It’s about (a disaster in) time

Back in 2011, Italian scientists found neutrinos (ghostly subatomic particles which sound like a tasty corn-based snack) travelling 5,996 metres per second faster than the speed of light. Or so they thought. A bit confused by the result, they’d been checking their sums for some time. But then it turned out Einstein was right – nothing can travel faster than light.

But, imagine for a nanosecond the Italian scientists were right (they weren’t, but let’s stay with this exciting – though disproved – thought), and some neutrinos are moving faster than light particles, could we travel back in time? In some unfathomably distant future, might we finally do it?

Hedging my bets with Einstein, I’d say no. The idea’s riddled with problems. For one thing, if it was possible, surely we’d know about it already? It’s the classic smart-arse riposte.

There’d be Lycra-clad tourists from the 25th century rocking up all over the place, mucking up the space-time continuum for us hapless losers stuck in the present. Just like in that 1992 film Timescape (released on video as The Grand Tour: Disaster in Time).

Ever seen it? Here’s the trailer (worth watching if only for the ‘in a world’ voice over):

Starring Jeff Daniels, who a couple of years later would find fame in Jurassic Park, Timescape is a great little tale that introduces the idea of a cabal of future tourists on a grand tour of historical disasters, whose lives intertwine with Ben Wilson, a widowed guesthouse owner.

It’s a plot to get your mental knickers in a twist – but then that’s the job of just about every time travel story, because it’s based on an alluring but impossible conundrum. Like looking at Escher’s drawing of the Penrose staircase, it’s compelling and beautiful, but it can’t ever make sense.

Timescape‘s got the feel of a superior TV movie, or a particularly good Twilight Zone episode. The future tourists are nicely creepy too, calmly dropping in on doomed past (or present, depending on how you look at it) lives to luxuriate in the exciting preamble to a spectacular disaster before beaming back to their cosy future.

Time travel will forever be a wellspring for storytelling. It’s an endlessly fascinating and metaphysically rich idea to play with, even it can never quite make sense. But whenever did good sense made a great story?

I have one thing to admit with regard to the weighty subject of time travel – to this day, I have never seen Back to the Future. Though a future version of me already has.


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