'So You Created a Wormhole' authors combat bad pop culture time travel
A diagram from "So You Created a Wormhole" illustrates the danger of traveling through time and killing one's own grandfather.
April 17th, 2012
12:47 PM ET

'So You Created a Wormhole' authors combat bad pop culture time travel

Let's be upfront about it: Phil Hornshaw and Nick Hurwitch aren't scientists.

But the friends definitely have a love of the science of time travel, which they poured into their new book, "So You Created a Wormhole: The Time Traveler's Guide to Time Travel."

Hornshaw and Hurwitch have seen way too many bad time travel movies and they have the same questions as other sci-fi fanboys and fangirls: "It’s hard to walk out of a time travel movie and not go, 'How do these things sync up?'" Hornshaw told CNN Geek Out.

"Phil and I are longtime geeks," Hurwitch said. "The atrocities of time travel plot devices began to stack up. We simultaneously came up with an original time travel show [still in 'drawing board phase'] and a guide book on how to do it properly."

Hornshaw said that their interest in theoretical physics and astronomy came from a lifelong interest in science fiction; the pair have been friends since third grade in Novi, Michigan.

"We read Michael Crichton’s 'Timeline' back in high school, and both of us were into the concepts from that book," he said. "What we wanted to do with the guide was to make it as simple as we could because it can get so expansive. We pay a lot of attention, but we don’t study up on anything more than what we’re interested in."

"In the book we’re more concerned with how science affects plot, as opposed to how it affects science," Hurwitch said.

Read more about their research and the best and worst moment in pop culture time travel after the jump:

CNN Geek Out: So exactly how much research was involved?

Hornshaw: We did a lot of research to make sure that we weren’t totally in left field, but at the same time, we were focused on plot, so we took some liberties. Nobody should expect to get “real” science knowledge. But we wanted to be as close to the real thing as we could be, and still have a lot of fun.

Hurwitch: [We did] a lifetime [of research]. A lot spawned from fandom. Obviously, when we wrote the book, we expanded into bad time travel movies no one has heard of, and things we hadn’t yet experienced, like “Doctor Who.”

CNN Geek Out: So this book was borne out of frustration with time travel in pop culture, really.

Hornshaw: I remember seeing “The Butterfly Effect.” It was a fun movie, but when I came out of it, all I could think of was plot holes.

Hurwitch: Even the best time travel movies make pretty glaring errors. It’s not to say, “Oh, man! Everyone’s doing it wrong! How stupid!” I think subconsciously, that led to the tone – that’s why it’s absurd and fun. Hopefully people will understand, “Oh, that’s why it’s a plot hole.” It expands the experience coming out of a time travel movie and allows you to enjoy it without hating.

CNN Geek Out: What did you hope to accomplish with the book?

Hurwitch: One of the biggest compliments we got in the early equations was when someone with Penguin [Publishing]’s marketing came to us, and said, “My boss read it, and he can understand relativity for the first time!”

Without using equations and convoluted examples, we use the pop culture references at our disposal to help people understand time travel and enjoy it more.

Plus, if you like nerdy stuff like we do, the book is just fun. I think that’s paramount.

Hornshaw: The survival guide that makes up half the book came out of other things we were inspired by and other people’s work. Crichton’s “The Lost World” involved being lost out in the woods with all these dinosaurs. That sounded like a lot of fun: What if you get lost out there?

The more time we spent with it, the more we realized how much there was to draw on, and how much time travel opens up, because there are so many possibilities. The more time we spent, the more we wanted to go nuts with all these things we like.

CNN Geek Out: Do you think time travel to the past would ever be possible?

Hurwitch: From a realistic perspective, I’d like to think it might be possible one day. Travel to the past would be similar to how Crichton describes it in “Timeline,” and that’s getting down into the weirdness of quantum foam, and that’s more interdimensional travel. Yeah, I would say it’s possible. Why not?

Hornshaw: I really geek out when things like faster-than-light neutrinos pop in a movie. I want to believe, but realistically – er, I don’t know. Stephen Hawking has probably got it right. I wish he was wrong, though!

CNN Geek Out: Any examples of the best or worst time travel movies or series?

Both: "Back to the Future."

Hornshaw: The scene from the third act of “Back to the Future Part II,” when Marty is getting out of his own way, and interacting with the timeline from the first movie, it’s just dynamite. Even if it isn’t strictly scientific, you can’t help but just love those scenes – the idea of time travel, and how much it gets, I just love that.

Hurwitch: The original “Superman: The Movie” where he reverses time by flying backwards around the world: That is the worst thing ever written or filmed.

“Déjà vu” [starring Denzel Washington] was a big turning point. I enjoyed it, it’s a pretty fun movie. The time travel in it is frustrating, because in the beginning of the movie, he sees things that he later does, and when he comes across them later, he doesn’t connect the dots, or realize “I’m the one who did this stuff.” It make you facepalm a little bit.

Hornshaw: Yeah, it’s one of the genesis moments of the idea. I called Nick up and said, 'This movie drove me crazy!'

Tell us in the comments: What are the best and worst moments in pop culture time travel?

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soundoff (71 Responses)
  1. Misa

    I have seen an improvement in speed but, only someeimts. I have noticed that when I have a lot of tabs open(say 10 or so) then, my computer slows down dramatically. Not sure why. Wouldn't mind some insight.

    October 12, 2012 at 11:51 am |
  2. YesMan!

    Hot Tub Time Machine. Great movie. Stupid time travel idea. But I laughed!

    October 2, 2012 at 3:26 pm |
  3. ohai

    The end of the 3rd season of Felicity when she goes back in time. I just have to pretend those episodes don't exist.

    May 2, 2012 at 12:20 pm |
  4. heyjoegfx

    I can't believe no one has mentioned "Timecrimes" yet. (or "Los cronocrímenes" in the original Spanish.) Totally fun film.

    May 2, 2012 at 12:08 am |
  5. Chris

    12 Monkeys... Enough said

    May 1, 2012 at 6:51 pm |
  6. Jexxin

    For me the most recent time travel I really hated was in Heroes. Hiro and Peter jumping around in time all willy nilly, often leaving different people stranded in the wrong times, only to somehow change everything to a "new present or future" that they all somehow knew about as soon as they got there... ~Shudder~

    May 1, 2012 at 6:33 pm |
  7. licorice

    Amazing things here. I am very satisfied to see your post. Thanks a lot and I am having a look forward to touch you. Will you please drop me a mail?

    April 30, 2012 at 10:25 am |
  8. belvs

    Best: Donnie Darko.

    April 28, 2012 at 10:06 am |
  9. NEO

    What if you made a different choice in your own lifetime, rather than stopping the very thing which created you? Perhaps you go back two years ago and make a different choice of something that didn't lead to your non-existence, but a choice that you could have made differently. Would you cease to exist, if that different choice led to a different chain of events?..., but perhaps you would still exist because you haven't changed the sequence of events which made you. If that is possible, I believe that you would not change the events that have occurred to the consequences you have already encountered. And this would only change the dimension of reality at which you are currently living in.

    April 26, 2012 at 7:28 pm |
  10. T

    Just got the book, very funny ! looking forward to the movie (LOL).

    One more thing, has anyone out there ever heard or seen this time-travel movie made in the UK with Anna Faris in it ?
    It's not available here in the USA. It's called "Frequently Asked Questions about Time Travel" – a comedy, set with three guys and a girl from the future in a British pub. Made in 2009.
    Ring a bell, anyone ?

    April 26, 2012 at 10:45 am |
  11. Chris, Austin

    "Time Travelers Never Die" by Jack McDevitt.

    April 25, 2012 at 5:14 pm |
    • Carey

      Great book AND available on Kindle! I keep reading it over and over. Or maybe I don't.

      May 3, 2012 at 10:02 am |
  12. Sunlight99

    I always liked the movie Frequency. While it was not time travel it was time communication and disturbances (reshuffling) the natural course of time.

    April 25, 2012 at 4:37 pm |
    • Carey

      Jim Caviezel is in Frequency and Deja Vu. Is he really a time traveler?

      May 3, 2012 at 10:03 am |
  13. EP Sato

    Best Pop Culture Time Travel: Futurama. Fry ends up his own grandfather after "doing the nasty in the past-y"

    And of course, that past nastification ends up having spectacular results that allow Fry to save the universe.

    April 25, 2012 at 4:36 pm |
    • Dude

      That concept is from the movie "Time Rider". A man in a motorcycle race accidentally goes back in time and . . .

      Also, Futurama is one of my all time favorite shows.

      April 25, 2012 at 10:35 pm |
  14. Jim Stanek

    The "best moment in pop culture time travel" would be when CNN decided to go back to 1955 and start writing actual NEWS, and force their future selves in the space-time continuum to do the same, instead of publishing hypocritical, condescending, yellow journalism.

    Boycott CNN.

    April 24, 2012 at 3:25 am |
  15. gb333

    Not sure that time travel is so hard. Its more trying to find where something actually was in past time. I mean with the world spinning. And traveling around the sun, which is spinning around the galaxy, which is also moving. Folding time is the easy part.

    April 24, 2012 at 12:09 am |
  16. Donna

    People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect when, actually, it's just a big ball of timey-whimey stuff.

    April 19, 2012 at 4:43 pm |
    • Jamie

      Wibbly wobbly, timey-wimey..............Allons-y! Also, the angels have the phone box.

      April 24, 2012 at 10:08 am |
      • EnderWiggin

        "What if we had ideas that could think for themselves? What if one day our dreams no longer needed us? When these things occur and are held to be true, the time will be upon us. The Time of Angels."

        April 25, 2012 at 11:50 am |
    • T

      Best episode of Doctor WHO.... ever ! David Tennant Rules (forever) !

      April 26, 2012 at 10:37 am |
  17. Julie

    Anytime on any Star Trek when they travel back in time, have a need to do something not yet invented like beam someone aboard while traveling at warp or a special kind of metal, and then proceed to type the specifications for it into a computer and then tell the individual (from the past) sitting next to them "you invented this". When could they have possibly "invented" it if it was unknown to them until Spock or whoever gave them the information to create it?

    April 19, 2012 at 3:30 pm |
  18. mainstreetmarshall

    I read this article 5 months ago when I traveled into the future to see what was making news.

    April 19, 2012 at 12:04 pm |
  19. Andrea W.

    What about Kate and Leopold? Pretty big disturbing plothole there. I don't want to ruin it for anyone who hasn't seen it yet, but it's pretty gross.

    April 19, 2012 at 12:04 pm |
  20. Ann

    I also thought the time-turner in Prisoner of Azkaban was pretty cool.

    Sure, it's usually possible to find plot holes. When they're glaringly obvious, it's annoying. But when I'm watching a movie, I just want to be entertained.

    April 19, 2012 at 10:18 am |
  21. Ann

    I loved Star Trek IV – The Voyage Home. Of COURSE it was silly and over the top, but how can you not crack up every time Chekov is on the street asking everyone where the "nuclear wessels" are?

    If you disagree – well, all I can say is double dumb-a$$ on you!

    April 19, 2012 at 10:10 am |
  22. Mattski

    Ah yes. The grandfather paradox. I guess you spawn a new timeline, no?

    April 19, 2012 at 8:47 am |
  23. Severian

    Until they address the fact that everything is travelling very fast in space, as well as time, then any time travel concept will have this problem as a plot hole. Travel in time without traveling in space will put you inside the earth with a 2 second "jump', if not into the depth of space with a 2 minute jump (@67000 mph, and that is just around the sun and not the speed of the sun moving). BTW – Gene Wolfe's 'Book of the New Sun' &' Urth of the New Sun' is certainly one of the better treatments for time travel.

    April 19, 2012 at 8:46 am |
  24. christo

    How do they explain "Quantum Leap"? Not only does Sam Beckett travel back in time, but his "soul" takes the place of someone in the past while that person's "soul" takes over Sam's body in the future.

    April 18, 2012 at 2:41 pm |
    • me

      easy. it's a tv show—ie. not real.

      April 18, 2012 at 6:24 pm |
  25. MindControl23

    I think if the time reversal scene in Superman: The Movie was explained differently it could have worked from a scientific stand point. Say that instead of reversing the rotation of the earth, he was actually traveling faster than light which would have caused him to traveling backwards in time. But that might have been a little too intellectually heady for a late 70's superhero movie.

    April 18, 2012 at 12:03 pm |
    • tuoni

      No it wouldn't

      April 18, 2012 at 12:42 pm |
  26. Traffic

    Obviously they haven't watched "Timerider: The Adventure of Lyle Swann".

    April 18, 2012 at 11:45 am |
    • T

      Holy Moley !
      I remember that one ! Where Lyle is his own grandfather, right ? It's been a long while since I've seen it.

      April 19, 2012 at 10:44 am |
  27. Bemused

    I'll stick up for Superman: The Movie. It's been long established that the final world-turning-back scene has no scientific or realistic basis, but as a pure movie moment, it works incredibly well. "Worst thing ever written or filmed"? You need to see some more movies, dude.

    April 18, 2012 at 9:04 am |
    • Todd T

      I can't watch the movie because of that moment. It was not magical to me or a lot of my friends.

      April 19, 2012 at 7:48 am |
  28. Lankester Merrin

    I think the best is Primer.

    April 18, 2012 at 8:31 am |
  29. g2-fb4a93d1f0d995ba97f282bbd58940f9

    What? They couldn't invent a TARDIS.


    April 17, 2012 at 10:16 pm |
  30. Dr. B

    Twelve Monkeys. That one both irritates me and makes me say, "whoa." (see what I did there, Bill & Ted fans???)

    April 17, 2012 at 9:41 pm |
    • markmark1

      That movie scares the crap out of me.

      April 25, 2012 at 10:37 am |
  31. Facepalm28

    I find their interpretation of the plot in Deja Vu a bit strange. From what I remember, the main character in that movie does connect the dots quite well when he sees events again after his time travel. Heck, it hardly took him any time to figure out that the "surveillance" they were doing was actually a form of time travel when the other people in the room were trying to keep him in the dark.

    One detail that leads me to believe I remember this movie better than they do: Morgan Freeman is not in it. Denzel Washington is the lead actor in Deja Vu.

    April 17, 2012 at 6:43 pm |
    • stuffmanmike

      Uhhhh.... Don't the brackets "[...]" indicate something inserted for clarification by the author/editor and not a direct quote from the interviewee(s)?

      April 17, 2012 at 11:32 pm |
      • Facepalm28

        Ya, you're right. Looks like they fixed it anyway. 🙂

        April 19, 2012 at 12:49 am |
  32. Michael

    11/22/63 by Stephen King is by far the best time travel pop culture piece.

    April 17, 2012 at 5:23 pm |
  33. Happy Booker

    Somewhere in Time with Christopher Reeve ...Love the movie but can't get around the idea of the watch. Also, he freaks out and goes back to his own time when he discovers a penny in his pocket. It was there the entire time but only sent him back when he discovered it was there? One of those times I just need to say "It's only a movie" and sit back and enjoy.

    April 17, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
    • T.Shadowind

      it was a very good movie, and the reason the penny sent him back because if you remember he lay in beed surrounded by all the artifacts of the time period and convinced himself that he was there. the date on the penny if i remember was 1979 which caused his mind to snap back to his time. it was cool for a reason for it to fall apart once he fully set himself into the time period, however the penny seems kinda of small (no pun intended) considering all the things he would have seen during that time that would have caused him to think about when he was that would have sent him back. this was just my take on it and thought i would throw in my 1 cent worth

      April 18, 2012 at 2:08 pm |
  34. SilentBoy741

    "Timecop". Worst time travel movie ever, and a strong contender for worst movie ever, period. I can't believe that atrocity didn't even get a mention in this article.

    April 17, 2012 at 4:37 pm |
    • jeraldjeansonne

      There are so many bad ones, we'd be hard pressed to mention them all. Rest assured, Timecop is covered in the book. My favorite horrible thing about that movie (and there are many) is that these people run a time travel agency, and yet whenever anything changes and JCVD notices, everyone in the office act like he's the one being a weirdo. Shouldn't you be prepared for the inevitability of alterations to the timeline? On the plus side, Timecop means that there is a real movie that exists called Timecop.

      April 17, 2012 at 5:15 pm |
      • T

        Remember "Timecop – the series" w/ T.W. King on ABC way back in the late great '90s ?

        April 19, 2012 at 10:46 am |
    • DClark

      But it did get one very important fact correct. Same object can't occupy the same space at the same time.

      May 3, 2012 at 5:55 pm |
  35. Lila

    When they involve children it drives me nuts. For example, BTTF Marty's parents are completely different at the end of the movie yet they "got busy" at the same exact time as in the original story line producing the same exact kids. Statistically that's not possible. Then there's Family Man which is treated like a fun holiday film, but in the end the kids that are in the film will never be, it's not possible.

    April 17, 2012 at 4:36 pm |
  36. Todd E.

    I have invented a time machine, but so far I can only get it to go forward at the speed of regular time.

    April 17, 2012 at 4:22 pm |
    • SilentBoy741

      Try pointing it the other way and sitting in it backward. That's what worked for me.

      April 17, 2012 at 4:35 pm |
      • Trina

        Hey, that works! Thanks!

        April 17, 2012 at 9:57 pm |
  37. drowlord

    I've considered time travel stories to be the worst of science fiction for a very long time. It's invariably a way to inflate largely trivial or tangential stories into something "more epic."

    April 17, 2012 at 4:16 pm |
    • markmark1

      But the "What If" element is what makes the stories so intriguing. Sure the science doesn't hold up (yet), but neither do Star Trek and Star Wars (yet). "The Final Countdown" – not a great movie but enjoyable. An Nuclear Aircraft carrier inexplicably goes back in time just before Pearl Harbor and is placed in a position to defend the United States and prevent WWII. What would happen if it did? Should they interfer or not?

      April 25, 2012 at 10:43 am |
  38. EvolveNow

    Time is a perception. All we need to do to travel to our own past is reverse our perception of the passage of time and sharpen the details which have begun to fade from our memory. I'm sure this sort of time travel is possible even now, because I can acheive it while dreaming in a hamock. As for actualy traveling into the past/future, I would like to think it is possible. How one dimensional life would be if time travel wee impossible...(Drifting into 1965...)

    April 17, 2012 at 3:49 pm |
  39. Steel Breeze

    While not exactly pop culture, my favorite time travel story is Robert Heinlein's "By His Bootstraps". Some of the stories I like (while knowing they are incorrect) are the "Star Trek – TOS" time travel stories (ex. "City on the Edge of Forever" ,"All Our Yesterdays", "Tomorrow is Yesterday".) "The Time Traveller's Wife" film had an interesting theme. "A Sound of Thunder" was much better as a short story than a motion picture. Finally, I should mention H. G. Wells' "The Time Machine". While the 2002 film had pretty good special effects, the 1960 one scared the willies out of me as a kid when the evil Morlocks appeared on screen and remains my favorite version.

    April 17, 2012 at 2:53 pm |
    • Ann

      Time Traveller's Wife – the book was great, but I thought the movie was awful.

      April 19, 2012 at 10:13 am |
      • Time Traveler

        Agreed. Loved Audrey Niffenegger's book but was very disappointed by the movie.

        April 19, 2012 at 11:30 am |
    • heyjoegfx

      True. I loved "By His Bootstraps"

      May 2, 2012 at 12:00 am |