO T’HAGUÉS CONEGUT), the ten-part Catalan television series. In some of these worlds, time can move faster or slower than ours, which, of course, prevents them from being in parallel. It also explains why Eduard does not recognise that the elderly Dr Everest is really his wife from another timeline.
The principle of IF I HADN’T MET YOU can be found in the Dr Everest line, “The Universe doesn’t have one story, it has all the stories possible.” This then might be an appropriate moment to bring in Gottfried Wilhelm Liebniz (1946-1716) and his contention that we live in “the best of all possible worlds.” Liebniz was no slouch philosopher and natural scientist, his mathematics rivals Newton’s. But what about his logic? The Liebnizian argument basically goes like this: because God is all knowing, he knew which possible world was the best and, being pure goodness, in creating our existing world, God created what has to be the best of all possible worlds. Why would God create anything less than such a thing?
But suppose the number of worlds God created is in fact infinite, there could then be no single world that is best, for any given good world, there will always be another world that is better in some ways and almost certainly worse in others. And in a way, IF I HADN’T MET YOU is an exploration of the idea that no world is perfect or even best.
Eduard suffers a terrible tragedy when his wife and children are killed in a car crash. His trauma is made worse because he believes he is, at least in part, responsible. When Dr Everest offers the chance to go to different universes, Eduard takes the opportunity in the hope of finding a better one. Only it doesn’t work out like that. Yes, coincidence certainly conspires to bring Eduard and his wife Elisa together through music and the movies, but equally it is car accidents in both universes that bring tragedy. There simply is no best possible world.
In DONNIE DARKO, a jet engine from a parallel world crashes into to Donnie Darko’s bedroom at the stroke of midnight. Luckily, Donnie is far away, watching over the town from a hilltop. The arrival of the jet engine sets off a metaphorical ticking clock counting down the next twenty-eight days. After the arrival of the unexplained jet engine falling out of the sky, nothing in this world seems to go right for people. A very negative vibe has seemingly entered into this world from somewhere. Whatever this vibe is it has given Donnie himself some sort of superpower which allows him to put an axe in a metal statue that stands outside of his school and the strength to cause the school to flood. A strange rabbit then begins to appear, that is ultimately revealed to be a character called Frank in a costume. It is as if this rabbit has somehow entered Donnie’s world from a parallel world, just like the negative vibe. And this scenario is what the writer and director Richard Kelly has confirmed, though who or what is doing all this is never quite clear. The Universe? God? The Rabbit? Anyway, Donnie is ultimately being manipulated like a puppet where the ultimate aim is to realign the universe, re-set time and separate the two universes. This will be done when the ticking clock of the twenty-eight days runs out. And when that happens, Donnie is in his bedroom giggling. This time, however, the falling jet engine kills him. It is then that Time is Re-set back to where it was and the rip in space-times through which the ‘first’ jet engine fell, is healed and closed. Does Donnie know his death or self-sacrifice will lead to all this happening? Hard to say, so perhaps better not ask. Just enjoy this strange and enigmatic cult Time Tale for the classic it is.
The multiverse universe concept is a major feature of AVENGERS: ENDGAME, where there is only one version of the world that can save them and that demands the self-sacrifice of Iron Man. The moral is: Yes, you can have what you want, but you’ll have to pay for it. SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME has a more playful relationship with the multiverse concept. In fact, in this movie it’s a bit of a Red Herring and used primarily to put the young hero off the truth about the duplicitous ‘Mysterio’.
The Nexus of Time and Space and Multiverses in DARK is about as complicated as it gets. As one of the many Marthas says, “The question isn’t what Time, the question is what world?” In fact there are three worlds in DARK but two are full of pain and misery, and worse, these worlds are trapped in eternal Time Loops. The final episode reveals that, as with Iron Man, only a self-sacrifice can bring about a world without suffering, only for Adam and Eva, it’s not just Death that they must accept, but the fact that they must never even have existed.
Ultimately the creation of the two worlds in DARK boils down to the attempt of Tannhaus, The Watchmaker, to alter history by building a Time Machine to save his family from a car crash. It is established that when the Time Machine was first switched on, Time stopped and Cause-and-Effect was suspended and in that moment the world divided into two Timelines and Two Time Loops bringing eternal pain and misery to the people of Winden. There are many moral messages to be found in DARK and in this instance it seems to be: ‘Don’t try and alter the past for in doing so there will be unforeseen consequences and these could well be tragic and even apocalyptic in their actuality.’
A more individual and person multiverse scenario can be found in the movie MR NOBODY, written and directed by Jaco Van Dormael, which tells the story of a 118 year old man who is now the last mortal on earth as everyone else has now achieved quasi-immortality. Nemo, with his memory fading, thinks of the three main loves of his life, of the divorce of his parents and later the hardships he endured. Three critical junctions in his life are identified and they are at the age of nine, fifteen and thirty-four. Alternate life paths branching out from each of these crossroads are examined and as a result Nemo Nobody ‘remembers’, as it were, different possible futures for himself. As said, the Curse of Time is the contemplation of what might have been. Happy the man perhaps who fully understands The Prayer of Serenity: ‘God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.’
Multiverses are then both varied and widespread in Time Tales. Especially in movies. In fact, there’s one film called PARALLEL where it’s a mirror that serves as an entrance to its multiverse, and in another movie, this time called PARALLELS, it’s a mysterious building that serves as an entrance to its multiverse. Well, let us hope that in at least one of these many multiverses someone comes up with an alternate word for those things that exist side by side, if only for the possibility of offering an alternate title.
A final brief word on the possible evidence for multiverses. The term Mandela Effect came about when a paranormal consultant, Fiona Broome, claimed she had witnessed the death of Nelson Mandela in the 1980s, when in reality he died in 2013, but many others then said exactly same thing, that they too had seen on television Mandela’s funeral and even the speech given by his wife years before he really died. And the conclusion that some people came to was that what these people were actually really seeing were glimpses into a parallel world where in that world Mandela died earlier than he did in ours. The explanation other people came up with for what then became known as the ‘Mandela Effect’ was that it was a result of false memory syndrome or confabulation. There was as well the suggestion that it was all part of a vast world power conspiracy. Quietly in the background you could also hear the very politically incorrect observation that these people were simply bonkers. Mad or multiverse? Confabulation or conspiracy? The choice is yours.
“I was bitter. He was sweet. And in a parallel universe, we were bittersweet.”
“Yesterday is gone forever. Make the most of today and tomorrow if you wish to make up for lost time.”
Stranded in the Wrong Time
HERE AND NOW AND THEN is a time travel novel by Mike Chen. In it, Kin Stewart, a time traveller from the Year 2142, is stranded in contemporary San Francisco after a botched mission. A rescue team from the future does eventually arrive but not until eighteen years later (the time rule in HERE AND NOW AND THEN is that although eighteen years have gone by in modern day San Francisco, only a few weeks have passed in 2142). However, during those eighteen years in San Francisco Kin has made for himself a new life and his old one, due to memory loss from blackouts, is slowly disappearing. The rescue mission has come with the aim of returning Kin to 2142, but this leads to the dilemma at the heart of the novel: which life to choose?
In DOCTOR WHO, the Doctor has found himself left high and dry in the wrong time on many an occasion. In fact, you could argue that, with the TARDIS disabled by the Time Lords, much of the Third Doctor era with Jon Pertwee, ‘John Smith’ is essentially stranded in the twentieth century. The Weeping Angels famously stranded the Tenth Doctor (David Tennant) in 1969 in Blink, a plot which was essentially reworked as Village of Angels with the Thirteenth Doctor (Jodie Whittaker). In Blink though it is Carey Mulligan’s Sally Sparrow who saves the day by getting the TARDIS back to its owner.
In an old house, Sally Sparrow finds a strange message written directly to her under peeling wallpaper left by someone called ‘The Doctor’. On her second visit, Sally takes her friend Kathy to look at the message, only then Kathy mysteriously disappears (it turns out the Weeping Angels have sent her back to 1920). Before leaving the derelict house, Sally spots a Yale key hanging from the hand of a stone statue and decides to takes it. Through Kathy’s brother Larry, comes across mysterious ‘Easter Eggs’ on DVDs that feature a man in one-way conversation. This it turns out is the Doctor. And through Billy, a young policeman Sally met briefly who has also been sent back to 1969, the Doctor is able to relate a message to Sally as that young police in Sally’s time is now grown old. The message is about the Easter Eggs in the DVDs.
Sally persuades Larry to come with her to house and here the Weeping Angels pursue them both down into the basement where they have brought the TARDIS. Sally and Larry use the Yale key to hide inside the TARDIS and as they do the Weeping Angels link hands and surround the police box. Larry inserts one of his DVDs into the control panel of the TARDIS and the TARDIS dematerialises leaving Sally and Larry behind. But of course, as it does, so the Gorgon-like aliens turn each other to stone as their eyes are now looking on each other. A year later, Sally hands a somewhat surprised Doctor a folder containing details of what will happen to him and how she, Sally, will be able to put things right.
Essentially then the whole episode is plotted around a stranded time traveller and how to get his time machine back to him. There are unanswered questions such as why doesn’t the Doctor rescue all those such as Billy who are trapped in the wrong time period and how could the Doctor possibly know the Weeping Angels would surround the TARDIS? Well, you could argue that taking Billy from 1969 back to 2007 would create a Time Paradox, which is to say it would be an action that would remove the need for that action. As for the Weeping Angels surrounding the TARDIS, you could say that perhaps the Doctor knew this from the notes handed to him by Sally. In this sense the folder acts as a kind of Causal Loop. On top of that, without the folder he wouldn’t be able to send a message to Sally in the first place (though of course in Causal Look there is not first place). In a way, however, it’s these sorts of questions and paradoxes which make Blink a real favourite with DOCTOR WHO fans. Plus it has a truly frightening alien, a scary house and a great performance by Carey Mulligan as Sally Sparrow.
STAR TREK of course has explored the stranded theme many, many times, notably in The City of the Edge of Forever and the movie STAR TREK IV: THE VOYAGE HOME. And in the STAR TREK reboot movie, Spock finds himself locked into the new timeline. DEEP SPACE NINE used the stranded plot in Little Green Men, Trials and Tribble-actions, and Past Tense. The latter episode, made in the 1990s, is set in 2024, and with the prescience of many a science fiction drama, Past Tense does quite accurately speak of our socially divided society:
COMMANDER SISKO: By the early 2020s, there was a place like this in every major city in the United States.
DR JULIAN BASHIR: Why are these people in here? Are they criminals?
COMMANDER SISKO: No, people with criminal records weren’t allowed in the Sanctuary Districts.
DR JULIAN BASHIR: Then what did they do to deserve this?
COMMANDER SISKO: Nothing. Just people, without jobs or places to live.
DR JULIAN BASHIR: Ah, so they get put in here?
COMMANDER SISKO: Welcome to the 21st century, Doctor.
But it’s not just folk with spacecrafts and time machines that get stranded in the wrong era. OUTLAWS was a television series about five cowboys from the 1880s who, as a result of a freak lightning strike, found themselves in 1986. With no way to get back home, the men use their skills to start a detective agency in order to make a living. Other Time Tales on the theme of being stranded include THE ADAM PROJECT, TIMELESS, DARK, PHIL OF THE FUTURE, DEMOLITION MAN, FUTURAMA, ADAM ADAMENT LIVES! and CATWEAZLE.
“Lost time is never found again, and what we call time enough, always proves little enough.”
“Schrödinger’s cat has far more than nine lives, and far fewer. All of us are unknowing cats, alive and dead at once, and of all the might-have-beens in between, we record only one.”
Yoon Ha Lee, in CONSERVATION OF SHADOWS
Imagine a sperm fertilising an egg. In the usual scenario, once the egg is fertilised, the sperm closes the egg off from all its rivals, which then simply die. But suppose those sperms don’t die. Suppose each creates their own individual embryo. There’d be millions of them. It would mean Dr Evil ‘Mini-Me’s from AUSTIN POWERS to the power of infinity. A frightening thought, except of course, if each Mini-Me were given their own private little universe.
In a way, the scientific justification for the Multiverse or Many Worlds scenario is not that far removed from this concept. Except we are not in the realm of biology but rather quantum mechanics as pioneered by Hugh Everett III (1930-1982). Hugh Everett III (and how appropriate there were at least two others in the universe with that name) famously rejected the Schrödinger equation. The German physicist Erwin Schrödinger basically said that in quantum theory until a particle is measured or observed it exists in all the possible states it could be in. Put another way, in quantum physics all potential possibilities are possible (what mathematically would be called a ‘non-zero possibility’) until a consciousness decides or observes which one of these possible possibles will be more than just possible, but will actually be. And when this happens, that future possible has a probability of 1, whereas all the other possibles not observed now have a probability of 0 (that is, they cannot be). This is commonly referred to as the collapse of the wave function.
Schrödinger’s Cat is the name of the Thought Experiment that explored this nature of existing and not existing in quantum physics (Schrödinger incidentally did have a cat in the 1930s, which he called Milton, so let’s go with that name as well look at the Thought Experiment itself). You put pussy cat Milton into a box with a radioactive substance that has a fifty-fifty chance of killing said cat. You then close the lid. Until the box is opened, Milton could be said to both alive and dead. It exists and it does not exist until we can be sure either way. Smart alecs have pointed out that cats meow at lot, and what about Animal Liberation and the RSPCA? I mean, you can’t go around putting cats in radioactive boxes just because of some silly idea. However, the point of this Though Experiment from Schrödinger’s perspective was simply to show how weird quantum physics can be. And one supposes quantum physicists too for coming up with such idea. Einstein famously thought that quantum physics involved a lot of “spooky action”. Yes, and spooky people too. Anyway, in 1957, in his Princeton doctoral dissertation, Hugh Everett III argued against Schrödinger and his pussy cat Milton and thus opened a whole can of worms. Or indeed entire multiverses of cans of worms.
Hugh Everett basically conjectured that the wave function does not collapse at all, but rather ‘splits’ at every moment a choice or decision is made. Oddly enough, and well before the era of quantum physics, this was an issue that worried Descartes (1596-1650) in his Meditations, but he solved the problem by coming up with the idea that God perhaps constantly recreated our world moment by moment, fixing it as it were to be the only world. Anyway, the long and short of all this is that according to Everett (a name not too far removed from that of Everest in IF I HADN’T MET YOU) there are out there, somewhere and whenever, a multitude of physical realities beyond our imagining. And this idea of the Multiverse Universe (or Universes) became known as the Many Worlds Interpretation (MWI) of quantum mechanics. Knowing that in this universe there are at least 140 billion galaxies is enough to fry your brain, but Multiverses on top of that? Well, that’s your brain fried with every known chilli plus Uncle Tom Cobley and all.
“We never change the world we’re on. We change ourselves and we actually shift to another version of Earth that already exists that is more reflective of the change we made in us. This gets into things like parallel realities, the multiverse – all of that kind of idea.”
‘Shh! Listen! Someone’s coming! I think – I think it might be us.’
Time Splits and Duel Existence in the Same World
In THE MAN WHO HAUNTED HIMSELF, Harold Pelham (Roger Moore) as he is driving along the road suddenly appears possessed and this change in him results in a serious car accident. Later, when on the operating table at the hospital, for a moment there appears to be two heartbeats on the monitor. When Harold recovers and goes about his life as before, people begin to claim they have seen him in places he has never been. More importantly, this other self is making decisions he, Harold, would never ever make.
Identical twins are common in human life, but usually they are very similar both in appearance and nature. But suppose there was an exact version of yourself in looks, but who was completely different in temperament and disposition? In the classic STAR TREK episode The Enemy Within, the transporter malfunctions – as it so often does – and Kirk is split into two antithetical people, and in Mirror, Mirror, the transporter malfunctions yet again and sends Kirk and his party to a cutthroat parallel universe where promotion is achieved through assassination. Many stories in the original STAR TREK series were essentially fables, and with The Enemy Within and Mirror, Mirror, the theme is what you may call the darker side of human life. Its ‘Shadow’, to borrow a Jungian concept.
In the Korean time travel series ALICE (AELLISEU), written by Kim Kyu-Won, the Kuiper Institute Director, Seok Oh-Won, explains to Park Jin-gyoem that “there isn’t just one world. There are countless dimensions in the parallel universes, and there exist other versions of us too. When time travel becomes possible on a greater level, death will become meaningless. You’ll get to live in a world where you can see your mother again.” But Park Jin-gyoem replies, “Like you said, there might be countless versions of my mother in other dimensions. But I only have one mother. Also, the fact that you killed my mother will never change.” The plot later reveals that the Kuiper Institute Director did not kill Jin-gygoem’s mother (lots of people did, but not him), yet the point of the son is still well made. No matter which dimension you are in, you could only ever have had one mother.
The rule in ALICE (AELLISEU) is that as dimensions connect, the doppelgangers in them more closely sense each other’s thoughts. The Alice Time Agent Yoo Min-hyuk asks Yoon Tae-yi, the genius physicist, “By any chance, have you been having déjà vu since you met with Jin-gyeom’s mother? … It must be quantum entanglement. When doppelgangers from two dimensions meet when they shouldn’t, their memories and emotions mix.” This turns out to be bad news for Park Jin-gyeom for in one particular dimension his counterpart is a psychopathic killer. In fact, Park Jin-gyeom in different dimensions is variably detective, architect and matricidal killer. That said, there is a dimension where the mother (Yoon Tae-yi/Park Sun-young) kills her other self. The last act of HAMLET has nothing on ALICE .
The Director Seok Oh-Won in one dimension is the man trying to keep time travelling in operation, and in another, where he is killed, he is trying to prevent time travel. ‘Who are you?’ becomes ‘Which are you’ and that for the viewer can lead to confusion as the plot does occasionally gets lost in a labyrinth of its own complexity. Not all Time Tales allows for double or dual existence in the same world or physical environment.
There are several scenes in IF I HADN’T MET YOU, (SI NO T’HAGUÉS CONEGUT), when the two Eduards from different universes meet. The most moving encounter is where they share their grief, one for the loss of both his parents, the other for the death of his wife and children. What unites these different Eduards is the fact the tragedies in each universe came as a result of car accidents, and each Eduard blames himself for the deaths of his loved ones.
SIJIPEUSEU: THE MYTH (SISYPHUS), the Korean time adventure series written by Lee Je-in and Jeon Chan-ho, uses the idea of computer coding as a means to time travel. This is achieved by an ‘uploader’ and a ‘downloader’, as it were, which allow data to be transferred across time. But what happens if the person who came from future was yourself with identical data? Well, it is possible for two sets of data to co-exist in the same time world, but, as physical bodies get into close proximity then memories becomes mixed up – there’s a similar Time Rule in ALICE (AELLISEU) – yet SIJIPEUSEU: THE MYTH goes even further, for, as put by one the bandit brokers, “one of you goes ‘kapow’ and is gone.” Actually, we only get to see that happen with physical objects in a scene where two identical family lockets from different time worlds are brought together. As the computer coder Han Tae-sul explains when he holds the two lockets side by side, “The uploader and downloader are like… Well, to put it simply, it’s like copying a computer file to another drive. You copy the data from the future and transmit it to here. But it’s impossible for the original data and copy data to exist in the same phase, because when you copy the data, the phase has a time designation. So… if the data is ever overlapping…” We then see, as if by magic, the two lockets coming together to become one.
In BACK TO THE FUTURE II, the Doc warns Marty not to communicate with his other self. This, he argues, could have devastating effects on the Time Continuum: “The encounter could create a time paradox, the results of which could cause a chain reaction that would unravel the very fabric of the space time continuum, and destroy the entire universe. Granted, that is a worse case scenario.” Dumbledore has fewer concerns in HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN and even prompts Hermione to use her Time-Turner to go back in time and save Buckbeat. That said, she, Ron and Harry are cautious not to bump into their other selves. In FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT TIME TRAVEL, there is a scene where the three lads of the story end up in the distant future. It turns out the three lads are thought of and celebrated as ‘heroes’ and in this future they bizarrely attend, as at a fan convention, a tribute party to themselves where all guests are dressed up in costume as the legendary time travellers. It’s a neat gag about meeting yourself in the future. Any way you look at it, meeting yourself or avoiding yourself is a useful dramatic device in any Time Tale, whether it’s there to increase the jeopardy or enhance the comedy .
In AUSTIN POWERS: THE SPY WHO SHAGGED ME, the two Austin Powers, Austin and Austin-ten-minutes-from-now via the time machine seem to get on well (“What’s the policy on ménage à trois.”). Less so, Old Joe and Young Joe in LOOPER. In HELLO WORLD, Naomi Katagaki’s relationship with his future older self who he calls ‘Sensei’ is complicated and ever changing. In STAR TREK (2009), the two Spocks, who you would have thought would know about such things as double identities and the Time Continuum, have no qualms at all about meeting. The final scene between the actor Zachary Quinto and Leonard Nimoy isn’t strictly necessary to the plot, it is part of the story’s resolution rather than its climax, but nevertheless, it is a touching handing-on-the-baton moment that is much loved by fans.
“The individual does actually carry on a double existence: one designed to serve his own purposes and another as a link in a chain, in which he serves against, or at any rate without, any violation of his own.”
“Memory is the treasury and guardian of all things.”
Multiple Existences Across Time and Living Another’s Life
The Inner Light is one of the most popular and admired episodes in STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION. It is a poignant tale where Captain Jean-Luc Picard, after an energy beam probe hits him, wakes up to find himself on Kataan, with a wife, Eline, who tells Picard that he is Kamin, an iron weaver recovering from a fever. Picard tells her of his life on the Enterprise, but Eline tries to convince him that his memories were only dreams. Picard begins living his life as Kamin in his village, Ressik, having children with Eline and even learning to play the flute. As years pass, Kamin/Picard begins to notice that the drought on Kataan is being caused by increased radiation from the planet’s sun. The Kataan world is dying. Of course it is Kamin’s memories that are the dream and the Enterprise that is real, but when he awakes, Picard comes to understand that the purpose of the probe was to give life to the memory of Kamin’s race, long after the death of their civilization from the radiation from the planet’s sun. And when the probe is bought on board for analysis, it is found to contain Kamin’s flute, which Picard mastered during his forty years as Kamin. Picard keeps the flute as a memento and continues to play it.
Is this a Time Travel Tale? Yes and no. It’s not Time Tale with a machine with levers and a clock but in one particular way it is a Time Tale as old as human life itself, for its theme is Memory.
Strictly speaking reincarnation stories are not Time Travel Tales, yet there is something about the past life memories explored in ON A CLEAR DAY YOU CAN SEE FOREVER that makes it at least worth mentioning. It tells the story of Daisy (Barbra Streisand) who is a kooky five-pack-a-day chain smoker who goes to psychiatrist Marc Chabot (Yves Montand) for help to kick her smoking habit, only when she does, she becomes unintentionally hypnotized. During this period, it is discovered that Daisy is in fact the reincarnation of Lady Melinda Winifred Waine Tentrees – what a name and what a Lady – a seductive nineteenth century coquette who was born the illegitimate daughter of a kitchen maid. These hypnotic sessions continue, and as they do Chabot begins to fall in love with ‘Lady Melinda’, Daisy’s exotic former self, whereas the present day Daisy begins to fall for Chabot. When Daisy accidentally hears a tape recording of one of her sessions and discovers that Chabot’s interest lies only in Lady Melinda, she runs away.
But all is not lost. The two have one final meeting where Daisy mentions fourteen additional lives, including a future life as ‘Laura’ and her marriage to the therapist in the year 2038. It’s a ‘girl-meets-boy, girl-loses-boy-to-past-life-girl, girl-gets-boy-when-she’s-a-future-girl’ sort of plot. The title song with lyrics by Alan J. Lerner explores that idea in speculative philosophy that it is possible to feel a connection across Time and Space by means of a bond with the cosmos itself:
“On a clear day
Rise and look around you
And you’ll see who you are
On a clear day
How it will astound you
That the glow of your being outshines every star
You’ll feel part of every mountain, sea, and shore
You can hear from far and near a world
You’ve never ever heard before.”
In Requiem for Methuselah, an episode from the original STAR TREK series, Kirk and his party encounter a man who calls himself Flint and claims he was born in 3834 BC, and, after falling in battle, discovered he could not die. Flint says he has lived many ‘lifetimes’ across time, using hundreds of aliases, including Methuselah, Solomon, Alexander, Merlin, Leonardo, and Brahms. “I have married a hundred times, captain,” he goes one, “selected, loved, cherished. Caressed a smoothness, inhaled a brief fragrance. Then age… death… the taste of dust.” That is why, he explains, he built ‘Rayna’, a humanoid robot, to be his immortal mate, but it needed to learn how to love and so he used and manipulated Kirk to achieve this. The themes here are similar to Shakespeare’s THE TEMPEST, with Prospero, the old magician, tiring of life, alone with his young daughter Miranda. In Requiem for Methuselah, as the title suggests, is a reflective fable on mortality and Flint, by the end of the story, has accepted the possibility of death as his fate.
The most curious character in exploring multiple identities across Time has to be Virginia Woolf’s Orlando. ORLANDO: A BIOGRAPHY was first published on 11 October 1928. It is a high-spirited romp inspired by the tumultuous family history of the aristocratic poet and novelist Vita Sackville-West, who was Woolf’s close friend and love. ORLANDO is in part a satire on the history of English literature and in part as well a take on sexual identity. The book describes the adventures of a poet who changes sex from man to woman and lives across many centuries, meeting the key figures of English literary history, some great, some not so great. It’s a study in gender and sex, biological otherwise, and is now one of the key texts when looking at history of transgender identity in the novel.
“Memories / Light the corners of my mind /
Misty watercolor memories / Of the way we were.”
“There are two things you should remember when dealing with parallel universes. One, they’re not really parallel, and two, they’re not really universes.”
THE SWIDGERS – Parallel Worlds, Time Shifts and Duel Existence
The central concept of SWIDGERS is that Time is out of joint. In the Creation Myth of SWIDGERS, the Universe came about when there was a divide of Cosmic Energy into Time, Space and Pure Energy. And Pure Energy, as our own science will tell you, later became Matter and, ultimately, Life. But somewhere in the mix there was a Dark Force that was against the very existence of Life and so put Time and the Universe out of sync, resulting in our imperfect world. But the Cosmos fought back with ‘Swidgers’, whose role is to slowly correct the relationship between Time and Life by slowly altering our human timepaths.
But where does all this leave Time itself? Well, in the Swidger way of thinking, Time is a sentient entity of sorts. However, it’s neutral in its thinking and favours no side over the other. Its primary duty is to avoid too many paradoxes or inconsistencies in Time. That said, Time occasionally allows options to be created. Maybe a time loop or split identity here and there. Even a parallel world. Yet ultimately there can be only one Timestream. And Time itself must eventually choose what that will be.
In book two, THE TIME THEY SAVED TOMORROW, Time does allow a Time Divide and this results in two distinct Timepaths with Split Identities. Later, it is revealed, Time has gone one step further and allowed there to be a Parallel World, but, it is discovered, this is dependent on Time Loop of unspecified duration. And, of course, at some stage Time must choose between these Worlds. But as suggested, Time is more logical than moral. It favours no one side over the other. Yes, it allowed options to be created, but its final choice tends to be based not on right and wrong or who it likes but solely on avoiding those awkward inconsistencies and paradoxes. And so not even Swidgers can be sure exactly what choice Time will make.
What all this means in the narrative itself is that Duel Existence in the same World cannot happen for long. In SIJIPEUSEU: THE MYTH there is the ‘time designation’ rule where if two of the same object are there in same room and then come into contact, they must become one. And a similar rule exists in SWIDGERS. In book two, THE TIME THEY SAVED TOMORROW, there is a Time Split and this results in two Williams and two Grannys. However, existence of double identities in the same place is not possible and so the choice for Time is either to allow them to amalgamate or choose between the existence of one or the other. As it happens, there is a physical connection between both Williams and both Grannys and they do become one and in doing so share each other’s memories and knowledge.
Having two of the same in the same room creates the problem of how the reader or viewer can distinguish between these Duel Identities. Writers and film makers have to come up with practical solutions. For example, in ALICE, the ‘bad’ Park Jin-gyeom has a noticeable rash of red spots. In THE TIME THEY SAVED TOMORROW it just so happens that the William and Granny the reader has been following have just come through a dusty coal-tunnel and so their blacked faces distinguish them from their doppelgangers.
But what of that Parallel World and Time Loop mentioned earlier? The Parallel World which suddenly comes into being as a complete shock to Granny and William, is, it is revealed, a wicked place, and the very survival of their old world is dependent on the continuing existence of a Time Loop. To go into too many details would give away the plot, but it becomes apparent that for William and Granny to get back the world they know they must enter the Time Loop. And even then, Time that world isn’t certain of survival.
“Once you have glimpsed the world as it might be, it is impossible to live anymore complacent in the world as it is.”
“Repeat anything often enough and it will start to become you.”
The Repeated Life
REPLAY by Ken Grimwood is Time Tale where a forty-three year old radio journalist, Jeff Winston, dies of a heart attack in 1988 yet immediately after he does, he suddenly finds himself awake and back in 1963 in his eighteen year old body as a university student. Jeff then begins to relive his life with intact memories of the next twenty-five years, until, despite his best efforts at living healthily, he once more dies of a heart attack in 1988. Yet when he does he again immediately returns to 1963, only this time several hours later than the previous incarnation or ‘replay’. In fact, with each cycle, each ‘beginning’ gets later and later. First it’s days, then weeks, then years, and then decades. And, after numerous cycles, Jeff realises there is little he can do to prevent his own death in 1988, but he can make a difference for the better in the lives of others.
THE FIRST FIFTEEN LIVES OF HARRY AUGUST is a novel by Claire North, a pseudonym of British author Catherine Webb, published in 2014. Harry August is born in a women’s washroom in 1919 and goes on to live a simple and unremarkable life, dying in hospital in 1989. Yet when he dies, Harry, like Jeff, finds himself born again back in 1919 in the same circumstances, and still with the knowledge of his earlier life. Harry discovers through others that he is an Ouroboran or Kalachakra, which is to say someone who is destined to be reborn again and again. In fact there is even a Cronus Club, an organization of similar reborn people, and it is this group of people who then look after Harry for the duration of his childhood in subsequent lives.
In his many ‘lives’ Harry studies the sciences – biology, chemistry and physics – and, with all his accumulated knowledge, Harry August, born poor and in a washroom, becomes a professor of physics at the University of Cambridge. THE FIRST FIFTEEN LIVES OF HARRY AUGUST then is really a story about the possible in all of us. If given the opportunity, we are each capable of so much more that we let ourselves think.
LIFE AFTER LIFE is the 2013 novel (and later television series) written by Kate Atkinson. The tale’s central character is Ursula Todd who repeatedly lives alternate possible lives. She is always born on 11 February 1910 to an upper-middle-class family, but in the first version of her life she is strangled by her own umbilical cord and in others she is drowned at sea, dies from Spanish flu and falls to her death from the roof when trying to retrieve a doll. Eventually, she gets through childhood, but on reaching adulthood Ursula is traumatised by a sexual assault, undergoes an illegal abortion and finds herself trapped in an abusive marriage. In later iterations of Ursula’s life she works for the War Office during the Blitz and is victim to a bomb blast and in another she marries a German in 1934 and experiences Berlin during the allied bombings.
Unlike Jeff and Harry, Ursula does not recognise she is repeating her life. However, eventually comes to realise, through a particularly strong sense déjà vu of other half-remembered existences, she has indeed lived before. As a result, Ursula decides to make changes to the world around her. For example, she tries to prevent the war happening by killing Adolf Hitler. What long term effect this had (or should that be still having) in an alternative timeline is never made clear, for when each time sequence or cycle come to an end, there is only ever “darkness”.
“Twice and thrice over, as they say, good is it to repeat and review what is good.”