Guest post: Time Dilation as a Trope

This is a guest post from author Roy Huff.

Author Roy Huff
Roy Huff

Roy Huff is a huge science fiction and fantasy lover! He also happens to be an award-winning, best-selling fiction and nonfiction author.

Currently he’s busy with his time travel novel which I hear will avoid the trope of the time paradox by embracing the multiverse theory. I’m looking forward to reading and reviewing it – but it won’t be ready until Autumn! Until then we can read his article…

Time Dilation as a Trope (Roy Huff)

I’m not sure when I first discovered time dilation in fiction. It could’ve been from an early 80’s superhero movie or Tom Baker, the fourth Doctor in Dr. Who. But what I do remember is watching many Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes with spatial anomalies, time dilation’s big sister.

One of my favorite examples though was in Unending, a Stargate SG-1 episode written and directed by Robert C. Cooper. In Unending, Samantha Carter used a time dilation “field” to buy decades for each fraction of a second outside the field. In the truest sense, that was a spatial anomaly.

Time dilation only allows those accelerating near light speeds to experience time slower than those around them. It only lets them move forward in time. That “tiny” detail aside, I can’t argue with Unending’s effect. I must’ve watched it a dozen times.

It also happened to air when I was 30 years old, the same year I returned to school after a decade-long break and my second of three bankruptcies. It was a tumultuous period and a great opportunity to dive deep into fantasies of what could’ve been if only I had more time.

Time travel romance, or pure romance, stories also use time dilation as a means for star-crossed lovers to glimpse a fleeting romance. Gene Kelly’s 1954 Brigadoon accomplished the same feat, but without the time dilation.

Writers use the trope in near-light-speed intergalactic ships. But it’s an underutilized mechanism for forward time travel. More often, you find authors using suspended animation or cryo-storage (think Genesis by Ken Lozito).

Of course, there’ve been attempts. Alastair Reynolds’ 2008 House of Suns, Pat Murphy’s 1999 There and Back Again, and Poul Anderson’s The Long Way Home are a few.

Despite the recent explosion of time travel stories, time dilation remains an untapped treasure trove. It’s a wide-open field of unexplored fiction too tempting for me to pass up.

I think it would fit nicely in a space opera, military sci-fi series.

Stay tuned.

Roy Huff

About the author

Author Roy Huff
Author Roy Huff

I’m a Hawaii-based author, research scientist, and teacher. At a young age, I struggled in a family plagued by severe poverty and mental illness. After high school, I moved to the islands and haven’t looked back.

Despite my challenging youth, or perhaps because of it, I embrace optimism, science, and creativity. I still dream of traveling into space and discovering the secrets of the universe. But until then, I make Hawaii my home, where I create new worlds with the stroke of a pen.

You can follow Roy on his website, Facebook page, Instagram and Twitter (@realroyhuff).

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  1. Another great time dilation novel is Poul Anderson’s Tau Zero, in which an interstellar ramjet becomes a runaway unable to stop, scooping up more and more matter as it accelerates, approaches the titular vanishing point. Eons fly by outside the ship as they try to slow down before the Universe ends in the\ Big Crunch – as it takes place in an oscillating universe. Thanks for the fun essay!

    1. I agree Doug, Tau Zero is a brilliant novel! I haven’t read any other of his novels although “Guardians of Time” and “Time Wars” are currently sitting on my bookshelf and awaiting my attention. I’ll have to look into Roy’s suggestion of “A Long Way Home” too!

  2. Interesting post – and got me thinking of time dilation themes in books – the Hyperion series comes to mind, and let’s not forget ’39, the haunting song by “Queen”!

    1. I had no idea Queen’s ’39 was about time dilation! I’ve just listened to it again on youtube and checked out the lyrics – “For so many years have gone though I’m older but a year”. Well spotted Jenifer! I must admit I needed to cheat and search specifically for the lyrics. There are some nice explanations around too!

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