Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Time Travel (Part I)

Having recently faced a milestone birthday, where I have officially entered a decade that has always seemed "old" to me, I have decided to travel back in time and not be "old" anymore. However, since I can't seem to find a time machine on Craigslist, I will do the next best thing… explore the possibilities of time travel in the world of literature!

There are plenty of options, where characters use machines, time warps, magic talismans, self-hypnosis, or just the power of a wish, to enter the world of the past.

Reverse Aging

Since I’m really seeking a way to reverse the aging process, we’ll begin with the theme of “reverse aging.” In Margaret Peterson Haddix’s Turnabout, Melly and Anny Beth, very old residents of a nursing home, are selected to participate in an experiment. They are given an injection to make them grow younger! The experiment works, but they learn that the process can’t be stopped, and they will eventually reverse in age to infancy and whatever comes before infancy.

In Sean Greer’s The Confessions of Max Tivoli, Max is born in 1871, and while he is mentally a child, physically he is in the body of an old man. He proceeds to age backwards physically as his mind matures. He meets the love of his life when they are both physically teens (while he is actually 73), and tries to win her love throughout the novel. This may remind you of the more popular The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, which was actually a short story written by F. Scott Fitzgerald, and made into a movie with Brad Pitt.

In Robert Sawyer’s Rollback, an 87-year-old scientist living in the future receives a radio transmission from an alien culture, and knows she must live long enough to be able to decipher it, since she is the only one with the knowledge to do so. She and her husband are given a “rollback,” a procedure to make them 25 years old again. Unfortunately, the procedure works on her husband but not on her. Her husband is now young again and has the chance to live his life again in a youthful body, while his beloved wife remains 87.

Getting a Second Chance

There are several time travel novels that share the theme of “getting a second chance.” In these, characters have the chance to go back in their own lives, remedy mistakes, and make different choices. My personal favorite of these is Replay by Ken Grimwood. Forty-three year old Jeff Winston dies of a heart attack and wakes up in his own body, but 25 years younger, in his college dorm, with the chance to live his life again, knowing everything he has learned. He makes completely different choices in his life, and when he again turns 43, he dies again, and wakes up in his own body again, and again and again.

In a similar vein, in Andrea Lochen’s The Repeat Year, a 26-year-old nurse is given a chance to relive the last year of her life, a year she made a lot of mistakes, like losing her fiancĂ©.

In Allison Scotch’s Time of My Life, Jillian has the perfect life, with a nice boyfriend and a nice job, but wakes up one morning seven years in the past, still with her old boyfriend of whom she has fantasized repeatedly. Which boyfriend should she choose?

In Rainbow Rowell’s Landline, a woman whose husband has become far less important than her job, discovers that an old rotary dial phone can connect her with her husband in the past, when they were young and just falling in love. These rotary phone conversations give her the chance to decide if her career or love is more important to her.

In Jenny Colgan’s The Boy I Loved Before, 32-year-old Flora, after seeing her old high school boyfriend, makes a wish to go back in time and redo her life, and is granted her wish. She is 16 again, but has only gone back one month in time, with all the knowledge of her 32-year-old self, and the opportunity to make other choices.

In Kate Atkinson’s Life after Life, the theme of having second chances repeats itself over and over again. Ursula is born in 1910, and is fated to die and be reborn repeatedly, in the same self, sometimes with remembered knowledge, and sometimes not. Some of her choices result in happiness, but many result in tragedy and death.

In Sean Greer’s The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells, the theme of second chances applies to other people’s lives. In 1985, Greta undergoes shock therapy, and during the course of her treatment, is sent repeatedly back in time to 1918 and 1941, to live the lives of other women. She tries to improve their lives, but her actions have consequences for them and for herself.

Heather W.

(Continued in Part II...)

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