Intersections: Fantasy and Science Fiction

By George E. Slusser; Eric S. Rabkin | Go to book overview

The Tooth That Gnaws: Reflections on Time Travel

David A. Leiby

The uncertainty of life and one's final lot has always been associated with mutability, while unforseen and uncontrollable change has been linked with time. Time is the tooth that gnaws . . .

-- John Dewey, "Time and Individuality"

Since H. G. Wells' Time Machine appeared in the last decade of the nineteenth century, writers of science fiction and fantasy, writers ranging from Asimov to Zelazny, have used the idea of man being able to travel into the future or into the past bodily as well as mentally to create time travel stories which fall into a variety of categories: stories that use time as an analogue for space; stories that speculate on the nature of time; stories that speculate on the end of man; stories that engage the reader in a mire of paradoxes; stories that speculate on causality by introducing time loops and alternate worlds; and stories that appear to be concerned with providing historical tours. Using the concept of a world in which the characters can travel in time enables writers such as Gerrold and Heinlein to experiment with point of view shifts that do not require any textual signal to the reader, scenes that characterize the protagonist by showing him interacting with one or more manifestations of himself, plots whose circular nature allows for the development of character as the old scientific romances rarely did, and themes that traditional stories can only treat in a metaphysical manner. Moreover, time travel is largely a point of intersection for fantasy and science fiction, because writers of both forms share the same metaphysics and hence the same literary techniques. To demonstrate the similarity of literary techniques in fantasy and science fiction and the dissimilarity of these techniques with those occurring in traditional literature, I shall ana-

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