The Logistics of Time Travel and Me's A Crowd : A "What if" Question:

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1 Dec11th Feb 2011 11:23:51 PM from The Dance Floor
Stayin' Alive
I'm not sure if this would fit in better in Writer's Block or OTC, but since its technically for a story, I'll put it here for now.

So, I have a character who develops the ability to travel through time and duplicate themselves, and a story that centers mainly on the insane logistics of dealing with both at the same time in a stable time loop. Lets go through the facts, shall we?

  • The MC is basically a teenaged superhero Clark Kenting his way through life. He has other powers besides time travel, which is where the Me's a Crowd comes from. However, I'm not sure if he'll start the story with the ability to clone himself or not, and at most he will only be able to create one or two duplicates by the distant end of the story, which would be at least a year later.

  • Story starts when MC develops New Super Power to jump through time. On his own, the MC could go forward, backward, and perhaps even sideways into alternate timelines. At first its only across seconds, minutes, or hours, but later on its implied that he could even jump to different months and even years.

  • Time Travel is insanely dangerous to learn how to control. Seriously, use your imagination. Grandfather paradoxes, alternate timelines, the butterfly effect, etc., etc., so on and so forth. The effects of Timey-Wimey Ball is fully possible, though it will only be rarely touched on inside of the story for obvious reasons. This isn't helped by the fact that he isn't completely aware at the beginning that he's doing it.

  • Time travel isn't new or unique — just rare and regulated. In particular, there is an All-Powerful Bystander who also has control over time, and can also see the future in all the time lines. The MC is this guy's responsibility.

  • Mr. All-Powerful Bystander gives the MC a device to control these powers. For all intents and purposes, think of it as a time turner. You can only use it to go back into a stable time loop, but it also removes many of the problems associated with the powers by themselves, and you can also completely control how far back you go and when you go.

  • The MC has experience with how badly messing with reality is, and has met Mr. All-Powerful Bystander before. This includes incidents where he's made it so he was never born, traveled to the distant future, dealt with Reality Warpers, and a lot of other very, very weird circumstances. The MC is on friendly terms with Mr. All-Powerful Bystander.

  • The MC must use these powers to go back at least X amount of time during the day/week/month/whatever. With the device to control his time travel powers, he's now basically a pressure cooker — the powers build up, and if its not let out in a controlled release, there's a safety mechanism that will throw him back on its own. This is not the sort of thing you want happening when you're trying to keep a secret.

  • Other people aware of time travel must not know what he is doing. Back to the time turner thing, you know how Harry and Ron would notice Hermione disappearing and talking to teachers who's classes she shouldn't be taking? Yeah, imagine if someone else was acting similarly after the end of third year — it is perfectly possible for them to then figure it out. Because of the nature of the setting, the MC can not just let that happen, even when playing hero, and is perfectly aware of this despite having no clue who would and would not notice the signs.

  • The device is unique and cannot be completely duplicated, but can be made to effect more than one person. So, while the duplicates cannot time travel on their own, they will not suddenly disappear from the time stream randomly because they don't have it. They can also hitch rides with any version of the original they come in contact with.

That is the gist of the idea. I'm already aware of the logistics behind plotting and writing an idea like this, so that's not my question. What I want to know is, if you're likely to have to talk to and interact with different versions of yourself, all from who-knows-when and who-knows-where, and have to deal with multiple versions of events floating through your head from both your copies and your time travel, how would you deal with it? What system do you think you'd use to try and keep everything straight, if you where in the same position as the MC?

I'm pretty sure that coming up with a "perfect" system for this situation is impossible, so don't worry about that. I'm just really curious what other people would come up with.

edited 11th Feb '11 11:36:08 PM by Dec

Nemo enim fere saltat sobrius, nisi forte insanit
If he's essentially traveling to alternate universes (at different points in time), then things should be slightly easier to adjust to than it would be with a single timeline. I imagine he'd initially expect his alternate selves to be just like him until he runs into one that very much isn't. After that, he might get a little paranoid, or even start questioning which reality he belongs to. Kinda like Inception, only the other people around you are all real.

Thing is, the Me's a Crowd power opens up some interesting philosophical questions. Are the copies generated by his power complete persons, and if so, how do they view the "original"? And does he see them as people, or as tools?

And Time Travel only runs into hiccups when it's written without enough thought. If you can't keep your time travel rules consisent, your story will simply not make sense from any perspective.

Here's a few places where people run into trouble with Time Travel:
  • Meanwhile, in the Future...: That is, don't treat the different periods of time like they are different places at the same time.
    • EX: While in the past, Hero injures someone who exists in the "present". In the "present", that person sees the wounds magically appear on their bodies.
      • Problem: Why did the wounds take X years to appear? Shouldn't the injured character have always had them in the new timeline?
  • Missing Alternate Selves: If the hero goes back in time, changes something that doesn't prevent his birth, and then returns to the present, there should be another version of himself that grew up in the new timeline (unless the alternate self explicitly died or something).
  • Paradoxes: A true paradox, by its very definition, is impossible. Not just impossible in the way that, say, superpowers are impossible, but in the way that "it is red but it's not red". It's a plot hole, simply put. Also, the Timey-Wimey Ball trope refers to time travel in stories that does not make sense. It's a trope to be avoided much like an Informed Attribute.

edited 12th Feb '11 12:36:32 AM by RTaco

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