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Monday, April 28th, 2014 04:40 pm
I'm teaching a First Year Seminar class this fall entitled "Time Travel in Science and Literature", and I'm looking for suggestions on the "Literature" part. I honestly don't know how much reading is reasonable to assign in this context, so my main request here is for short story suggestions. (I'm also considering a couple of short-ish books: Einstein's Dreams by Lightman, and possibly The Time Machine by Wells.)

There are a lot of angles I could take on the "literature" side of things, so I'm open to a wide range of suggestions. The important thing is for time travel itself to be central to the story in some way: there should either be a focus on the "science" itself or it should be an essential ingredient of the plot or the meaning of the story. (That makes me hesitate a bit about the Wells, in fact: his science is quite nice, but I'm a little worried about whether "time travel primarily for purpose of social commentary" strays a little far from my aims. But it is a classic, and that's clearly a valid use of the time travel plot device. I just wonder whether it's a whole novel's worth of value in my context.)

[Edit: Oh, and for the record, I'd love to have a good "twin paradox" story, too.]

Other background info:
I'd like to have included the phrase "the Nature of Time" in the title, too, but it started to feel cluttered... both as a phrase and as a course.

On the science side I have an initial sense of what I'm going to do (probably), including talk about space-time diagrams and having them read (at least part of) Sean Carroll's book "From Eternity to Here". (There are no prerequisites for the class, so I can't really use much math at all: concepts and pretty pictures it is!) I may not have time in the class to talk more than a little bit about entropy and the arrow of time, though, so I'm still contemplating options here, too.
Tuesday, April 29th, 2014 12:07 am (UTC)
Allow me to suggest a "very short time travel" story ...

Do something clever with time travel "feedback", where the process of time travel is longer than the temporal distance traveled.
Tuesday, April 29th, 2014 02:48 am (UTC)
My initial list includes The Time Machine, though I think you're right that it's better to refer to it than assign it as such. Pretty much all subsequent time travel stories react to it somehow. I'd also point to Bester's "The Men Who Murdered Mohammed", Heinlein's "—All You Zombies—" and "By His Bootstraps", Niven's "Rotating Cylinders and the Possibility of Global Causality Violations" (not the physics paper with the same name).

For longer form, Power's "The Anubis Gates" is one of my favorites; I'm also fond of Stross's "Palimpsest". (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_time_travel_science_fiction#Time_travel_in_novels_and_short_stories is helpful)

In film, the original Terminator stands out.

There are really a lot of choices; are there any particular aspects of time travel stories you want to emphasize or be sure to mention?
Edited 2014-04-29 04:04 am (UTC)
Tuesday, April 29th, 2014 07:10 am (UTC)
I remember reading "The Time Machine" for fun in a a fairly short period of time -- on my electronic device waiting in line at Costco over the course of about a month. It couldn't have taken more than a few hours altogether.

Because of it's historical significance then I think it's worth assigning and having read.

You could potentially have that or just one or two stories as the only assigned reading, and the rest of the longer stuff summarized for the students to read if they're interested in the subject. Do you have an interesting way of teaching them to diagram time-travel stories?

There's a great short story I read on the internet and I'm going to have to see if my Google-Foo is good enough to find it... yes, apparently. "time travel society short story Hitler asian" appears to have worked and produced it as the top hit.

It a very short story written like a series of forum posts, and I'm really glad I found it again because I thought it was great.


I'm going to have to bookmark it so I can find it again if needed.
Tuesday, April 29th, 2014 07:25 am (UTC)
Just re-read and still love that story. If you read the comments you can find this one from the author as well, which does a pretty good job of explaining things about time travel stories I thought:

Thanks, all.

"Goes into the rather asine utilitarian justificaiton (no tech growth without global war!)"

Maybe it's asinine, maybe not, but nowhere do I say that SilverFox316 is correct. The character's mistakes are not necessarily the author's.

"If Killing Hitler = No Time Travel then how do you go back and fix things after each person kills him?"

These time machines operate on a combination of Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure rules (time spent in the past equals time elapsed in the future, aka The Clock In San Dimas Is Always Running) and Back to the Future rules (changes take time to become permanent; i.e. they have until the "photograph" fades to undo them). The latter rule addresses Ludon's question.

I'm not saying my time travel makes complete sense, just that it doesn't make much less sense than anyone else's time travel. (Or I might just invoke Rule of Funny, and point out that this story isn't really about time travel anyway...)

Tuesday, April 29th, 2014 04:04 pm (UTC)
Fun story! I think Robbbbb suggested that one, too. It would be easy to throw into the mix. :)
Wednesday, April 30th, 2014 03:46 pm (UTC)
I did. That's a fun story. There are quite a few shorts on the Tor website that are worth reading.
Tuesday, April 29th, 2014 04:09 pm (UTC)
As I just mentioned to [livejournal.com profile] ricevermicelli, I'm converging on the anthology The Time Traveler's Almanac for the class. Evidently the editors made a deliberate choice to leave out some well-known harder-science short stories (including the four in your first paragraph, which is a disappointment: they've been recommended by others as well), but it does include Palimpsest, and a bunch of other stories that people have recommended to me. (It only has an excerpt from The Time Machine, but I'm still leaning away from assigning the whole book anyway.)

Thanks for the suggestions!
Tuesday, April 29th, 2014 06:51 pm (UTC)
This hits everything I would have tried to hit with the exception of Asimov's "The End of Eternity"- not one of his best, but still Asimov, and quite short as novels go.

For films, there's always Primer if you want no one to understand wtf just happened without a detailed chart.
Wednesday, April 30th, 2014 02:05 am (UTC)
I'm told that "Palimpsest" is to some extent Stross's revision of "The End of Eternity" (which I enjoyed and still think about occasionally, but yeah, it isn't one of Asimov's best). I'm looking forward to reading it.

I haven't seen Primer yet, but I assume that I can refer to the xkcd chart if I'm ever confused. :)
Tuesday, April 29th, 2014 07:02 pm (UTC)
Having thought about it some more, some other favorites:

Rumiko Takahashi's "Fire Tripper", either the comic or the cartoon.
Mark Clifton's "Star, Bright".
The Hob sequence from the Dresden Codak webcomic.

I get the feeling I'm now searching for stuff I like that's unusable for your class, but oh well.
Edited 2014-04-30 04:35 am (UTC)
Wednesday, April 30th, 2014 06:13 pm (UTC)
Oh yeah, I like those comic suggestions. And they'd be relatively quick reads, the question is just how you could distribute them. Hob could be read online, though, so that could potentially work. And it doesn't really require any prior knowledge of the setting, you can jump in where the storyline starts.
Tuesday, April 29th, 2014 11:56 am (UTC)
My two favorite time travel authors are Connie Willis and Kage Baker. Willis is a brilliant humanist, and her most accesible time travel novel is To Say Nothing of the Dog. Her best, IMO, are Blackout and All Clear, but two 500-page novels are much for a semester.

Kage Baker was a brilliant misanthrope. Her key work - The Company series - is probably also much to assign. Fortunately, she wrote some great short stories. Son, Observe the Time might work. Of her novels, Sky Coyote might be the best bet for discussing mechanics and implications without being confusing in a mid-series way.
Tuesday, April 29th, 2014 04:03 pm (UTC)
I really enjoyed Willis's Doomsday Book, and it sounds like To Say Nothing of the Dog would be a great choice for the class (from what you and others have said). I'm still trying to figure out if I've got room for a full novel, though. Right now, I'm feeling increasingly confident that I'm going to have students but the anthology The Time Traveler's Almanac, which includes Willis's original time travel short story, "Fire Watch" (along with a bunch of the other recommendations folks have given me). Have you read that?
Wednesday, April 30th, 2014 03:45 pm (UTC)
My wife is totally with you on Willis. E goes back and re-reads her work regularly. It's her comfort reading. I need to pick those books up and read them sometime soon.