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Time Travel

A Writer's Guide to the Real Science of Plausible Time Travel

Paul J. Nahin with a new preface

Publication Year: 2011

From H.G. Wells to Isaac Asimov to Ursula K. Le Guin, time travel has long been a favorite topic and plot device in tales of science fiction and fantasy. But as any true SF fan knows, astounding stories about traversing alternate universes and swimming the tides of time demand plausible science. That’s just what Paul J. Nahin’s guide provides. An engineer, physicist, and published science fiction writer, Nahin is uniquely qualified to explain the ins and outs of how to spin such complex theories as worm holes, singularity, and relativity into scientifically sound fiction. First published in 1997, this fast-paced book discusses the common and not-so-common time-travel devices science fiction writers have used over the years, assesses which would theoretically work and which would not, and provides scientific insight inventive authors can use to find their own way forward or backward in time. From hyperspace and faster-than-light travel to causal loops and the uncertainty principle and beyond, Nahin’s equation-free romp across time will help writers send their characters to the past or future in an entertaining, logical, and scientific way. If you ever wanted to set up the latest and greatest grandfather paradox—or just wanted to know if the time-bending events in the latest pulp you read could ever happen—then this book is for you.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press


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pp. vi-vii

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pp. viii

Clearly not all physicists have accepted the possibility of traveling through time into the past. Other highly respected physicists do take the idea of backward time travel quite seriously. Richard Gott at Princeton, Frank Tipler at Tulane, and Kip...

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pp. xix

Any author's book is also due to the efforts of others, and Time Travel is no exception. It was originally the idea of writer-editor Ben Bova, who bought my first science fiction tale back in 1977, and my first time travel story in 1979, when he was editor...

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pp. 1-8

"The science of time travel?" you ask with a smile. I've got to be kidding, right? Everybody knows time travel is impossible because of something called paradox (something or other about killing your grandfather—or is it your nephew—before he has...

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CHAPTER 1 Time Travel in the Pulps

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pp. 3-28

In an editorial published in the November 1926 issue of Amazing Stories ("Plausibility in Scientifiction"), Hugo Gernsback wrote: [E]ven in the best-written fiction stories you will notice the characters converse in rather extraordinary language. This is the so-called fiction language and is not generally...

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CHAPTER 2 Special Relativity and Time Travel to the Future

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pp. 29-48

Time is a mysterious concept, a mystery that becomes ever more unclear the older one gets. It has always been so. The ancients were as perplexed by the nature of time as we are today. We learn from Plutarch's Platonic Questions that, when questioned...

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CHAPTER 3 Time Travel to the Past

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pp. 49-66

Time travel into the past has to be one of the most popular fantasies. Some years ago the philosopher Jan Faye nicely captured this yearning when he wrote, "We all from time to time indulge in dreams about traveling back into time. Every time...

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CHAPTER 4 Hyperspace

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pp. 67-72

Much of the modern literature on time machines and time travel is presented in terms of spaces with four, five or even more dimensions. Even if we reduce the count by one (for the nonspatial time dimension), we are still left with more...

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CHAPTER 5 Time as the Fourth Dimension

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pp. 73-86

Time as the fourth dimension of space-time, (rather than that dimension being spatial in nature) is the current idea today. As with the spatial interpretation, the time view is an old one, which can be traced back to at least the eighteenth century....

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CHAPTER 6 The Block Universe

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pp. 87-98

In a little known, yet quite erudite essay published in a 1920 issue of the British science journal Nature, just after the first experimental verification of general relativity (the bending of starlight by the sun's gravity), an anonymous author presented...

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CHAPTER 7 When General Relativity Made Time Travel Honest

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pp. 99-106

The eleventh-century Persian poet-philosopher Omar Khayyam was blunt in his evaluation of the likelihood of reliving the past; as he so beautifully wrote in one of the quatrains of the Rubaiyat The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,...

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CHAPTER 8 Paradoxes: Changing the Past, Causal Loops, and Sex

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pp. 107-126

Not too many years ago the philosopher Q. Smith, who believes in the finite length of the past, wrote an analysis to refute the logical arguments presented by the eighteenth-century philosopher Immanuel Kant for his belief in an infinite past...

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CHAPTER 9 Time Machines that Physicists Have Already 'Invented'

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pp. 127-142

No one yet, as far as I know, has built a time machine in real hardware. However, physicists have long known how to build such a gadget on paper. In fact, there are several different ways, but so far they all share one discouraging common...

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CHAPTER 10 Faster-Than-Light (FTL) Into the Past

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pp. 143-162

Some of the most intriguing paradoxes of time travel involve no traveler (at least no living one)—only information. Of course, any information flow at all involves the flow of energy and, as Einstein showed in his famous result in special relativity, energy...

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CHAPTER 11 Quantum Gravity, Splitting Universes, and Time Machines

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pp. 163-176

A fundamental objection to time travel, based ironically on general relativity itself (which is our theoretical basis for time travel), is that, in a very deep sense, general relativity is known to be an incomplete...

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CHAPTER 12 Reading the Physics Literature for Story Ideas

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pp. 177-182

The best place to get state-of-the-art technical information concerning time travel and time machines, literally hot-off-the-press, is the scholarly physics literature. You do not have to be able to read every word in super-mathematical articles in exquisite...


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pp. 183-190


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pp. 191-197


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pp. 198-200

E-ISBN-13: 9781421401201
E-ISBN-10: 1421401207
Print-ISBN-13: 9781421400822
Print-ISBN-10: 1421400820

Page Count: 224
Illustrations: 14 line drawings
Publication Year: 2011