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Syfy (ended 2015)

Since we’re in the final throes of the dog days of summer, I thought it would be nice to talk about the rules of time travel. What are the rules of time travel? Well, there really aren’t any, are there? The reason for this is that time travel in our universe is not empirically possible. This is a fact – at least for now – because the laws of physics say so. So why are we all so fascinated with something that’s simply not possible? We all seem to have a favorite time travel story, whether it be a novel, a movie, a short story or a TV show. I think “Continuum” is the best topical thing to come along since “Fringe” ended.

Some of us may think time travel has rules, but I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t. We know that all time travel is fictional, so can’t we derive the rules from the stories that have been written? Well, yes we can, in a way. Through the process of elimination, we should be able to discern the rules. For instance; if you could time travel, could you go back in time and have a discussion with yourself? J J Abrams says we can, in his 2009 movie Star Trek, wherein Mr. Spock meets his younger self and does exactly that. But wait – Peter Cornel
says we can’t, in his 2005 “Doctor Who” episode, “Father’s Day”. Well, that’s not exactly true either, because he did make it possible in that story – but with terrible repercussions. When Rose Tyler inadvertently saves her father Pete from dying in a car accident back in 1983 (where she has been brought by The Doctor, but only to say a proper goodbye and NOT to interfere), mystical reapers then flood the world, as time strives to repair itself, forcing the Doctor and Rose to take refuge in a church. The Doctor then warns Rose not to
get too close to her baby self, or things will get even worse.

Rose tries very hard to stay away, but when fate steps in and her baby self is thrust into her arms by her mother, all Hell breaks loose. A reaper breaches the church and quickly gobbles up The Doctor and the TARDIS – and they can only be saved by Rose’s father sacrificing himself by dying in the street as he was meant to do in the first place. But
what if Pete had not been brave and loving enough to make that sacrifice?

So basically, we cannot discern the rules of time travel from the vast number of stories written, because they all differ depending on their authors.

There is only one actual rule of time travel, and it came about quite naturally. Basically, the author can create whatever time travel rules he wants – but thereafter, he must adhere to whatever boundaries he has created and set down, and he must do that consistently throughout his story. And let me tell you, this ain’t easy, because of all of the
possibilities that are created when you toss the laws of physics out the window in the first place. In both of the examples given, there is the possibility that the older person could have either accidently or intentionally killed his or her younger self—and yes, I do realize that the two Spocks are from two separate timelines and not actually the same person. But it was Spock who once said, “A difference which makes no difference is no difference.”

There are all kinds of time travel stories, beginning as early as 1733 with Memoirs
of the Twentieth Century
, a novel by Samuel Madden, depicting letters from the late 1990’s. Time travel stories have been a most popular sub-genre of science fiction for a very long time, and with each new offering the rules seem to get more complicated. There is the concept used on the TV show “Lost” that says “Whatever happened, happened,” and it cannot be changed. This concept is based on the idea that if someone goes back in time to change an outcome, then that’s exactly what happened in the first place; which begs the question – then how did they know what the problem was, and that it needed fixing?

There are other concepts based on “The Butterfly Effect”, in which people travel backwards in time to change history – because wouldn’t it be nice if we could somehow erase the Holocaust, or 9/11, or perhaps a World War or two?

This brings us to our community, and the Canadian TV show “Continuum”, which has not as yet tipped its hand as to which of these two roads it will take. “Continuum” is highly complex, and has so many variables and players involved that the idea of bending the past to one’s will seems impossible, no matter how smart one is. With every new twist and turn, the writers take the risk of compounding mistakes in logic that is only pseudo-logic in the first place. But it’s their boldness that keeps us coming back for more. The very best time travel story I’ve ever experienced is the essentially seventy-five hour TV movie that was “Fringe”, which also had very bold concepts, and some of the best characters ever conceived. “Continuum” is getting better and better as it moves forward, and I think it will be right up there when it’s all said and done.

It was “Fringe”, however, that inspired me to write about time travel, and which is responsible for my new book, A Brief History of Time Travel. I attended Comic-Con 2013 in an effort to promote the book, and actually got to put a face to the name Jen Trolio (TV.com’s managing editor) and JT_Kirk (ardent TV fan and now compadre), to both of whom I gave copies of the book. I also gave Jen one for Mary Ann, because I really like her, and enjoy her reviews of “Continuum”—and anything else she writes. If you want to read more about the history of time travel, you can visit my site, www.historyoftimetravel.com where you’ll find many links to all-time favorite time travel stories. There is also a forum where you can discuss this fascinating topic – because when it comes to time travel there are no right or wrong answers, only an ever-increasing amount of mind-blowing questions.

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Thought I would post a very good and current article on the possibilities of time travel: http://news.yahoo.com/wormhole-best-bet-time-machine-astrophysicist-says-132706626.html
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I think Lost did time travel the best. Whenever you get into the territory of changing the future and whatnot, you open yourself up to paradoxes and plot errors. In Lost, whatever happened happened. Any shows that try otherwise inevitably fail. Fringe did a decent job with their time travel but there were still gaps of logic. I love Fringe (a lot) but there were just a few little things with all those resets that required...stretching of the imagination. On Continuum, I'm not convinced that they actually can change the future. Everyone's operating under the assumption that they can (it would be boring if they weren't!) but I haven't seen hard proof yet. So I'm skeptical.
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I really like Continuum's time travel rules because they have a "grounded" approach to the paradoxes. I always find it ridiculous when "time" corrects itself and whatnot. If the time traveler kills his parents he continues to exist - as a paradox. So what, the time traveler IS a paradox already me thinks. If he's able to get back to his present he no longer exists ... on paper only. Big deal.
Wouldn't it be funny if the time traveler, whatever he does in any time, always travels back to his unchanged future/present? And then goes crazy about it?
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Staff

I am partial to the Looper rules of Time Travel.
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I haven't seen that one yet, is it good?
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Yes but watch it twice. First watch for aesthetics/action, second time to figure out how time travel works in the film lol.
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Okay, I'll give it a go.
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I watched it and it was pretty good. A few things: 1) The idea that time travel is the most efficient way to dispose of bodies in 30 years is a bit absurd, especially with all the machinations involved. 2) Plot holes you could drive a starship through--paradoxes up the wazoo. 3) what was up with the guy who started losing parts of his body? 4) The time shift do-overs didn't make much sense. 5) The lack of concern about what a 30 years older version of yourself thinks. If teenagers would listen to their parents it would make life easier for all concerned, but to not listen to yourself seems mega-stupid. 6) Not killing that kid made no sense at all, even for dear old mom--he was the anti-Christ at a dead minimum.

All this aside it was a pretty good story with lots to think about. Are we left to think that mom would nurture this boy and make the world a better place?
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I tend to think of time travel like the same way I do shows with vampires and werewolves, the show creates its own rules. And, well, as with umpires and referees, just stay consistent and no one will really complain. My problem is when the show tries and overthinks itself to death (Lost, sometimes you did this to yourself) and suddenly respects paradoxes when it didn't before. I do like the basic idea that you can't change your own history because you wouldn't be there to go back and change it in the first place, but then I am also fine with the new timeline argument. It is actually what makes Continuum interesting, both us and the characters have no idea. I mean, Kellogg should have ceased to exist. And I like that it appears Alec and Kiera are both getting to the point where they throw up their hands at the issue (Alec more so, obviously) so that when a new person comes in they just can't answer. It is sort of what is interesting about the freelancers, if this is what they are, and are actually from a time further than Kiera and, well, most of the Liber8 members. I have no idea if that is true, but it would be interesting to know if they came into existence sheerly because of the 2077 people arriving (because Escher was around right away).
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The most blatant disregard for the butterfly effect was definitely The Terminator. They didn't care how much havoc they wreaked on the past...
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There was no need for any regards on both sides. This is what made it so great: the fatalism of the apocalyptic future dictated the almost complete loss of reason to hold back. But they kinda address it in the second film when John forbade any further killing and I wasn't the only one thinking: "What the hell - they gonna die anyways!". lol
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Hey Murderboy! I will make sure to visit your site, sounds very interesting!
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We travel through time every day - just always in the same direction.
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I am a huge time travel fan. I was curious what you thought was one of the best time travel movies/tv series to date? A few shows I enjoyed were Journeyman, Early Edition (not technically time travel but kinda), Quantum Leap, Fringe, I enjoy Continuum as well. Movies are BTTF trilogy, Butterfly Effect, Deja Vu. I would love to chat more about time travel with you
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Early Edition definitely qualifies.
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Lost was a huge fave of mine as well
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Well if you want to talk about time travel, Continuum has 'tipped it's hand' as you put it. However it pretty much the last line of the final episode that does it, but as the entire US seems to have traveled back in time by about 3 weeks.....
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Yeah, I haven't gotten to that point yet. Can't wait to see how this season turns out. I'm betting on the path that leads to being able to change the past, because, logically the whatever happened, happened thing kind of puts a damper on the whole deal. Last line, you say, no take-backs?
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The line at the end of the show "We'll we've fixed this timeline" (or it was something pretty similar, it was a while ago) the implication being there is also that timeline over there and all these other timelines that the Freelancers aren't too concerned about.
And thing that you saw every week was the opening titles, not the bit with the voice-over just that little bit where the O in Contimuum splits in two.
Kiera hasn't just travelled back in time she's also moved to a parallel universe that's about 99.9% the same as hers. If she goes to when\where she left then nothing will have changed but if she stays where she is, then Kiera might be able to alter this alternate future
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Maybe not the absolute last line, but near the end of the last scene there an almost throw-away line that, for my money at least, gives a pretty strong suggestion of how time travel works in Continuum especially when combine with something that's been staring everybody in the face for every episode.
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And what would that be? I've already seen the last ep. so don't worry about spoilers...
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Time travel is theoretically possible according to modern math and physics theory, but only forward in time, not back. But for a writer of fiction, the only rule of time travel you have to follow (to be a good writer) is that you either do not create a paradox (stopping your parents from getting married, et al.), or if you do create said paradox, they must at least try to explain it in some semi scientific way that lends it an air of probability.
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there are theories allowing time travel to the past, but not to a point before the invention of the time machine. basically create a wormhole keep one end stationary the other end travel at near light speed. time passes at different rates at both ends so if you pas through it from the future end you will end up in the past.
only party spoiler Stephen Hawkins claims that if you were able to create this time tunnel there will be an energy feedback that will collapse the wormhole.
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If time travel follows the rules of physics it has to follow cause and effect. There is still a lot of possibility though. Like how time travel works in Back to the Future II or the new Star Trek. Whenever you change something, it starts a new independent timeline but the time traveler remains unaffected by the changes between timelines(both can continue to exist as alternate realities).

Or you have single timeline universes where you either never change anything because what has and will happen has already been determined or any changes cause a ripple effect that alter the past and future of the time traveler. The first one is the one I actually believe because with separate timelines there would be an infinite number of them which seems like travel to a certain point in space and time would be nearly impossible(also similar to the Farscape concept of unrealized reality) and with the ripple effect theory there is no explanation to what happens if there is a paradox(large earthquakes in the future like Millennium?). The single timeline, deterministic theory is also the simplest, nothing changes, and usually in science the correct theory is the least complex.

So far the only thing we know from Continuum is that it is possible to change things (they prevented several murders), killing your ancestors might not affect the time travelers (depending on if it was Kellog's grandmother who died), and there is a group of people who try to prevent changes to the past, the freelancers. The biggest clue is the timecop like freelancers since they are experienced in time travel and think they have to preserve the continuum. If there were multiple timelines or no possible change at all, you wouldn't need to prevent changing the past because it either wouldn't happen or you wouldn't notice it because you would always be in your original timeline as long as you never traveled backwards. Or the freelancers could be totally wrong or trying to create a future they want like how Kiera is trying to make sure everything is the same so she can have her life back in 2077.
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Time travel is impossible as much is God impossible, believe it or not, see it or not, it's up to you.
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An interesting thought. I've often wondered if there was a God, could he time travel. Time is the fourth dimension. If you have a table with three dimensions and you leave it, and come back in say an hour, most likely that table will still be right where you left it. It is because it traveled in time as we know it, but who's to say if that table which existed an hour ago still exists in some physical form an hour before. Time is not necessarily a physical place that is even possible to visit.
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Muderboy, God doesn't need to time travel. He exists outside of time (and space as well), thus the assertion that He transcends both space and time. He "sees" everything and everywhere all at once. If He could not, He wouldn't be God.
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I love this subject... I really need to give Fringe a second chance having never re-visited it after the first few episodes where it was seemingly just a crime procedural with sci-fi elements.

I find it interesting that time travel is being used increasingly in TV as a way to juggle complicated, intersecting storylines for many characters. It's a degree of difficulty higher than most movies, which often minimize characters and plots so as not to get tripped up in time travel logic. I wrote a half-assed college paper on movies embracing time travel of late, but I could definitely see a book on the subject as a fun read.

Btw, some lesser known movies worth watching if you're into time travel - Timecrimes and Primer. Both are available on Netflix, with Primer now available in all sorts of ways.
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TimeCrimes and Primer were boring and low budget.
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Primer was made for the astronomical price of 7000 bucks and it's certainly not for everyone--you have to watch it at least ten times to figure out what's going on and sub-titles really help as the dialog is muddled badly. Timecrimes was brilliant, but as far as I know it's only available in Spanish, so if you speak Spanish, or don't mind sub-titles, you should definitely give it a go.
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Yep, I watched the subtitled version on Netflix. Highly recommended!
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Fringe was not just a rip-off of the X-Files--which was also very good--but a long and very compelling story. As good as Fringe is, it's even better the second time around because there's just so much going on and once you know what's going on, you see much more of it.
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Agreed! The second time around is much more fulfilling.
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The rules are what the writers choose them to be.
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I've always liked the time travel concept introduced by Lost: you can change the past but the Universe always course correct itself, just like nature it will always find the way.

Its the small details that matter; to say goodbye to someone you didn't like Miles Straume does with his father, to watch the girl you love grow up like Daniel did with Charlotte, or recognize the innocence in your mortal enemy like Sawyer did with little Ben Linus.
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Well obviously the number one rule of time travel is.. if you mess with the past..it will change the present you know. Prepare for the repercussions..whether it results in the destruction of Vulcan instead of Romulus..or if mystical Reapers.. reap everyone lol... You mess with something... it will cause a ripple effect.

I don't know if this is a.. don't do anything kinda rule. But it is something that should be remembered should you go back in time..to say hi to your baby self :)
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One of the best time travel stories i liked was Lightning, by Dean Koontz... the concept that you can only travel into the future because the future is not set in stone, whereas you cannot change anything that has already happened. This concept even applied to the traveler himself as once he visited a spot in the future, he could not return to that very spot again, though it was possible to send something else there in his place. I enjoy the concept of doctor who as well, though sometimes i think they break there own rules, though the doctor has always said there are fixed points that cannot be changed and that time itself will fix any mistakes made during the travel. My favorite theory though is that one can travel forward and backward but once one does the traveler himself cannot be changed, he will remain in existance and outside of the effects of any changes he makes. Even accidently killing him own parents, he would remain but no one in his own time would know who he is.
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Yes, Lightning was one of my favorite novels too.
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my favorite time travel event is from Charles Stross Iron sunrise. Were an unknown entity scoops the heart out of a star, drops it in a pocket universe were time passes by really really really fast. The star eventually after trillions of years turns in a iron core at that point the entity puts it back in the heart of the star in our universe were only a couple minutes have past. The star collapses on the iron core and explodes.
As you can imagine a few people died in the event and survivors are out for revenge.

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Good article. Thanks for putting your thoughts out there. Well done on your book too! One day maybe the whole time travel thing will actually somehow make sense. :) In the meantime I'll keep enjoying this beautiful music that fills a deep craving for anything scifi.
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