For centuries, genre writers have tickled their historical funny bones by speculating on what one would do if one could go back in time.
There’s a lot of discussion about how you’d neutralize a burgeoning menace. You’d go back, figure out a way and change history for the better. Or, as “Doctor Who’ did recently, just try to make sure it stays on course:
But there’s a seemingly equal amount of discussion about what happens if you do change the past, how it affects the future. And invariably — Back to the Future being the exception — it turns out pretty badly.
So perhaps what we’re living through right now is this: Someone, somewhere has invented a time machine. They went back, fiddled with something, and we’re living in it right now. And it’s not the timeline we might think we’d want.
Or, this: What if we are all in the time machine right now, the version of the past our grandchildren will live in. The future inheritors of this earth who will one day read their own science-fiction time-travel stories and tell themselves: Yes, I would go back and neutralize that menace from my grandma’s time.What if we are careening toward a future that someone is desperate enough to go back and feel a need to fix?
In that case, imagine the self you are now as the self you will want to talk about in your future time. You were in the past. Here is your story.
That’s where it stops being a fantastical science-fiction story. Because right now is the time machine. And how will you feel looking back ten, twenty, fifty years, realizing that for all the bluster, all the speculation, all the vitriol — you were there. And no one did anything of consequence.