Back in the 1950s, Ray Bradbury wrote a little short story called "A Sound of Thunder." It's the one about the dudes going back in time to hunt dinosaurs, and you should already know it. If you don't, go read it now before I spoil it. Look, it's a short story, it won't take you that long.
Anyway, the dudes are sent back in time to hunt dinosaurs. There are all of these precautions set up to keep them from disrupting the time line, and they are supposed to follow them explicitly. However, at one point, one of the dudes steps off of the designated path and, when he picks up his foot, finds he has crushed a butterfly. But it's just a butterfly, right? You'd like to think that but, when they return to their own time, they find that everything has changed.
I know! Trippy, right! That's, like, SO deep and meaningful and shit! The dude stepped on a butterfly and changed, like, EVERYTHING! Duuude! And only those dudes knew anything had changed! That's so weird, right! Duuude!
Oh, like, dude! maybe they could go back in time again to before the one dude killed the butterfly and stop him from stepping on the butterfly and fix everything. That's so trippy! Like, duuude!
The problem, though, is that the story is not about the time travel or that everyone in the group who had traveled had kept their original memories intact. That's just the medium to deliver the message, the message that even little things can have huge consequences.
However, this idea has become a staple in science fiction and time travel stories, the idea that the person who travels in time can change the past and yet retain their memories unchanged. It's bullshit, and it wasn't Bradbury's point and, frankly, I'm sick and tired of seeing it done, because it's one of the most ridiculous logical fallacies in science fiction. Probably more than anything else, it is the thing that makes me hate time travel stories, and I can almost say that unilaterally because virtually every time travel story out there uses this idea.
Probably, right about now, I'm stepping on some people's toes, because time travel stories are very popular, and people seem to love this crap.
But here's the other thing I hate about time travel stories and, for this, I'm going to use an example...
Recently, I've been watching The Flash with my daughter. (The boys have no interest in the DC TV shows (and for good reason!).) Because we watch everything after the fact, we're working our way through season two, right now. Now, as a character, I like the Flash -- If I could have a super power, it would be super speed. -- but I haven't much liked this version of the Flash. Sorry, the character in this show is NOT Barry Allen. However, it's been okay enough to watch with my daughter because she does like it. (She prefers Marvel, but she can't watch the Marvel TV shows, yet.)
It has been "okay enough" right up until we got to the episode "Flash Back." They've already done a few time travel episodes, but those were episodes -- see if you can follow this -- where time travel happened but were not about the time travel; "Flash Back" is about the time travel. And it turned a show which was "okay enough" into a show I am currently hating for its blatant and utter stupidity.
So let's break this down:
1. Barry Allen is supposed to be a brilliant scientist. To say that another way, he's incredibly smart.
2. Barry Allen already went back in time to the murder of his mother, and he refrained from saving her, something he desperately wanted to do, because of the danger of changing the past.
3. In "Flash Back," before Barry leaves for the past, they give him that whole speech, "Don't change anything, because you will be the only one who remembers how things are actually supposed to be."
1. Barry is super smart, so he should know better than to tamper with the things that have already happened.
2. If Barry could withstand the temptation to save his mother, he should be able to withstand any other temptations about changing the past.
Of course, Barry can't resist and purposefully affects the past at least three times in the episode, not to mention all of the accidental/unforeseen changes.
Wait a minute...
Knowing the danger of messing with the past, Barry goes ahead and purposefully makes alterations to the timeline for which he cannot know the ramifications.
But the writers expect us to believe that
1. Barry is smart.
2. Barry would succumb to the temptation of fiddling when he didn't save his mother.
This is just... bad writing. Bad writing. Horrible, stupid writing. And it's the kind of thing that makes me hate more than 90% of time travel in popular culture. Not to mention that this particular example of it undermines the entire Flash TV series. We can now no longer trust anything in the show because the writers can just do whatever the fuck they want at any given moment and blame it on Barry having changed things in the past.
And the bigger problem?
Once you've established that your hero can time travel, you can't have him not do it without that being equally as stupid as having the time travel. Either way, the show can't move forward, now, without being dumb.
Maybe I should go back in time and explain to Bradbury the horror he is going to unleash on the world with his one little short story.