Tuesday, January 22, 2013

wanted: time travel stories (and movies)

I'm looking for examples of time travel stories, either written or in movies, in the Oedipus mode. By which I mean ones that utilize the same twist as that Greek myth of creating a fate by the act of trying to prevent it.

In this kind of story, a protagonist goes backwards in time determined to change or prevent a historical event, only to discover, when returning to his or her own time, that all his strenuous efforts managed to do was to create the history he already knew. In other words, the historical timeline at the beginning of the story already included the time traveler's actions, it's just that he hadn't known it.

I am not looking for "Time Patrol" stories, in which secret agents protect the integrity of time by altering or stopping time travelers, or any stories in which events actually change, whether within the original timeline or in an alternate history, regardless of how futile or unexpected those changes might be. The punch of the type of the story I'm looking for comes when the time traveler realizes that the very act of trying to change the past is what created the past that he knows.

I'm sure I've read stories of this kind. I just can't think of them offhand. I actually wrote one like this myself, back my early juvenile days of trying to write SF, but I want something a little better-known, and better-written, than that. Lists of time travel stories are too long to browse conveniently, and often don't have annotations detailed enough to explain what kind of stories they are. I need to tap the power of the human mind to find this.

(PS: The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers would do, in that it's the time traveler's presence which creates the history that he knows, in a way he hadn't expected, but it lacks the essential element of the trip having been for the purpose of preventing it. Also, once he finds himself caught in a historical role, Powers' protagonist accepts the verdict of history and is content to live it out, instead of fighting against it. I want stories in which the protagonist is trying to change history, and fails. Also I'd prefer short stories or movies over novels for my purpose.)

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