Time Travel with Politics, and Notes on Lebensdauer
I added another story to the Choice Vignettes!
Before I begin, I want to note that while the author might dead, I can still have opinions. And, generally, I would know more than you about these opinions. I also might have used these opinions while writing the thing.
The title is inspired by the old German propaganda phrase Lebensraum. It means habitat, or ‘living room’. Space in which to live. Basically the Nazis used it to explain why they needed so much of other countries’ land, and starve so many of the lower classes. (If you starve enough people, you enter a surplus! It’s like winning arguments by exploiting dictionaries, but with people’s lives.)
Dauer means duration, which seemed the most appropriate thing coupled with room. Time might be better coupled with space, but Lebenszeit doesn’t sit right with me. I don’t know German, so possibly I’ve made a horrible mistake here.
Anyway, time travel with politics.
Hitler has a time travel exemption act, which means that if you’re writing time travel, you have to clarify why exactly your characters don’t go back in time to kill Hitler. Adolf Hitler, that is, if that was not clear. Unless your story actually centers around murdering Hitler (see: Lebensdauer) writers often feel they have to at least nod in that direction.
Now, it could be that you’ve got a time travel authority that keeps track of all the time travel – presumably by existing in a time-time, which is something I will define if you really want me to – and this authority has a moral obligation to protect history. Or to protect the natural order of things. Maybe time travel always leads to a Niven loop that annihilates itself, and this is how progress disappears – maybe that’s how Hitler came to in the first place: the universe propelling science into the direction of war, and not time, machines. Or maybe, I don’t know, Hitler actually runs the time travel authority and we need to preserve his past.
(Tangent: how creepy would it be if I referred to him as Adolf the whole time?)
Maybe someone demonstrates the butterfly effect. Maybe you’ve got some actual chronomics in there, and you can’t go back in time very far. Maybe the time machine is unreliable and prone to depression and only goes to nice stretches of time because it knows how it gets – it just refuses to land in a war or near bad people. Maybe you need a Weimar-era German passport to meet Hitler and gosh, you just don’t know any good enough forgers. Hell, maybe the people who travel in time are all evil, rich tourists, and dinosaur fetishists. The list goes on.
I once wrote a story in which nazism was actually needed to travel through time – it was simply a function of a certain neural pattern only achievable by nazism. naturally, the Pope (Ratzinger, I mean) showed up at the scientists’ doorstep and wanted to learn about it. He said he was reaching out to the science community, and then he disappeared from time and killed the most famous Jew of all: Jesus Christ.
Maybe the person with the power gets really nervous about meeting famous people and– no that’s enough, stop it. Just stop.
Anyway – once you’ve dealt with why they don’t fix the 40’s, you now don’t have to spend more time dwelling on the ramifications of time travel: clearly you’ve considered it. But if you actually have unlimited time travel, shouldn’t you be morally obligated to fix things? Having unlimited time travel at your disposal would be a heavy burden, if you stopped to think about it. Kind of like having omniscience, but less reliable.
I don’t think time travel exists. I think people who write time travel into stories should be more creative about it. I feel kind of bad for writing about it, adding another Hitler story to the pile, even though I was clever. I also feel bad for having the urge to write the infinite list of why we will not kill Hitler – and to remedy this I need to write something more clever, is all.
Good post, but what do you mean by “people who write time travel into stories should be more creative about it”? Are you referring to the plethora of kill hitler stories or the fact that most fictional time travels seem to be just tourists?
(Edited this comment because there were lots of unnecessary words.)
Basically: I would like to not ever read a story in which Hitler time travel is brought up, but the rest of the moral quandaries about time travel are ignored.
Does that make sense?
(P.S. I understood it more from your comment before you edited it)
You said that you would accept recommendations for fictions that have a focus on time travel; one you’ve probably heard of is Primer, although that uses a diffferent kind of time travel to what you talk about in your article.
Ah, sorry about that. I got self-conscious about wordspewing and couldn’t discern meaning from it myself.
I’ve heard of Primer and it is on my ‘will be watched’ list. The Time Traveller’s Wife sounds exciting, too, though I haven’t the faintest clue what it’s about.