Tom Holt Talks Time Travel

Tom Holt’s latest work of comic genius, The Better Mousetrap, is out today and to mark the occasion, Tom was kind enough to write a piece for our blog. Hope you all enjoy and be sure to look out for The Better Mousetrap, in stores now!

Suppose, just suppose, you actually could travel faster than light –

There would be problems, of course. For one thing, you wouldn’t be able to see where you’re going, which means you’d run an unacceptably high risk of bumping into something solid, like an asteroid, or unpleasantly warm, like a star. For another, you’d arrive before you left, with the inevitable result that, no matter how meticulous you might be about planning your journey, you’d always arrive at your destination to find that you’d left the tickets or the hotel reservations at home. And, of course, there’d be all the aggravation with your luggage. It’s bad enough travelling sublight and finding that your spongebag and nightwear have wound up on a different tectonic plate. Factor in a fourth dimension, and the possibilities are as infinite as the multiverse itself.

But just suppose. Time travel; piece of cake. When do you want to go today?

First stop, sixteenth-century Italy, where Leonardo da Vinci will be only too happy to swap a dozen or so paintings for a portable DVD player and a wall-mounted tin opener. Then back to the present to flog the loot at Sotheby’s, invest the proceeds in a long-term Swiss deposit account, then fast-forward five hundred years while compound interest beavers quietly away on your behalf, so that when you arrive you’ll be able to buy America (or such parts of it as are still above water; what with melting ice-caps and rising sea levels, the day when everybody has an ocean across the USA is probably nearer than you think)
Nah. You wouldn’t do that. Frivolous. Where’s your sense of social responsibility? You wouldn’t fritter away the amazing potential of time travel in an orgy of gross materialism. You’d use it to right past wrongs, alter history for the better. Well, of course you would.

First stop –

Actually, second stop fourteenth-century Constantinople. First stop, your local pet shop, where you’d buy a couple of dozen cats. Then fourteenth-century Constantinople, where you release the moggies in the cargo holds of the rat-infested grain ships on their way to spread the Black Death throughout Europe. Then fast-forward to seventeenth-century London, with your fire extinguisher under your arm –

Not so fast. By stopping the Black Death in its tracks, you’ve changed history. True, you’ve saved a third of the population of Europe from a horrible, lingering death. Which means, no fourteenth-century labour shortage, which means the feudal system doesn’t collapse, which means you’re too busy ploughing the Earl of Middlesex’s estate by lantern-light with a team of oxen to go larking about time-travelling.

Which is why, presumably, the quantum physics graduates haven’t yet managed to get the funding to develop a functional time machine. Of course faster-than-light travel’s possible. Homo sapiens isn’t thick. On the contrary. Homo sapiens is just bright enough to realise the unlimited potential for really serious damage that would result from a bunch of well-meaning, idealistic young scientists getting their hands on that kind of technology. Such limited experiments as have been made in applied temporal physics have wisely been restricted to certified, vouched-for greedheads who can be relied on to use time travel exclusively for lining their own pockets; which is how come, any day now, our cultural heritage will be enriched by the discovery of a dozen hitherto unrecorded masterpieces of Renaissance art, and someone might even do something about greenhouse gases and carbon emissions, on the grounds that owning America won’t be much fun if all you end up with is the peaks of the Rockies and a very large swimming-pool.
– Tom Holt