Le voyage dans le temps en question

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Quelles sont les meilleurs histoires de voyage dans le temps ? C'est l'une des questions posées à un panel d'écrivain de science fiction ici.

Voici les réponses de Ted Chiang et Robert Charles Wilson.

Ted Chiang
I think that there are, broadly speaking, three reasons for using time travel in fiction. (Obviously, more than one may apply to any given story.)

The first reason for using time travel is to gain easy access to a wide variety of settings. If you want your characters to interact with dinosaurs, or Julius Caesar, or Shakespeare, then time travel offers a convenient way to do it. If this is the only motivation for using time travel, then it's acting as an enabling device in the same way that FTL is an enabling device for stories set across interstellar distances. In such cases, I'd say the story uses time travel, but isn't really about time travel.

The second reason for using time travel is to investigate the philosophical questions it raises, most of which (I claim) boil down to the question of determinism vs free will. To oversimplify, a story in which it's possible to change the past and create paradoxes can be taken as an argument that we have free will and that our decisions matter. Conversely, a story in which it's not possible to change the past can be taken as an argument that certain outcomes are predestined and that we can't change our fate. And while we as readers might get bored of seeing particular paradoxes over and over again, the question of whether we are free or constrained remains interesting.

The third reason for using time travel is to examine the problem of regret. (This is sort of the emotional counterpart to the intellectual questions described in the previous paragraph.) All of us can think of past decisions we'd do differently if we had the chance, but unfortunately, real life doesn't offer "do overs." And while time-travel stories can act as simple wish fulfillment in this matter, they don't have to. In the same way that SF/F in general can use impossibilities in order to help us understand what it means to be human here and now, stories about time travel can offer us perspective on how to live with the mistakes we've made.

As for recommending specific time travel stories, I'll skip that and instead offer a non-fiction title: Time Machines by Paul J. Nahin, published by Springer Verlag in 1999. It's a pretty comprehensive survey of how time travel has been handled by philosophers, physicists, and fiction writers.

Robert Charles Wilson
Time travel may be tricky, but it's also one of the keystones of the SF genre. H.G. Wells used it first (and perhaps best), but it's too fascinating and useful a premise for other writers to leave alone. Time travel lets us de-privilege the present moment -- it reminds us that "all times have been modern." The year 2009 is someone's dazzling futurity and (if we're lucky!) someone else's quaint, primitive dark age. H.G. Wells showed us how to mine that wonderful and frightening truth for both drama and humor, and as SF writers we're all standing on his literary shoulders.
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