It’s ridiculous, really, isn’t it?
That is, for something so utterly impossible – and never, frankly, likely to be possible – time travel remains a mesmerising ‘what if?’: a tantalising blend of magic and science.
It informs so many stories that we love, and yet is a comparatively recent invention. Dickens’s A Christmas Carol (1843) is often reckoned to be the first book in which a character ‘travelled in time’, but it took H G Wells’s The Time Machine (1895) to cement the notion of the ‘time traveller’ and an associated mechanical device in the popular consciousness.
I found myself returning to the theme of time travel again in my latest book (my eighth, all with Harper Collins) The Monkey Who Fell From The Future. When I did I was reminded again that every time travel story contains new twists, new challenges, new logical cracks that have to be faced head-on or – whisper it – papered over with some plausible-sounding flim-flam.
For Monkey, I was obliged to create a world four hundred years from now. What would that be like?
Fictional visions of the future can easily become hackneyed. One day I might do a Blade Runner-style future with yet more people, yet more gadgets, flying cars, jet-packs, massive shiny pyramids and the rest of it, but that didn’t feel right this time. Nor, however, did I want the post-apocalyptic bleakness of Mad Max or (God help us) Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. I am writing for children, after all.
What I ended up with is a world in which, owing to a space-borne virus, birth rates have plummeted to near-zero in a generation or two, reducing the population of the year 2425 to levels last seen in Roman times – while handily avoiding the grisly need to deal with the billions of corpses that would result from a sudden pandemic.
Thanks to the “Time Tablet” – a much-modified iPad invented by teen genius Kylie and buried in 2023 – this future world collides with the present-day and the story takes flight, as Kylie and her cousin Tommo swap centuries with Ocean and her pet monkey from the future.
Through the eyes of Kylie and Tommo, the reader is shown a vision of a world vastly different from our own – largely harmonious, but without cars, aeroplanes, electronics, modern medicine…not even chocolate! As well as providing a pacy, exiting and funny story I hope I might persuade readers to look at the world we have around us with renewed appreciation.
And now, I feel I may rest time travel for a book or two. Writing time travel is a journey strewn with logical trip-wires and paradoxical plot-holes – and smart ten-year-olds will certainly spot them. The early editions of my first book, Time Travelling With A Hamster, contained one such (admittedly tiny) logical error which had escaped the notice of me and my excellent editors but which was pointed out in an otherwise glowing Amazon review. Thankfully, it was an easy fix of a few words. I dread another!
Ross Welford, 2023