Dusting off an old favorite today because, frankly, I’m out of anything else to talk about. So let’s talk about time travel paradoxes, because they’re fantastic and always good sources of stories. Assuming someone is crazy enough to actually try and write a story about time travel.
The Chuck Berry Paradox. This is more frequently called the Bootstrap paradox, but I like the name Chuck Berry Paradox because it reflects the most popular presentation of this paradox within pop culture. It goes like this.
Marty McFly is a teenager living in the 1980s who idolizes classic Rock and Roll, especially the work of Chuck Berry. As part of this adoration he has learned how to play Johnny B. Goode on guitar. Through a series of events that involve Lybian terrorists he finds himself back in the 1950s attempting to make sure his parents knock boots, thus ensuring his own future existence. Everything turns out for the best, and there’s a big party at the end. At that party, Marty McFly grabs a guitar and plays Johnny B. Goode for the cheering crowd.
This triggers the famous scene where Marvin “Your Cousin Marvin” Berry calls up Chuck Berry, tells him he’s got to hear this new sound, and lets him hear Marty McFly playing Johnny B. Goode. Chuck Berry must like the song, because he records it, and releases it, and three decades later Marty McFly grows up hearing the song.
So here’s the paradox. Who wrote the song Johnny B. Goode? Marty learns it watching Chuck Berry. Chuck Berry learns it, improbably enough, listening to Marty play it. There’s a cycle of people learning the song without it ever experiencing an origin point. It merely exists.
This paradox is at the heart of the Doctor Who episode “Blink,” where the Doctor’s conversation through time via DVD special features is an example. The Terminator franchise is filled with it. Philip J. Fry himself is an example thanks to his past nastification. It can be a lot of fun, it can also end up being a deus ex machina. Which…alright, isn’t always a bad thing. Maybe I’ll talk about that next week.