Life, the Wonders of the Universe and Everything

The Wonders of the Universe aired on TV this week and it didn’t disappoint. It looks very good indeed. Sweeping vistas, wonderful graphics and, as is now customary for these documentaries, the Famous Presenter – in this case Brian Cox (the Prof., not the actor) -striding/flying/gesticulating majestically across beautifully shot locations. 

This week’s ‘big ideas’ were the Arrow of Time, entropy and the life and death of the universe, no less.

Just watch this clip where Prof. Cox explains entropy. Brilliantly simple. 

God, I wish my physics teachers had been able to explain science like this.

How many TV shows take you from the Big Bang all the way through to the death of the universe, when everything, even matter, has gone?

Heady stuff for prime time.

Anyways, to mark this week’s Wonders of the Universe themes, here are some science fictional bits and pieces dealing with time travel.

The Past

The Time Machine by H. G. Wells.
First published in 1895, this was one of the earliest time travel stories and presented two of the most iconic cultures in science fiction in the surface-dwelling, childlike Eloi and the subterranean, bestial Morlocks. With Steampunk stories becoming more mainstream, the Victorian language and setting now feels strangely contemporary and Wells’ descriptions of the future, particularly the future beyond the time of the Eloi and Morlocks, eery and poetic. A science fiction classic.

Incidentally, check out ‘The Nerdvana Annihilation’ episode in the first series of  The Big Bang Theory for a great referencing of The Time Machine.

The Man Who Walked Home by James Tiptree Jr.
I came across this short story in The Mammoth Book of Apocalyptic SF (2010, edited by Mike Ashley). It’s a mind-bending little tale about an experiment that goes wrong when a man is sent into the distant future and the fall-out from that event. It first came out in 1972 so the dates are a bit retro but this is one of those stories that makes you realise why you love sci fi so much.

Back to the Future
This movie, directed by Robert Zemekis and starring Michael J. Fox, moves us into the 1980s. And back to the 1950s. Tells the story of Marty McFly and the Doc as Marty travels back to 1955 and, with help from a younger Doc, must find his way back to his future and right some wrongs along the way. Great, fun movie with some time travel mind-benders to think on.

The Terminator franchise.
First film was released in 1984, The Sarah Connor Chronicles was cancelled in 2009. Four films, two series and lots of time travelling by various characters as Skynet tries to prevent John Connor from becoming its nemesis. As Sarah Connor says, ‘God, you can go crazy thinking about all this….’. 

Which leads us to:

The Present(ish)

Specifically, the best character, Hiro, who hops around at will in space-time. I loved the first series but I confess I stopped watching this some point in series two. And I wasn’t the only one, the viewing figures continued to haemorrhage until the series was cancelled last year.

This could have been a great series if they’d stopped it drowning in characters’ superfluous sub-plots and kept the focus on the action.



So, is the future for sf time travel going to get better? Well, obviously, that’s in the future so I don’t know but coming up we have:

11/22/63 by Stephen King
This 1,000 page door-stop of a novel is coming out in …..November, appropriately enough. Unlike The Terminator, where the time travelling mission is to carry out an assassination, the protagonist in this novel is travelling back in time to prevent an assassination.
I like King’s writing style so I’ll be clearing the diary for several weeks to wallow in this one.

Verdict: looks promising.

Due out 2012, this animation movie will feature the vocal talents of Owen Wilson, Woody Harrelson and Luke Wilson in a story about a bunch (flock?) of turkeys who travel back in time to the first Thanksgiving dinner to try to prevent their future brethren from becoming the Western world’s celebratory bird of choice.

Verdict: Sounds bonkers.


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