Have I ever mentioned how much I hate time travel stories?
Okay, there’s Doctor Who, but that treats time the same way Star Trek treats space: it’s a way of getting between adventures. And it never really treats its time travel very seriously anyway, and that’s usually the only way I can stomach time travel plots.
It isn’t that time travel makes for bad stories, it’s more that you need a really good writer to avoid turning a time travel story into one, huge, horrible, gaping plot hole. It’s especially bad when TV writers get their hands on the idea. I have never seen time travel done on TV, seriously, in any manner worth watching. It’s kind of annoying. Films don’t generally do better. I think the problem is that it’s really hard to write something involving time travel, that’s the typical kind where the time travellers are changing things, where you don’t need degrees in physics and philosophy to put it all together without making it sound stupid.
Let’s take the classic one as an example. It’s been used in a fair number of books and films, and it’s the basis for many more. Ray Bradbury’s A Sound of Thunder. I know, venerable science fiction author, big deal. I shouldn’t be going there, but… it just makes no damn sense. Time travel is used by people with more money than sense to go back in time so that they can hunt dinosaurs. They must be very careful not to change anything important (they hunt dinosaurs which are going to die soon after anyway) because tiny changes can cause unforeseen and massive changes back in the present. Someone steps on a butterfly and the world changes. Frequently the story is represented as bringing the dinosaurs back, but that’s not what actually happens in the original story, just in many of the remakes.
So, what’s the problem? Well, in the original story the changes are too subtle, or too extreme, depending on your point of view. Human society has been changed by the death of a single butterfly. Even assuming large-scale chaos theory-type conditions, changes to human society are too subtle while the probability that humans would be wiped out, along with the time travel system seems both unlikely and yet more realistic. If you switch it and bring the dinosaurs back, well, that’s beyond ludicrous: the dinosaurs were wiped out by large-scale climate change, possibly involving a huge meteorite impact: if you can stop a space rock hitting Earth by stepping on a butterfly… Well, just no.
Other plots tend to leave gaping holes, or be illogical. I’ve been enjoying The Flash recently. Good series, I like it. However, the time travel stuff thus far has had more holes in it than I care to think about. What got me into writing this post was a film I just watched on Netflix called ARQ. That features a Groundhog Day-style time loop, but it’s done very seriously and those only ever work played for laughs. (For the record, Xena and Stargate SG1 have done Groundhog Day episodes that I thoroughly enjoyed, but they were played for laughs, which is the w I like it.) Also, I was discussing time travel stories with a friend recently and I mentioned that I had written a time travel story once and I had reread it very recently…
And that gets me to the Gunwitch. She was a character I created for the Going Rogue supplement to the City of Heroes MMO. As with many of the characters I created for that game, bits of her have made it into my books, but I did a lot of pretty good stuff for Gunny and I was reminded of her recently. She was definitely one of my favourite characters and I decided that I was going to bring her back from video game oblivion. The setting had to change, of course, which does change the character a little, but I can get pretty much all that Gunwitch goodness out. Assuming nothing goes wrong – and it’s going pretty well so far – the first book will be out November/December and will be called Gunwitch: Rebirth for two reasons, one in-continuity and the other because I’m bringing her back for the book.
And one of the Gunwitch stories I won’t be doing again, sadly, is one I called Murder in the Orchard. In that one our plucky heroine is sent back in time to 1927 to investigate a string of mysterious murders which happened in an English country village. They know they have to send her back because (drum roll) they have a picture of her taken in 1927 at one of the crime scenes, so she has already investigated the crimes, she just needs to get there to do it. It was a closed loop time travel story; going back in time was simply fulfilling history which was known to have happened. It’s one of the few kinds of time travel plot I can handle without my teeth itching. Plus… I really wanted to write an English cosy mystery story with a sci-fi element…
Anyway, another wall of text there, I feel you deserve a picture so here’s the latest concept art for the Gunwitch. There will be more about her later, but that’s what you’re getting for now.