Recently I've been pondering what to pack if I were given one day to prepare for a one-way trip into the past or the future...
I have to admit that I’m a sucker for stories about time travel. In 1963, when I was only six years’ old, I remember watching the very first episode of the now-world-famous British television science fiction series Dr. Who. I observed this spectacle from a position of safety behind the sofa in my parents’ front room. I was hooked from that point on.
As an aside, if you are a Dr. Who enthusiast, you can still get your hands on those first episodes (Click Here for more details). These early, low-budget programs are now really dated of course, but it’s a great trip down memory lane for those of us who were there at the time.
And what about the 1960 version of H.G.Wells’ Time Machine (Click Here to see the DVD on Amazon) – the one starring Rod Taylor and Yvette Mimieux. I don’t know how old I was when I first saw this; I’m sure my parents wouldn’t have let me see it when I was too young, but I do remember it being a real thrill. In fact I was just checking it out on the Wikipedia; I knew that the lead character was called George, but it’s only now that I discovered it was supposed to be H. George Wells himself (there’s always something new to learn).
With regard to the new Dr. Who, I just finished watching the complete fifth season a couple of days ago - the one starring Matt Smith. What a nail-biter that was toward the end – I was completely drained at the conclusion of the final episode. I was also a little sad, because now I have to wait for the sixth season to come out on DVD. But I was just bouncing around Amazon a few minutes ago when I discovered that there is a Christmas Special called the Dr. Who Christmas Carol – I have no idea how I missed that – I just ordered a copy so now I have (a) something to look forward to and (b) a silly grin on my face.
Do you recall my earlier column What’s the best time-travel book/film ever? In the comments, someone recommended a story called Lest Darkness Fallby L. by Sprague de Camp. Although this tale – which involves a guy from "our time" being transported back to Ancient Rome – was written quite a while ago, it’s still well worth a read.
Obviously I know that the chances of my travelling through time are on the small side (apart from the way we all do it, aging day after day, which isn’t quite the same thing as hopping in a time machine). However, I often ponder what trade goods I would try to take with me if the occasion ever arose (seriously, doesn't everyone?)
Let’s start by considering what would be good to take if you were traveling backwards in time. Thinking about it, you would probably want to take different things depending on how far back you were going. So let’s say we’re going back 2,000 years or so. It’s a one way trip and we have to pick some trade goods to take back with us.
The main thing is that whatever we take needs to be relatively small and light and (in my case) affordable. Let's set some limits and say that whatever we take has got to be something we can carry in backpacks and/or as hand baggage. Also, it’s got to be something that the folks we meet back then will accept as something that could be made by someone somewhere, even if they don’t know how. In particular, we can't take anything get us mistaken as practitioners of evil magic and dealt with accordingly. Having said this, it would probably be a good idea to take a gun and sufficient ammunition to protect our wares until we had established ourselves.
Small mirrors might be good to have, because even the ones you can buy from the “Dollar Store” these days are far superior to anything they had back then. Another thing that might go down well would be aluminum foil. And what about fish hooks?
The thing that started me thinking about this again is that yesterday evening I saw a television advert for the Easy Thread Needle (I just found the same video clip on YouTube as shown below).
This really blew me away. If there was one thing I couldn’t imagine improving it would be a sewing needle – and yet someone has managed to do it. Now, imagine taking these needles (along with a lot of reels of modern sewing thread) back through time. Surely there would be some trading potential here…
Alternatively, what about a trip in the other direction? Suppose we had one day to prepare for a one way trip 1,000 years in the future? We obviously can't plan for every possible eventuality (like being faced with a radioactive wasteland), so let’s assume that we are reasonably confident that humankind won't have wiped ourselves out and that our decedents have actually done quite well for themselves; perhaps they even have colonies on the Moon and Mars and some of the moons of Jupiter.
So what could we put our hands on now that we could take with us that would have value in the future? Any ideas?
Isn't it strange how each doctor has his followers and each has folks who don't like him... I thought Peter Davison was OK, but then I'd already seen him in other stuff and liked the characters he portrayed...
OK, you have me here -- "Fire Watch" did have the emotional and morel content you mention ... and the context of saving St. Pauls in WWII was good -- I just found the story to drag a bit -- also the premise that in the future they didn't have the time to fully brief the student before sending him back in time ... hmmm
If you get the chance, I would love for you to read "The End of Eternity" by Isaac Asimov.
Also thank you very much for your kind comments -- that really means a lot to me.
Kindest regards -- Max
Well, there is no arguing taste. I admit that I have read relatively little science fiction (and almost no time travel SF) and that I am not an engineer (though I have analytical tendencies of mind). I am also a sentimentalist ("a man who sees an absurd value in everything, and doesn't know the market price of any single thing"--Oscar Wilde, Lady Windermere's Fan), so the emotional/moral content of "Fire Watch" may have been more important to me than to you and other engineers. I did like that the story taught three lessons: history is about people's lives not facts and figures, human triumphs must be continually preserved (not "saved forever"), and judging people by one aspect of their beliefs easily leads to misjudgment especially when not recognizing the full context (the Communist was a hero). That is a significant amount of content for a novelette.
By the way, thank you for the time you give to your readers. Just the blog entries are a significant gift, but you seem to make considerable efforts to respond to comments as well.
I agree -- I also liked Pertwee and Sylvester McCoy -- and I think Peter Davison was pretty good also. To be honest I'd forgotten all about Colin Baker until you reminded me, but here's a link to a picture that brought it all back http://bit.ly/olXTig (now there's a look you don;t see very often these days :-)
My favorite doctor would be Tom Baker; it is a truism that your first doctor becomes your favorite. I also like Pertwee and Sylvester McCoy was a hoot to watch.
My least favorite would be Colin Baker. I've seen him in other things and he's a fine enough actor but his version of the doctor was one thing the doctor should never be: mean spirited.
I don't believe I ever saw the Paul McGann version but I do remember the Peter Cushing movies. I also seem to remember a television version on network TV but I don't recognize anything in the Wiki list.
The original series indicated, I think, 9 regenerations, something the new series did away with. There was also much speculation whether one of those regenerations would lead to the Master, something else the new series resolved.