“Any real body must have extension in four directions: it must have Length, Breadth, Thickness, and – Duration.” ~ H.G. Wells, The Time Machine, 1895
The grandfather paradox is such a morbid thought question. And even as a scientist I’ll be the first to admit scientists and science fiction writers can conjure some pretty dark humor from time to time (see: Cat, Schrödinger’s). But have you ever really thought about the meaning of the grandfather paradox? It means you go back in time and murder your own grandfather before he has a chance to bring your parent into the world. Is that messed up, or what?
The paradox itself is pretty simple: If you dispose of one of your forefathers before you’ve been conceived, then how can you even exist in order to go back in time and commit the crime in the first place? After all, one of your parents was never born, so how could you have been? The paradox has other names, of course, and there are various ways “around” the problem that have been explored to death, as it were, but think about the human part of this for a second. I think that that’s something lost in a lot of science fiction literature.
My own grandfather wasn’t killed, thankfully. He passed away in 1975 while working on a storm door on the back porch. He was sitting there on the decking, cross-legged, screwdriver in hand, trying to fasten a hinge. He simply fell over sideways and … died. There are worse ways to go.
Granddaddy was a good-humored man. Thin, balding, long-faced and mellow, he was the epitome of the easy-going Southern working man, a true shade-tree mechanic who actually did work on cars under the shade of … a tree … an oak, to be exact. But as that shade started to get long, and the wet Alabama heat started to fritter away, he’d retire to his front porch, a sweaty glass of sweetened iced tea in hand. As a youngster, I’d sit next to him, watching cars and pedestrians pass on the street out front.
One time a man sporting blue jeans and a white T-shirt moseyed by on the sidewalk.
My grandfather nodded, said, “There he goes.”
I tilted my head. “Who?”
Granddaddy pointed. “Him.”
“You know him?” I said.
He never answered. He just cracked a wry smile and sipped his tea. Later in life I learned the expression “there he goes” is slang from my grandparents’ generation, a form of martini dry humor from folks born around 1900.
Now, fast forward to 2012. Suppose I rewired the DeLorean or phone booth in my backyard. If I turn its knobs and dials so it’s ready for a flight to 1969, Earth, North America, United States, Alabama (I’m sure there’s an app for that) I just might find myself strolling along that same roadway, prompting my own grandfather to nod at the older me, so he could then tell the younger me, “There he goes.” And he’d be right.
My point here is to offer advice: All of the time travel paradoxes are well-known, and if you try to explain those logical twists and contortions in your fiction, you’re going to bore your reader. If you want to write time travel fiction (and I urge you to do so) you need to embrace the element that binds all good fiction: character. Without it, why would we write in the first place?
I’ve got my blue jeans on. Now, where’d I put that white T-shirt?
Copyright © 2012 Alan Keith Parker. The content of this blog is copyrighted across all time and space.