Practical Time Travel: A can of worm(hole)s

Thinking about time travel can drive you nuts. I’m currently writing my fourth Reeves & Worcester Steampunk Mystery, The Aunt Paradox (think Grandather paradox then quiver) and I’m practically certifiable.

First you have to decide on your time travel model. Do you go parallel world – which allows any change to the timeline to be explained by the creation of a new separate timeline which branches off from the original. It’s neat, easy to envisage and explain, but…

It didn’t fit what I wanted. I’m writing humour after all, and Wodehouse stories revel in confusion and people masquerading as someone else. What better catalyst for this than an ever-changing timeline.

But it’s a devil to plot.

Most time travel stories gloss over the difficult bits – for very good reasons. If you opt for the model where there’s a single universe but the timeline can be changed, you open up a can of worms. Take the classic ‘go back in time to kill evil dictator’ plot. The time traveller zaps back in time, kills the dictator, returns to the present and … what?

Everything will have changed. No one will remember sending him on the mission to kill the dictator as the dictator died years ago. The chances are the traveller’s somewhere else on the planet doing a completely different job. And there are now two of him in the same timeline – with different memories. The only way a time travel project like that can function is if the changes to the timeline are minimal and the team are somehow shielded from the timeline change so they can remember the original timeline.

Then there’s the multiple object question. If I go back to the past and retrieve a family heirloom – a necklace – and bring it to the present, with the intention of returning it, will I have two identical necklaces in the present? Could I do this again and again? Could I have a hundred necklaces collected from different times? After all I’m going to return them to the exact time I took them from so the timeline will not be altered.


The writer’s dilemma is how to use this confusion comedically without losing the reader on the first page. And to keep the story self-consistent.

I’m hoping I can pull it off.

Chris Dolley is an English author living in France with a frightening number of animals. His novelette, What Ho, Automaton! has just been announced as a finalist for the WSFA Small Press Award for short fiction. More information about his other work can be found on his BVC bookshelf .
An Unsafe Pair of Handsa quirky murder mystery set in rural England charting the descent and rise of a detective on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Which will break first? The case, or DCI Shand?
Medium Dead – a fun urban fantasy chronicling the crime fighting adventures of Brenda – a reluctant medium – and Brian – a Vigilante Demon with an impish sense of humour. Think Stephanie Plum with magic and a dash of Carl Hiaasen.
What Ho, Automaton! – Wodehouse Steampunk. Follow the adventures of Reggie Worcester, consulting detective, and his gentleman’s personal gentle-automaton, Reeves. It’s set in an alternative 1903 where an augmented Queen Victoria is still on the throne and automata are a common sight below stairs. Humour, Mystery, Aunts and Zeppelins!
French Fried true crime, animals behaving badly and other people’s misfortunes. Imagine A Year in Provence with Miss Marple and Gerald Durrell.
International Kittens of Mystery. If you like a laugh and looking at cute kitten pictures this is the book for you. It’s a glance inside the International Kittens of Mystery – the only organisation on the planet with a plan to deal with a giant ball of wool on a collision course with Earth.?




Practical Time Travel: A can of worm(hole)s — 3 Comments

  1. Wodehouse reveals his genius so very slyly–in his amazing plotting, and in his distinctive voice. Both he made look so effortless, but really, they are marvels. Trying to emulate that, and adding time travel . . . wow.

  2. It’s been my observation that comic time-travel stories feature in universes where it turns out that whatever it was you did, was exactly the way that was needed for history to turn out the way it was meant to.

  3. Fforde uses Funny Time Travel to good effect in THE EYRE AFFAIR–and I’d love read more books like that. The whole ‘went back in time to kill dictator, now the whole time line’s changed’ could be very comic indeed–especially if he works for a secret service rather like the one in Eric Frank Rusell’s WASP.