25 November 2011

FWS Topics: Temporal Warfare

Recently, io9.com posted a list of sci-fi works where the time is the primary battlefield (http://io9.com/5858758/when-time-is-a-battlefield-the-most-bewildering-time-wars) and not some far-away planet. These time-wars are not waged over where but when. While these time-wars are not the standard vision of traditional military science fiction, it is subelement of futuristic warfare, and presents a different idea of how and why future wars could be waged.
When it comes to presenting the concept of temporal warfare, those of us that grew up watching Doctor Who and Star Trek,  the concept was often seen, but few works have been able to bring this home. This could be do with temporal warfare lacking in a realistic approach with its delivery, overall lack of thought and hard science behind it, because at its core, MSF is natural more realistic and hard science than traditional sci-fi.

Could there be a Time-War?

If time was the batteground of the future, what would it look like? Would there be massive armies of futuristic warriors blasting each other with rayguns? Or would it be spy vs. spy type of warfare? Could there even be a war over the course of different time periods, without destroy the totality of the universe? Certainly any soldiers of the future that were deployed to another time period would have to be careful when engaging in any type of gunfight...one stray round could change the future in a vast unseen ways, butterfly effect, indeed. The main reason behind the use time travel as a weapon would to even the odds in a losing conflict or even changing the conditions to bring about their adversaries. When really thought of temporal warfare, it brought a quote of President Kenned from 1962: "this is another type of warfare- new in its intensity, ancient its origin-war by guerrillas, subversives, insurgents, assassins; war by ambush instead of combat, by infiltration instead of aggression, by eroding and exhausting the enemy instead of engaging him. It preys on unrest."

Temporal warfare never really entered by own writings until 2007. After reading Maus by Art Spiegelman, I explored the possibility of a temporal war in my still-unfinished-short-story, The Murder of One. In this far-future story, Dr. Misha Fischer develops time travel in the 36th century, and it leads to a war over the technology by governments and corporations, however, once the technology falls into he hands of various religious groups, they trying to prove the existence of their god and assassinate each others prophets to prevent each other religion's  from existing.
To end the conflict and preserve the human race,  Dr. Fischer escapes with the technology off-world, goes back several years before her development of time travel, and attempts to use the technology to explore the past with trained historical anthropologist-travelers that wear "encounter suits."
This story picks up when a traveler goes to a Nazi Death Camp, and ends with the death of Hitler during World War One, and once Dr. Fischer is aware of the altered timeline and she comes to the realizationthat  the only to prevent time-travel, is to kill herself.
This story taught me that if and when humanity achieve ability to travel through time, someone will exploit the technology for their own gain. This will distort how history originally unfolded, and the change our reality ways we cannot imagine or control. Making time travel one of the most dangerous technologies the world will ever see. This could be why the that laws of physics prevent it from happening.
"Reality is, what we think now, a string that someone else can pull, and history is how far they pull it..." -Dr. Misha Fischer, 3581 AD

Here is a list of some examples, most not covered in the io9 article, of temporal warfare:

Time Beavers

In this 1985 First Comics graphic novel by Timothy Truman, as the great time steam of the universe and its dam, being guarded by gun-carrying Beavers (I shit you not). Their enemy? Rats that seek to control the dam and become a time lords devoted to chaos. During a successful raid, the Rats get control of three important artifacts from Earth, and seek to use these objects to destroy the flow of time, while the Beavers hunt for the rat teams throughout certain time periods. Time Beavers was a wonderful graphic novel and is better than my summary of it. Truely, one of the lost gems of 1980's comics.

Dr. Who

The show itself was never that focused on warfare or gunfights, especially when concerning the Doctor himself. However, within the background of the longest running sci-fi show, there was the shadow war between the Daleks and the Time Lords of Gallifrey, over the destiny of the universal timeline. This came to an apex with  'The Last Great Time War' that cost Gallifrey its very existence. While the storylines that played through the original (or classic) Doctor Who series where Time Lords attempting to prevent the Daleks from achieving time travel technology were interesting, the new series having Gallifrey destoryed seems like bad written and destory a certain something that the classic series had.

Star Trek: Enterprise: The Temporal Cold War
"And that's where I had sex with your Great-Great Grandma..."
Throughout the Star Trek saga, the subject of time travel and travelers as been covered...alot; and at times, these time travelers have attempted to change the time line in their favor.
These lame attempts pale in comparison to the 'Temporal Cold War' of the best the Star Trek series, Enterprise. During the pilot episode until season four, different factions from the 31st century that possessed time travel were attempting to alter the 22nd century, during which, the Federation was formed, by the use of proxy forces. Despite my recent falling out with Star Trek, I believe the Temporal Cold War of Enterprise is one of the best example of temporal warfare in mainstream sci-fi. 
HEX (1985)

In the mid-80's, the Mad Max post-apocalyptic nuclear holocaust was big business and DC Comics wanted a piece of the mushroom cloud pie. So, they took their Western gunfighter anti-hero Jonah Hex, and transplanted him to a 21st century post-nuclear war apocalypse to do battle with biker gangs and giant worms (not kidding). During his eighteen issue run, Hex, Jonah Hex ran into other time travelers, that were sent to stop him.


Here is one of the concepts of time being a battleground that featured  the men and women that protect the timeline for being altered. Sadly, the Timecop movie and the short-lived TV series were not done well enough to unlize the concept and suffered from a lack of realism and general chesseiness. The good news is that there is a relaunch coming soon, and there is a fair possibility that this movie could be remade with a more solid concept and without a certain Martial Artist...

Millennium: "Owls" and "Roosters"

One of the offshoots of the success of the X-Files was the show about the end of the world, a secret society, a gifted profiler, and serial killers, and it was called Millennium. The show itself didn't have any time travel storylines, but the secret society that former-FBI profiler Frank Black worked for, the Millennium Group, had been waiting a thousand years for the turn of the next century, when the end of the world would occur. However, two sides within the Millennium Group battled for control, the Owls and the Roosters, one believed a scientific event would happen in 2000 AD, another believed that it would be the fulfillment of the end times. It was a group moving through time and battling about time, which was interesting concept and done extremely well...I miss the 90's at times.  

The X-Files "Synchrony" (4x19)

I was massive fan of the X-Files up until its Fifth season that is, and one episode that as stuck with me is the low-rated "Synchrony" from the middle of season four. Murders are being committed against a select group of MIT researchers using a freezing compound. It is later learned that the elder man committing these murders is an time traveler and is the older self to one of the researchers. This time traveler explains to his younger self about the horrors of a society that can travel through time: "What she created. What you - we - helped to create. A world without history, without hope. Where anyone can know everything that will ever happen. I've seen that world"
This quote has directly impacted my thinking on time travel and what might happen in December of 2012.  

Star Trek: Voyager "Year of Hell"

The majority of ST: Voyager's episodes were complete dogshit and helped end my long love affair with Star Trek, until Enterprise, however, Voyager did have a two-parter called "Year of Hell", where an alien species is using surgical insurrections into the timestream to restore their long-dead empire./ The captain of the alien time warship's was also a personal quest to restore his dead wife as well, and the other all story was similar to Moby Dick. This was one of the more brutal and violent episode of Voyager, where all seemed lost, until Janeway gives the time warship a taste of the divine wind.

The Forever War by Joe Haldmen

In a odd way, the Forever War is a book about soldiers fighting their way across time. The method of FTL for the aliens and humans fighting this war involves collapsers (wormholes), but the laws of time dilation still apply, causing the war to be waged over 1,143 years. This causes battles to be seperated by hundreds of years, and the soldiers to lose all concept of home and time.

Seven Days (TV series)

This UPN series ran from 1998 to 2001, and featured an NSA program called Operation: Backstep that created a time machine from a reverse engineered crashed alien craft from 1947. The time machine was in two parts, one opened the crack in time back seven days, and the other was the Chronosphere, where the time traveler was encased, which had flight controls and readouts, but wasn't a time machine in of itself.
The limit of seven days was due to their ultra-rare fuel source (Element 113) that was recovery from the crashed UFO. The time technology was also used into the future and there was attempted time machine being built by the Soviets. This little series was completely under funded and under rated during its run. Interestingly, this idea of a limited time machine being used by the US government as been seen in two recent movies.

Terra Nova

This lackluster mega-expensive TV series as been hinting at a conflict between factions in 2149 are using the Terra Nova settlement and the breakaway Sixers in Prehistoric Earth to gain control. Maybe if the series focused on that and developed it, than Terra Nova may not be so lackluster, which is what we got on November 21st episode of Terra Nova, "Vs," that deepended the overall mystery of the power struggle for the Terra Nova settlement.  

The Terminator series

Out of all the time war stories, the best explored in several types of media is The Terminator. Unlike the other stories and plots mentioned on this list, there is something so pure and natural about the basic plot of Terminator that works, and is oddly believable, especially with the realism of the nuclear Holocaust and the dark future war with the machines.. The only issue, for me, is that the entire Terminator saga as been so frakked with, that the original concept as been destroyed by layers and layers of shit. However, if you just consider the first two films, The Terminator stands above the other time-war ideas.

The Big Time by Fritz Leiber

Fritz Leiber's 1957 story was ligthyears ahead of its time, and the concept of time-travelers abducting persons from other time periods to serve as proxies in their time-war was capitalized on by other writers, like Poul Anderson's1 965 Corridors of Time and Star Trek: TOS "The Savage Curtain"
The Big Time plot had two far-future factions named the Snakes and the Spiders fighting their across time using characters from different Terran time periods as proxies to change the time flow in favor of one or the other.

The Lord of the Sands of Time

Issui Ogawa is truly one of the master's time travel war books, along with All you need is Kill, he created The Lord of the Sands of Time, where mankind lost their war with the aliens, and the remnants of mankind are orbiting Jupiter. To prevent and/or reverseof  Earth's fortunes, mankind and the aliens are jumping around different time periods to swing the balance one way our another.

The Corridor of Time by Poul Anderson (1965) 

In this novel about time warfare, the Ranger and Wardens battle over "temporal freewill" of how the destiny of mankind unfolds, I actually read a few pages of this book in a used book store in Grandbury, Texas, and hit me at the time was the characters used different weapons in different time periods, and the characters could identify their time traveling enemies based on the weapons.  Along with Corridor of Time, he also wrote the The Time Patrol.

Time-Splitters Video Game series

I've never played the Timesplitters video game series, but from Internet searches, it seems that human soldiers are using time crystals to perverse the timeline from alien  "timesplitters" created by human to be the genetic superior to mankind, and they are attempting to frak with the timeline to install themselves as the dominant species.

Odyssey 5 (TV series)

During a routine Space Shuttle flight, the Earth explodes before the crew's eyes, and all seems lost, until a race called the Seekers rescues them, informing the crew of the Odyssey that fifty other worlds have been destroyed in a similar manner. The crew of five surviving members of the Space Shuttle Odyssey back five years before the destruction of the Earth  prevent the destruction. The series was cancelled after fourteen episodes, so we never got to find out if the Earth was saved...bummer.

Darkest of Days 

Nothing sucks worse that taking a great concept for a shooter ith a grand idea, then turning it into completely and utter dogshit.S uch was true of Darkest of Days. The story focused on time-travelers trying to save certain important individuals from dying in some of Earth history's biggest battles, while others attempt to stop them to alter the timeline in their favor. The game itself was widely panned, despite the use of ancient weapons and epic-scale battlefields, real pity.

The Guns of the South

What if, the best assault rifle in the world, the AK-47 was given to the Confederate Army by South African time travelers? Then you'd would  have this novel, which is one of the classics of alternative history books by Harry Trutledove written in 1992. This book will surprise you, much of the novel was devoted not to the Civil War or even the time travelers but to the realistic aftermath of the South winning the war. Out of the rest Turtledove's novels about the alternative Earth timeline, this is his finests.


  1. Interesting post, William. The problem with time travel and time wars is that we really don't know if time travel is possible or if history can be changed. We know that space travelers can travel forward in time by traveling close to the speed of light and enjoying plenty of time dilation, but reverse time travel is another can of worms entirely.

    I'm sure you've heard of the Grandfather Paradox. Reverse time travel allows you to create paradoxes that are really confusing.

    As for time wars, that depends on what "rules" time travel follows. If there is one immutable time line, the time travelers actions are part of history all along, and she can't change anything. For instance, if Dr. Fischer tries to save her fiance from being killed by an out-of-control car, she materializes in the road and causes the driver to swerve, slip on ice, and hit her fiance. So, she was part of the event she tried to stop all along.

    In other SF works, history is flexible and can be changed. In this kind of setting, the resulting paradoxes can be devastating. You could travel back in time, change a few events, and return to find the 4th Great and Bountiful Human Empire that you left behind has been replaced by a oppressive dictatorship ruled by the immortal brains of several deranged military commanders (they are kept in jars on life support)!

    A slightly different version of the flexible timeline model is that trivial events are easy to change but important events are very hard to change, i.e., the difficulty of changing an event is relative to how important it is. I might travel back from the war-torn 26th century to the 25th to prevent the Eridanis conflict of 2436 and fail to prevent the conflict but instead save one Col. Samantha Barrows by preventing her from being on transport struck by a photonic missile. Or perhaps I might travel back in time and assassinate Hitler, but another Nazi takes his place and WW2 happens anyway, leading to an alternate history where the status quo was changed somewhat but the major events occur anyway.

    An example of this kind of time travel was hinted at in the Star Trek TOS episode "The City On The Edge Of Forever", where Edith Keeler's death is incalculably important but the random disintegration of a homeless man by a phaser was totally incidental and unimportant. Star Trek also has a tradition of using the concept of "parallel realities". Often, a time traveller creates a parallel timeline but the one in which he or she originated still exists, preventing the grandfather paradox.

    One thing to keep in mind is that FTL travel can lead to time travel in Special Relativity. If you move at FTL speeds, than according to Special Relativity, observers in some inertial frames will see you move back in time. If you work it all out (its complex!!), it is possible to create scenarios where FTL signals travel back in time, leading to paradoxes. This is one of the biggest arguments against FTL travel. If you have a universe where FTL travel is commonplace, without some special factor preventing it, you might have FTL warships come limping in from battles that haven't happened yet.

    Wikipedia has a good article on time travel- check it out!! I hadn't read a discussion of all the different "time-travel rules" used in SF stories before.


    Christopher Phoenix

  2. The idea of a battleship limbing back into drydock prior the battle as began is interesting...hmmm. Speaking of time travel and warship I've never liked the Skip Drive from Old Man's War.
    I honestly think that time travel is impossible, due to the havoc it could reap. I've read the rules of time travel a few times, and it always make my head spin, someone did an amazing job with that wiki article!

  3. Yeah, someone did a very good job with that wiki article!!

    Atomic Rockets mentions the "FTL travel=time travel" issue on the Faster-Than-Light page. Unless there is some other factor, like a special reference frame or quantum effect that collapses wormholes if you try to construct a time machine, it is possible to construct a time travel scenario with FTL travel if Relativity holds true. In this case, an FTL warship limping back to Starbase Earth before the battle is indeed possible, and Generals would use this too their advantage by sending warships back in time to change the outcome of the war to favor their side.

    Stephan Hawking put forth a hypothesis called the "Chronology Protection Conjecture" which suggests the laws of nature conspire to destroy any possible time machine before it can be used. If his hypothesis held up, then it would be impossible to warp space enough to create wormholes or warp drives, and we would be forced to explore space in a slow and tedious manner using rocketships that travel at STL speeds, but Mr. Hawking could not prove the Chronology Protection Conjecture using modern day physics. We'll need a completer theory of quantum gravity for that.


    The Novikov self-consistency principle and parallel universe concepts do not qualify as "chronology protection".

    The Novikov self-consistency principle is an interesting notion. The self-consistency principle basically says that any event that will give rise to a time travel paradox has zero probability of occurring- in other words it is impossible to create a time travel paradox. The Novikov principle does not allow me to change the past in any way, but I can affect the past in ways that don't create paradoxes.

    If I stepped through a time gate to the 1940's and took aim at my grandfather with a fully-functioning version of the F.M.O.M Wave Disruptor Gun, intending on killing him and preventing myself from being born, according to the Novikov self-consistency principle, something would prevent me from succeeding in killing my grandfather. I might slip on a banana peel and miss, my raygun might misfire and vaporize my hand, or a cow might wander into my line of fire just before I squeezed the trigger and be reduced to ash instead of my grandfather, etc.

    If I travelled back to the Titanic, I could not succeed in preventing it from sinking, but I could save people and replace them with realistic corpses, taking the rescued passengers into the future. I could affect past events in a way that does not produce paradoxes but not change the past. As long as the reason for my earlier future self making the time travel trip in the first place exists, I'm able to tour the past.

    I think the movie Twelve Monkeys used this idea- the time travelers couldn't change the events of the past, but they could take a sample of the virus to cure the disease in the future.

    There's more to this idea- read about it at wikipedia.


    Mind-bending stuff!!

  4. Sorry, but I am new here. Do you think it would possible for me to submit a short story to be published here?

  5. Sorry it took so long it took to get back to you. Send the story to williambregnard@gmail.com, and Nigel and I will review it and let you know. Thank you for reading and commenting.

  6. The first thing that comes to my mind when I think of a “Time War,” is that you need two groups that are completely isolated for the temporal effects that are resulting from the war. Otherwise, all one side has to do is go back in time far enough to disable the other side.
    The other is a story I read in “The Space Gamer,” where a multitude of copies of one character came from a multitude of potential futures, and each tried to promote events that would cause his future.

    An idea that I have used in my RPG campaigns is that one can change “A” past, but not “THE” past. Here’s an example;

    Our protagonist travels back in time and returns without changing the past. He would not notice any difference, but when he went back in time, he created a temporal fork that verses off the primary line. He may not notice anything different, but on the “Primary Line,” he’s a missing persons report.