alternate wednesday: my favorite time machine


“Might solve a mystery / Or rewrite history…”

Most people would probably guess that my favorite time machine in fiction is the DeLorean from the Back to the Future films. That’s a pretty good guess, and I would definitely like to own one someday! Preferably one that runs on a garbage-fueled fusion reactor and can fly. But the time machine I like the most is the Millennium Shortcut.

vlcsnap-2013-02-26-19h07m56s104Never heard of it? The Millennium Shortcut, likely a riff on Han Solo’s Millennium Falcon, was the time machine used in the five-part DuckTales miniseries, “Time is Money.” I loved the simple yet elegant design, clearly inspired by old-style alarm clocks—a giant leap forward from the first time machine Gyro Gearloose invented, the time-tub.

If you never saw it or no longer remember the premise of the story, which first aired as a TV movie in 1988, Scrooge McDuck tries to claim prior ownership of a cave of diamonds—before Flintheart Glomgold can steal it from him—by traveling back in time and scrawling his symbol, $, all over its walls with a laser. Through a series of mishaps (after all, Launchpad McQuack is piloting the Shortcut), they accidentally go much farther back, to prehistoric times, where they pick up two stowaways: cave duck Bubba and his pet triceratops, Tootsie. Hijinks ensue, and in the end, Bubba Duck joins the main cast for a season, and Duck Tales jumps the megalodon.

Okay, so the plot doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, even for a time travel story. But it’s so unabashedly nonsensical, with plenty of sappy moments, I couldn’t help loving it. And I always enjoyed multi-part episodes of my childhood cartoons because stories spread out over two, four, or five episodes were so much bigger in scope than your usual 22-minute episode.

vlcsnap-2013-02-26-19h11m59s33But my favorite thing about the Millenium Shortcut (other than its name) was the unique power source that enabled it to travel in time: bombastium. It was a rainbowy element that took the form of a popsicle, and it had to remain frozen in order to work. You didn’t even need a time machine to use it, but without a computer to control it, licking it would take you to a random time period, with no reliable way home. I had thought Gyro somehow invented bombastium, but when I just researched it, I learned it isn’t even original to DuckTales.

Like many stories and plot elements in the series, bombastium was borrowed from a Carl Barks comic. (I really need to read all of those.) According to Wikipedia:



Bombastium is stated to be the rarest element in the world. Even though it is very coveted, its usage potential is not entirely known. One characteristic is that it tastes different every time you try it, and scientists eventually discovered that one atom of bombastium dropped into a barrel of water becomes one barrel of ice cream: a different flavor of ice cream each time. To avoid evaporation, bombastium must be kept frozen.

vlcsnap-2013-02-26-12h59m03s242On Duck Tales, bombastium just melts, which adds a kind of ticking clock (ha ha) to the climax of the story where Bubba is running out of time (sorry!) to get back to Duckburg. Fortunately, the computer is smart enough to locate the correct time just by fixing on his crudely drawn sketch of Uncle Scrooge and the directive, “Find Scooge!” Nonsense maybe, but the Shortcut was designed specifically for Launchpad to operate, after all.

There were some other great time machines to come out of the Disney Afternoon, which I will probably mention in later posts. But now it’s your turn: In the comments below, tell me about your favorite method of time travel in fiction.

alternate wednesday: doppelgängers

My wife and I adopted a rescue dog a couple of months ago, so I’ve been taking two or three extra walks a day, which have turned out to be perfect for listening to podcasts of This American Life. I love the radio program, but I didn’t always have time for it because I tend to prefer reading during my commute, and there are books, movies, and video games competing for my free time at home. Still, the Android app for the show was my first paid download when I got a Droid phone, and now I’m actually getting a lot more use out of it.

Anyway, I was astonished the other day when I heard the January 11, 2013 episode, “Doppelgängers.” As you might be aware, a doppelgänger is an identical twin, what Wikipedia defines as “a paranormal double of a living person, typically representing evil or misfortune.” The German word literally translates as “double goer.” Doppelgängers are staples of parallel universe and time travel stories, but it seems they appear in pretty much every genre, whether in a purely symbolic representation in literary fiction or something more sinister in horror. As fascinating as it might be to encounter someone who looks just like you, who might have led a life different from your own, the possibility of being replaced by your duplicate–cloned or dimensional or whatever–is terrifying.

The episode of This American Life is much more grounded in reality, but some of the implications raised by its stories are no less horrific. The hour-long program is often startling, humorous, sobering and profound, presenting two pieces that celebrate the redemptive power of pork bung and compare and contrast life in Philadelphia with the war in Afghanistan. Check it out:

And for something completely different, here’s one of my favorite stories about doppelgängers, an eerie Twilight Zone episode titled “Mirror Image.”

What’s your favorite book, movie, comic, or TV show about doppelgängers?

alternate wednesday: Sliders Re-Watch: “Summer of Love”

Sliders: “Summer of Love”
Written by Tracy Tormé
Directed by Mario Azzopardi

Season 1, Episode 2
Air date: 04:19:95
Same Earth, Different Dimension: It’s still the Sixties, man.


Back on Earth Prime, FBI agents ask Conrad Bennish about his friend Quinn Mallory, who has been missing since Tuesday along with Professor Arturo, Wade Wells, and Rembrandt Brown. The agents bring him to Quinn’s basement, where they are photographing his wormhole equipment and equations on the blackboard, and show him a video in which Quinn mentions discussing the Einstein-Rosen-Podalski Bridge with Bennish–and says he’s found a way to cross it. This blows Bennish’s mind. He tells them it’s possible that Quinn and the others have gone to another universe.


alternate wednesday: Dickens Around

Last week, I was delighted and astonished to learn that Rowan Atkinson and Tony Robinson had reprised their iconic roles as Blackadder and Baldrick in a stage sketch written by Ben Elton for a benefit titled We Are Most Amused. If you aren’t familiar with this British comedy, it’s about a scheming man named Blackadder whose cunning plans for power and fortune are frequently thwarted. Each season took place in a different historical period in England, along with a few one-off specials, capped by a time-traveling adventure called Blackadder: Back & Forth, which I’ll probably write about here in more detail later. It was a clever approach to the show, allowing Atkinson to reinvent the character in different incarnations, much like our favorite Time Lord (a role he has also portrayed.)

Anyway, this and the impending holidays reminded me that it had been a while since I had rewatched Blackadder’s Christmas Carol, which I quickly remedied. Clearly it’s based on A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, the ubiquitous seasonal classic which has been adapted, parodied, and referenced countless times since it was first published in 1843. This has to be one of the earliest instances of time travel and alternate universes occurring in fiction, though it employs magic (through the visions visited upon Ebenezer Scrooge by the spirits of Christmases Past, Present, and Future) and could be read with some ambiguity. If you know of other stories that predate it, I’d love to hear about them.


Of all the different versions of A Christmas Carol out there, my favorite is this Blackadder special from 1988. (Alas, I have never seen Patrick Stewart’s one-man show. Bad Trekkie!) It’s fairly standalone, but you’ll probably enjoy it more if you’ve seen and loved the preceding two seasons of the series and/or get a kick out of Rowan Atkinson. The reason I like it so much is because of its twist, which I will now spoil: When the story begins, Ebenezer Blackadder is a good, altruistic man who gives so much to beggars and family that he and Baldrick are left with no food or presents at Christmas. The spirit of Christmas (Robbie Coltrane!) turns up and makes the mistake of showing him how horrible his ancestors were, with fresh scenes taking place in the 16th century and 19th century eras of the series. But Blackadder’s nasty, clever, charming predecessors only convince him that there’s more fun and profit to be had in being bad than good, although this naturally backfires on him in the end.

"This is all getting a bit sillah!"

The biting, offensive humor may not work for you; much of it relies on Blackadder coming up with brilliant insults of other characters, particularly Baldrick. And some of the jokes made me wince this time around. But I still think it’s great fun and the cast is terrific: Jim Broadbent as Prince Albert; Hugh Laurie returning as George, Prince of Wales; Miranda Richardson as Queenie; Stephen Fry as the obsequious Lord Melchett. And then there are their futuristic counterparts in the Grand Admiral Blackadder segment.

And of course there’s a moral to be taken away from this, that you shouldn’t let people take advantage of your kindness–in a rare instance, most of the people Blackadder eventually lets loose on actually deserve it. And it turns out that even when he’s being nice, there’s a subtle nastiness to him. It’s kind of interesting to see him insult Baldrick and the others good-naturedly. If it’s one thing he has going for him, it’s that his barbed comments are so clever that many people don’t even realize they’ve just been verbally assaulted to their faces.

Mrs. Scratchit: No goose for Tiny Tom this year.
Ebenezer Blackadder: Mrs. Scratchit, Tiny Tom is fifteen stone and built like a brick privy. If he eats any more heartily, he will turn into a pie shop.

If someone asks if you're the Ghost of Christmas Past, you say "Yes!"

My other favorite A Christmas Carol “adaptation” is an episode of The Real Ghostbusters, “X-mas Marks the Spot,” written by J. Michael Straczynski. I just rewatched it and it’s a bit goofy, but it’s also brilliant in a Saturday morning cartoon kind of way. You have to forgive a lot and suspend disbelief, but the Ghostbusters accidentally get time-slipped to Victorian England, where they encounter Ebenezer Scrooge. Yeah, I know.

But see, they’re Ghostbusters, so they capture the spirits that haunt him before they realize who he is, and when they get back to their own time, everyone else hates Christmas. So to restore the proper timeline, they have to retrieve the Christmas ghosts from the containment unit and return them to Scrooge–meanwhile, Peter, Winston, and Ray try impersonating the ghosts, which gives us scenes like Peter in a dress and wig pushing Scrooge around in a wheelchair with a Viewmaster strapped to his face to provide the “visions” of his past. Silly, but fun! I particularly liked that this startling development was foreshadowed early on: When the Ghostbusters try to collect their fee from Scrooge, he asks, “How do I know they were real ghosts? Maybe this was all some kind of trick.” In a way it was; if I’m interpreting it correctly, all of this happens just so that Peter will learn the true meaning of Christmas, which is that it isn’t so bad. *shrug* Oh, and Santa is also real, probably.

So what are your favorite versions of A Christmas Carol? Maybe Scrooged with Bill Murray? The Muppet Christmas Carol? Mickey’s Christmas Carol?

alternate wednesday: Sliders Re-Watch: “Pilot”

I’ve been kicking around the idea of blogging more about some of my favorite stories about parallel universes and time travel in books, film, comics, and television, but it’s been hard to set aside time to do it, and I didn’t want to write posts randomly based on whenever I get around to them. So I’ve finally hit on a blog series I’m calling Alternate Wednesday: Every other Wednesday I (and/or a guest blogger) will highlight a different take on multiple worlds, time travel, and related topics—movies like Back to the Future, shows like Quantum Leap, and so on.

Given the rich history of science fiction and fantasy, I don’t anticipate ever running out of things to cover for as long as this series continues. I’ve decided on a bi-monthly schedule to hold me accountable while also ensuring I still have time to write other things, like fiction; I’m timing this series so that I can update this blog on the alternating weeks when I’m not writing a Star Trek: The Next Generation Re-Watch post over at The Viewscreen. If this somehow gets popular or I have a lot of extra content for it, I may just have two different tracks of posts alternating every Wednesday. Who knows? Anything is possible.

To start things off, I decided to follow through on another ill-conceived plan I had a while back, to rewatch Sliders. (You remember Sliders, don’t you?) I’m flattered that my editor at Pyr, Lou Anders, describes my book Fair Coin as “Sliders if it were good.” I’ve wanted to defend the show as at least occasionally good, but I couldn’t back that up since I hadn’t seen it in such a long time; knowing the obvious similarities, I consciously tried to make my novels as little like Sliders as I could, with mixed results.

But I recently picked up seasons 1 through 4 on DVD on the cheap, and I’ve never even seen the last two seasons (along with most other people), so I figured I would give this a shot. I don’t know how often I’ll post recaps and reviews of subsequent episodes, but I do intend to watch them all eventually, in the originally intended order. It all depends on if anyone cares–and hey, if another blog wants to pay me to do more of these, that would be all the justification I need! (Hint hint, nudge nudge, wink wink.) At the very least, you can expect sporadic Sliders Re-watch posts here until I or my readers lose interest. Posts will loosely follow the Recap/Analysis format Torie and I established for our Star Trek Re-Watch.

That’s enough exposition for now. Let’s enter the wormhole…