The Anomalous Archive, Part XXI: 'First Time Mission' by Paul Anobile

[This review was originally posted on the Anomaly forum on July 14, 2011.]

"First Time Mission," 1st in Issue 8 of The Cross and the Cosmos

I often have a hard time with time travel plot lines. I generally don't like them, either as the main speculative element or within the confines of a fantasy or science fiction universe. However, recently I've been rethinking this opinion, thanks to a philosophy of time travel that I've seen a couple of times now, including in "First Time Mission" by Paul Anobile.

The way I see it, the hypothetical time travel in "First Time Mission" is fully deterministic. That is, the effect that the time mission would have on the future was pre-determined before the time traveller journeyed into the past, because the time traveller’s mission has already occurred in the time traveller’s own past. Thus, a time traveller could not (as I think happens in Back to the Future) accidentally prevent his parents' marriage and thereby cause himself to cease to exist; because any influence of the time mission would have already happened to his parents before he was born. Any attempt to prevent a tragedy or disaster from befalling would be futile, and the time traveller’s own attempts to change history might even have contributed to the disaster happening in the first place, so that the failed time mission is part of the disaster in a never-ending, immutable pattern.

I wonder if predestination is something like this. After all, in both "First Time Mission" and the other thing that got thinking about this philosophy of time travel (a two-part episode in Season 3 of Babylon 5 entitled "War Without End"), there is never any force that compels the time travellers to act any particular way, and yet in both cases the results of time missions are inevitable, at least as far as I can tell.

But "First Time Mission" doesn't go very deeply into this. The fact that the protagonist cannot change history is only mentioned rather casually to explain why a story about the first attempt to travel back in time doesn't have a more epic scope. The apparatus of traveling back in time is rather familiar, and I'm sure that it's no coincidence that the year of arrival is 1985, the same year that Back to the Future was made and set in.

The story has a pretty good structure, anticipating its main theme (which has absolutely nothing to do with destiny or free will, as might be expected with a time travel plot). However, I find the execution of the story to weak in some ways. As a romance, the story feels somewhat awkward to me, perhaps because the emotion is not revealed through careful description. It's just there, in both the narration and dialogue. The dialogue seems up-front and awkward as well, and I know that in at least one place this is due to the fact that most of a conversation is just double-quoted paragraphs of dialogue without narrative sentences to give context. Also, doubly emphasizing certain words in both italic and underlined text seems strange.

Still, it's interesting how the author used a big, epic plot and genre to develop a more gentle and personal story. I think the story deliberately uses this discrepancy to emphasize it's theme, which is clever.


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