The science of time travel

As I was walking through the muggy streets to work this morning, it was a little hard to breathe—it was threatening to rain but hadn’t quite gotten there yet. And that got me thinking about my asthma, and for some reason time travel along with it. Health/medical issues/immunity differences between time periods is a subject (are subjects?) that’s been talked about a lot in adult SF, but I haven’t really seen it addressed as much in science fiction for children and YA: Method of time travel aside, what would happen to someone who is extremely, say, allergic or asthmatic or something who had to travel in time? Sure, we generally want our heroes to be in good health so, y’know, they don’t die before the end of the book (and I’d truly worry that an asthmatic who doesn’t have access to modern medicine in the middle of a bad attack would end up dead or at least an invalid in most historic times—or would they? would certain cultures have treatments that would help?).

But could it be done? Could someone who had a condition that’s considered relatively minor and/or chronic today be the hero of a time-travel story? How would that be done in a way in which the condition presents challenges alongside the challenges of whatever the plot/mystery is—challenge them even to the point where there is a danger of dying, yet not actually die?

What say you, writers? Anyone ever do this story? Has anyone ever done it, that you can recall? I can’t think of any published time-travel books in which the main character has a medical condition that would present a danger in a historic time period. CanĀ  you?

5 thoughts on “The science of time travel

  1. The heroine of Diana Galbado’s OUTLANDER (who is a nurse) has to return to her own time at the end of the book in order to have her child. She knew she would need a C-section (or something; I can’t quite remember).

  2. Not a time travel story, but I recall a LeGuin short story about colonists on an alien planet where they had to use special medication to eat the local flora due to allergies, but some of the children were having trouble eating, until it was discovered that they were allergic to normal Earth foods but could eat the local foods.

  3. Oh, and the plot twist in RUNNING OUT OF TIME by Margaret Peterson Haddix also hinges on medical advances.

    1. Oh, good one, Nancy. I love that book. Not a time travel book per se (wait–I might be confusing two Haddix books–it’s the one that The Village was practically ripping off, right?) but a similar feel.

  4. Connie Willis’s The Doomsday Book has a main character who has a sickness, and the twist is that the time travel apparatus sends her to a time where her sickness WOULDN’T affect the locals even though she’s supposed to go to a different time.

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