Last week we talked about Historical Fantasy, and after bringing up my definition of the distinction between Alternate History (involving something that could really happen, but didn’t, such as Germany losing the Franco-Prussian War, or Kennedy surviving the assassination attempt) and Historical Fantasy (involving something that couldn’t happen, like dragons serving in the Air Force, or the Lions winning the Superbowl) I declared that I think a large swathe of Time Travel fiction should properly be considered Historical Fantasy instead of Science Fiction.
Of course, there are a couple of exceptions… Primer comes to mind… but for the most part, a Time Travel movie and/ or book involves a lot of techspeak, mumbojumbo, and a brief spurt of doubletalk before the lead character jumps in the machine or portal or police box and boopy-boops his or her way into the past. (Yes, boopy-boops. Often, that’s the sound made when he or she activates the proteon nebulizing graphanator or whatever mechanism pulled out of the writer’s bottom just in time to create a time portal. Until we really have such technology, I’m going to say boopy-boop.) And sometimes the creators will just invent a random time portal (such as in the excellent 11/22/63) that just… works. Yet somehow, these books are relegated to Science Fiction, despite a complete lack of science.
From the seminal works in the field (such as The Time Machine, science is, at best, glossed over, and is only a plot device to get the hero back or forward in time. And sometimes, such as in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, there is no science at all… Hank gets bonked on the head with a crowbar and wakes up in Camelot. Other books have similar methods. While this type of fiction can accomplish a lot in terms of social commentary, not to mention can be quite entertaining, it’s not science fiction, or alternate history. It’s speculative fiction. Fantasy.
And it’s a type of speculative fiction that doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon. One could even say there’s a… ahem… future in this.