Break Time and Time Travel Conundrums

I recently watched The Final Countdown, a 1980 science fiction film about a modern aircraft carrier that travels through time to a day before the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. (Considering that this movie is 34 years old, I doubt the aircraft carrier would still be considered modern, but who am I to argue with IMDb.)

breaktime-3bsmallThe theme of time travel is timely, considering that Break Time, the steampunk anthology I’ve been working on for the past two years with six other authors, is nearing publication. Yay!!

I’ve always enjoyed the conundrum of time travel. In fact, Ray Bradbury’s story “The Sound of Thunder” is one of my all-time favorite short stories. (Hmm. Apparently I’m trying to use the word “time” as many times as possible.) When I first read Bradbury’s story, I hadn’t yet studied chaos theory and the butterfly effect, but it seemed logical that one small change millions of years ago would make a difference to us today. Oddly, in the story, everything was still the same in our world after the misstep, though the language was different and a dictatorial candidate won the election instead of the more egalitarian choice. Despite that seeming contradiction, I enjoyed the story and the ensuing mind calisthenics. The way I figured it, since the changes were so minor, it’s just as possible that the dead butterfly affected the passage of the time machine rather than the passage of time itself, and the travelers ended up in an alternate universe.

In Millenium, another time travel film, the butterfly effect is countered by the theory that insignificant changes can be made that would not affect the whole, such as removing people who were about to die in an airplane crash and taking them to another world. (Who knows, maybe the butterfly in Ray Bradbury’s story was newly dead of natural causes, and all that was affected was an infinitesimally insignificant patch of compost.)

Once a long time ago, I read a story about sightseers from the future who came to watch catastrophes here on earth. (There are several movies with that same theme, but the story I read predated the films by decades.) The tourists could watch the unfolding drama, but could in no way interfere. I used to think that was inhumane, sort of like reporters who simply film the death throes of victims before help arrives without ever pausing to offer assistance. However, when I watched The Final Countdown, my sympathies lay with those who thought it important not to change history by attacking the Japanese before they attacked Pearl Harbor. Who are we to change what was? Sure, all those American deaths would have been prevented, but what other atrocities might have taken their place? Though people consider it a conspiracy theory, the fact is that Roosevelt knew about the attack and let it happen. (A strange aside. People always talk about the Americans having broken “The Purple Codes” but before they were called the purple codes, they were red and various other colors. They were so named because of the color of the folder in which they were stored, not because of any esoteric reason.) Roosevelt’s point was to get the uninvolved Americans into the war. And so, ultimately, many worldwide changes were brought about.

Perhaps the world is unfolding as is should. If so, would I, as a time traveler, have the obligation to leave things as they are? Or would I be part of the unfolding, perhaps the catalyst for the unfolding, and if I did nothing, my inaction would effect other changes? If I ever had to make such a decision, the decision would be made by not deciding. As the old poster from the 1960s proclaimed, “Not to decide is to decide.”

In Break Time, Alexander Giston’s wife and grown son are killed in a steam engine accident. He goes back in time to cajole them into taking another mode of travel. They agree, and this time, the aeroship they are in crashes. The third time, they take their own Stratosphere Steamer, the automobile of our particular steampunk era. And yep. It too crashes. This leads me to wonder if perhaps it’s impossible to change the past. If the past will always self-correct.

If you are a time travel buff, be on the lookout for Break Time. Meantime, check out “Time’s Winged Chariot,” Rod Marsden’s phenomenal article listing time travel movies, books, comics, and television shows.


Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.


8 Responses to “Break Time and Time Travel Conundrums”

  1. rami ungar the writer Says:

    Still can’t wait to read that anthology.

  2. ROD MARSDEN Says:

    Thanks for the plug. I have to admit it might be near impossible to collect information on every single movie, novel, etc that has ever been put together about time travel and the possible consequences.

    There is a short story I read a long time ago with a real twist. A man from our distant future goes back in time to investigate the 20th Century because most records of this period were lost in a devastating war that engulfed the planet. It was a small African nation that brought civilization back from the brink and so, in the future, people are proud to have black African ancestry. Of course our man lands in the south in the good old USA where he is killed for boasting about having even a tinge of such ancestry. The story is Black Future by Frederick Brown.

    Thinking more about time, I just added The Terminator and the spin-off television series to Time’s Winged Chariot.

    Yes, there is the movie The Butterfly Effect. There is also a clever adaptation of the idea in an episode of The Simpsons.

    I’ve seen The Final Countdown and it is an enjoyable time travel film. If Pearl Harbor wasn’t bombed in 1941, and without official warning from the Japanese (declaration of war arrived after the bombing had started), I might be speaking Japanese today instead of English. The fact that it happened on a Sunday was also important.

    The people of Australia needed American involvement in the war. Great Britain was not in any shape to help. For us the fall of Singapore was a real eye opener.

    I saw an episode of Seconds to Disaster that told the story of Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor. Apparently it wasn’t as successful as it could have been. There were supposed to be two raids but there was only one. They didn’t know where the American aircraft carriers were and so didn’t want to be caught between them and Hawaii. Thus the second raid never took place.

    What wasn’t hit were the large fuel storage tanks. If they had gone up America’s ability to do anything in the South Pacific with what remained of their ships wouldn’t have been much. Also the American submarine pens were spared. Now if a Japanese could go back in time, and get this second raid that should have happened, going life might be very different on planet Earth today. For one thing the antarctic whales would probably be extinct by now.

    There is the story that Churchill knew about the attack on Pearl Harbor before it happened. Goliath, the top computer of its day, had apparently even done the calculations as to when it would most likely happen.

    Yes. Perhaps the world and time are unfolding the way they should for all of us. Even so it is fun to play around with the idea of changing time and imagining what the consequences might be. I too look forward to Break Time coming out.

    Oh! And I just remembered another time related movie, Biggles. In it we have a modern day helicopter transported to where it is flying over the trenches during the First World War.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Actually, there is a reason the air craft carriers weren’t where they were supposed to be. They were purposely moved out of the way of the attack.

      • ROD MARSDEN Says:

        At any rate the Japanese not knowing where the American aircraft carriers were or when they were likely to return to Pearl Harbor meant the Japanese were not game enough to have that second raid on Pearl Harbor before heading off. Yes, the American aircraft carriers may well have been moved out of the way of the attack if we are to believe forces in the USA wanted the attack by the Japanese to happen but not have it be a complete knockout blow. Even so a number of the ships damaged in the attack were repaired and sea worthy six months after they were hit. The Arizona was the biggest total loss. I’ve been to the memorial.

  3. Carol Wuenschell Says:

    Time travel can just be so much fun – because of the situations it can create. I’m always game for time travel stories for that reason. It’s often hard, though, for the author to avoid getting into some kind of trouble with them – the famous time-travel paradox. Frequently you have to do a major suspension of disbelief.

  4. toothlight Says:

    It is my understanding that it was British radar stations which saw the Japanese fleet,and warned the USA of the impending attack. The conundrum is whether the evidence was deliberately ignored or the new radar was not believed. I also saw that film about the aircraft carrier passing through time, another example of ‘what if.’

    • ROD MARSDEN Says:

      Where were the British radar stations located? I know of the British computer Goliath’s warning. Also the Americans had been monitoring Japanese transmissions. Whether or not they could break the Japanese code is questionable. We know they did so later in the war.

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