Does that new science fiction novel have you stumped? Are you having trouble figuring out how to combine character arcs and interstellar travel? Well, let one of science fiction’s greatest authors lend you a hand.
Here are 4 of Orson Scott Card’s Do’s and Don’ts of Time Travel:
1. If you go back in time, you can make any changes you want in the past and you’ll continue to exist, because the very act of traveling in time takes you outside the timestream and removes you from the effects of changes in history. (See Asimov’s The End of Eternity.)
2. If you go back in time, you can make changes that destroy your own society—so time travel is a closely guarded secret, and those who travel in time are only the most skilled and trusted people. Perhaps they are sent to rescue great works of art that have been lost for centuries. Or perhaps, as in John Varley’s classic “Air Raid” (published under the pseudonym Herb Boehm), these time travelers are rescuing people from airplanes that are about to crash or ships that are about to go down with no survivors, so they can force these healthy people to colonize planets and save humanity from extinction in a hideously polluted future.
3. If you go back in time far enough, any changes you make won’t have major effects in your own time, because history has a kind of inertia and tends to get itself back on track. So if you kill Napoleon as a baby, France still has an early-nineteenth-century empire and a protracted war with England, and by 1900 everything is right back where it would have been.
4. If you go back in time, you are only able to make changes that have no long-term effects, since any universe in which you change your own future could not exist.
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