Who’s Reality is it Anyway?

In the middle of writing my time travel series, WILTON’S GOLD (Amazon Kindle), I had the opportunity to visit the National Museum of American History at the Smithsonian. I was standing in front of General George Washington’s uniform that he wore during the American Revolution and a wave of emotion hit me.


I realized that had the man that wore that uniform not accomplished what he’d accomplished, how different the world would be today. It cast an uncertainty that I would even be here. The delicate sequence of events that led from Washington’s heroics to me standing there looking at his display case was an overwhelming consideration.

I’ve said it before in this blog – writing time travel screws you up!

It’s often said that there is no evidence that time travel will ever be possible because we don’t currently see people who have time traveled to visit us. Now, it’s possible that our current reality just isn’t that interesting to generations in the future, but the concept raises an interesting point: short of a time traveler telling us that he or she is a time traveler (which is, of course, against the unwritten rules of time travel so obviously wouldn’t happen!), how would we know? If someone goes back in time and changes something, the new reality they create will be the only reality the rest of us know.

As I wrote the WILTON’S GOLD series, I learned early on that unless you’re telling an omniscient third person story, perspective is the most critical component of time travel storytelling. The time traveler is the only one who knows that events have changed between an old reality and a new one. Which makes for a compelling protagonist.

But what if your main character is not the time traveler? That means that your main character – the one who’s supposed to know everything that’s going on – doesn’t have that luxury. This happens all the time in movies – in Back to the Future II, Marty didn’t know that Biff took the time machine back to 1955 and was disoriented when he returned to 1985. In The Terminator, Sarah Connor, who never traveled through time (unless you believe that The Sarah Connor Chronicles is canon), had to learn from Kyle Reese what the future was like before they changed it together. I explored the non-time traveler perspective in WILTON’S GOLD – BOOK ONE: FORTUNE, as Dr. Erica Danforth, one of two characters whose point-of-view I use, has reality handed to her in a less-than-ideal way.

But BOOK TWO: FULFILLMENT takes a much darker turn. Dr. Jeff Jacobs, who by the end of FORTUNE has become quite comfortable with his ability to control reality through time travel, learns a terrible truth – how arrogant we all are for believing, no, assuming, that our reality is the original one. Jeff doesn’t succumb to some changed reality in the context of the story as is the normal time travel way. He must deal with the truth that his own reality – the reality that is the foundation of the world we all know today – is the result of someone else’s time travel misdoings.

But that’s the brain-melting aspect of time travel. We have been blessed with great, innovative and thought-provoking time travel stories, and in all of them one person or entity is in control. But if we were forced to, we would admit that if one person can do it, then there must be others. Which could create an endless array of loops and realities and universes that I don’t think that a 400-page novel would be able to contain.

But there’s comfort in that, too, and it goes right back to perspective. We exist in a reality. IF time travel existed and people were going into the past and making changes, it would not affect the current reality in which we all live. It might create another reality, or an alternate universe, sure, and that reality would have to deal with the repercussions of the “change” (which would, of course, be “history” in that reality). But from our perspective, everything that’s led us to where we are right now is the reality. And if our reality is a result of someone else’s time travel or not, it’s still our reality and will remain our reality.

So General Washington’s place in my personal history is safe, and thinking about it from that perspective it’s certainly more inspiring than overwhelming. But I will say, experiencing the infringement that Jeff feels in learning that everything he believes to be true about the world is a product of someone else’s doing was a worthwhile adventure in writing.