I had an interesting discussion about time travel this week with my new friend the classics scholar. We talked about interesting time travel books we’ve read, and whether time travel is desirable let alone possible. I am still reading Outlander and this began our discussion of the thing.
The classics scholar thought, based upon her knowledge of Roman society and technology, that a Roman dropped into the 21st century would be able to get by. Not too much has changed in terms of urban infrastructure. The Romans invented concrete. Possibly the Roman would be surprised by how much we use concrete. Of course metal-working technology has improved and the combination of metal and concrete leads to skyscrapers that were not achieved in Roman times, but a Roman engineer would figure it out pretty quickly. Electricity might baffle. But even tablets were something Romans used, we just have ways of linking tablets that they didn’t have.
I suggested that it might be much more difficult for a person from the twenty-first century to be dropped in ancient Rome. I think I’ve said in a previous post in this blog that many books that involve time travel fail to give a sense of the past as alien, as a foreign country. Crichton’s Timeline does it best in books I’ve read so far. The classics scholar mentioned a story about a collector who sent a time traveller to collect extinct animals — and what they thought were small cuddly animals turned out to be dangerous beasts. That sounds like an interesting book, but she couldn’t remember the title/author details. Anyone got a clue on that?
What are your theories on time travel? I’m not sure that going back is either possible or desirable, though I think it would be interesting. Going forward faster? Maybe. But then could you get back? That is the key question of A Scientific Romance by Ronald Wright, and you should all go and read that if you haven’t yet.