Marty McFly’s Second Chance

BTTFdateIn one week, Marty McFly is going to visit from 1985. Hill Valley, wherever it is, will get a quick touch-down from him and the Doc. They’ll snag a sports almanac, and — whoosh — they’ll be off again. The last chapter (chronologically) in the trilogy will be finished.

That’s a rather melancholy thought until I realized … Wait!   It’s not over. Actually …

Marty’s life is about to get magical.

BTTFcarA quick recap for those of you who haven’t seen the movies dozens of times (I’ve been told such people exist): Doc grabbed Marty from 1985 and they spent an afternoon in 2015 before heading back to 1955, 1885, and finally 1985 again. Each time the time machine touched down, they made changes that would affect the future, and by the end of the series, Marty had gone through enough personal changes that the future Doc was helping him save (his life a pitiful mess, his kids’ lives worse) is no longer going to unfold that way. But they wiBTTFtrainll come to 2015 anyway. They will because they did; it’s part of Marty’s past.

After much mucking about in time, Marty and Doc parted in 1985. Marty watched the DeLorean get pulverized, then Doc and his family took off in the pimped-out steam engine to parts unknown. The end.

But if Marty was listening closely (He often wasn’t, but I’m guessing this bit stuck with him), he’d have picked up on one sentence that is about to change everything. BTTFdocExplainsWhen Doc brings him to 2015 and explains what is going to happen to Marty’s son, Doc tells him that he has traced all the events of Marty’s family’s tragedies back to this one event. We already know that Doc was time-hopping quite extensively before he went back for Marty, but this tells us that most of his travels post-2015 involved checking in with Marty.

And since they fixed the one event that was causing all the trouble, the world Doc comes to will be quite different. But that won’t change the fact that Doc will come to visit throughout Marty’s life because that’s already part of Doc’s past.

Do you see yet what’s so great?

From the moment young Marty leaves us in 2015, middle-aged Marty (heck, probably Martin now) is about to live the dream. Every day of his life will be full of promise.

To start with, he’s about to see his high school best friend again. They haven’t lost touch or grown apart; the Doc who’s about to show up at his house is exactly the same guy he was hanging around with thirty years ago, and who will be just as thrilled to see Marty.

He gets to have adventures again. They don’t have to be save-the-world or make-your-pop-undead missions this time. All they have to be is something new, a secret vacation from his regular life.

BTTFImagine middle-aged Martin now. He’s chilling in his house in the suburbs, living a modest life. Married, two kids*. Boring job. Probably lying awake at night driving himself crazy with the scenarios that plague us all … Should he quit his job? Would it be smart to downsize to a smaller house? Should he have tried harder to copyright that crazy idea about flying cars?

* And with any luck they'll no longer look like him, because that was just creepy.
* And with any luck they’ll no longer look like him, because that was just creepy.

But, unlike the rest of us, he’s going to get answers to those what-ifs. Heck, he can even try out a few alternate endings, pick the life he enjoys best.

And if that’s not enough, he can commandeer that DeLorean, crank up Jim Croce’s “Time in a Bottle,” and go back to spend more time with all the people he loves most.

Marty, you are one lucky son of a geek.



Best Books 2015

Whenever I read a book that I fall in love with, it becomes my goal to pass it along. I look for just one person in my life who enjoys that type of book, and I insist that he/she read it. If that person loves it to, it becomes a shared experience that makes me feel so good.

This year, however, I have a blog. So instead of searching individually, I’m going to share with all of you the best books I’ve read this year, broken down by category. (One caveat – these are not all recently published. This just happens to be the year that I discovered these.)

For more book recommendations, see my “Books I Can’t Stop Talking About” series

If you try and enjoy of these books, please leave a comment.

Best Pure Sci-Fi Novel: I’m sure you’ve been seeing the ads for Matt Damon’s new space movie. Go see it, but I’m telling you, no matter how good the movie is, it will not be as funny and engrossing as the novel it’s based on, The Martian, by Andy Weir. There’s still time to rush out and buy the novel before the movie comes out. Trust me, you’ll hang on every page and stay up late to finish it.

Best Time-Travel Sci-Fi: If you love time-travel, you need to learn about Connie Willis. Though most of her novels are standalone, she’s created a unique set of time-travel rules and procedures that give her novels a gripping edge. And the research! Rarely does historical fiction give this strong a sense of taking you into the moment.

The 2-book series Blackout and All Clear are set in England during WWII, primarily centering on the Blitz. Make sure you have both books before you start, though, because Blackout stops so abruptly it feels like pages are missing. Apparently it was written as one very long book and then chopped in two by the publisher.

Best Superhero Novel: Ignore the fact that this is a young-adult novel – it’s hilarious. Well, it’s all in the title. I am a Genius of Unspeakable Evil and I Want to be Your Class President, by Josh Lieb, will make you laugh out loud at least once per chapter, if not once per page. It’s a short read, so grab this one when you just need to spend an afternoon enjoying a little nonsense.

Best Sword-and-Sorcery Fantasy: I am a huge fan of Joe Abercrombie. This man is a master craftsman of action novels. I first discovered him with the one-off book “Best Served Cold,” but, like any pure fantasy guru, he tends toward trilogies. This month the third volume of his “Half A” Series was released, so run out and get your hands on it. (That’s an order!)

I refuse to give away any of the plot, as one of my favorite things about him is that you never have a clue where his stories are going, though he always takes logical steps to get there. He loves doing feints, where he’ll telegraph a plot twist, let you see it from a mile away, then at the last minute, he’ll change it up again and leave you shocked.

One warning, though – it does get violent and bloody. Almost all of Joe’s novels center on war, and he doesn’t shy away from fight sequences.

But you can’t help but love a guy who writes lines like: “We should forgive our enemies, but not before they are hanged.”

Look for Half a King, Half the World, and Half a War.

Best Fantasy Romance (with Time Travel): Because of Showtime, most people have now heard of the Outlander Series by Diana Gabaldon. The first book in any series like this is always the best, of course, but after that, Book 4 in her series, Drums of Autumn is the one that stands out.

With all of her books running in the neighborhood of a thousand pages, it won’t surprise you to hear that Diana often takes quite a while setting up adventures, with scene after scene of people sitting around discussing the plot thus far. Books 1 and 4 are the ones that avoid that trap, and so much action is packed into these two that when you’re done with either you’ll feel like you’ve read an entire series.

Disclaimers galore, though: intense sex scenes, plenty of violence, cussing, war & politics … but the nastiest part is that the main character is a doctor so the author loves to shove in scenes of 1700s surgery. My recommendation is to skim any scene that begins with her going for her medical bag.

Non-Fiction is worth mentioning, too. It’s hard to recommend a non-fiction book, because whether people will try it is entirely based upon whether they care about the subject and whether they will ever spend time on non-fic. So my rule is that I only recommend NF books that read as though they are fiction. By that, I mean the story has to be compelling and easy to read. If it feels like a textbook, I won’t mention it.

My favorites from the past year are:

Best Non-Fiction Science: Why I Killed Pluto and Why it Had it Coming by Mike Brown, the Planetary Astronomer who discovered the temporary “tenth planet” which resulted in the downgrading of Pluto’s status. Amazingly, this book is funny, personal, and has quite a bit of tension toward the end.

(Or, just read this summary in one of my earlier blog posts.)

Best Non-Fiction History: If you’re interested in early American colonies, Giles Milton‘s research on the early colonies of Roanoke and Jamestown is fascinating. Big Chief Elizabeth centers on the efforts of Sir Walter Raleigh to colonize the new land, between politicking in England and the men (and later women) who suffered through the harsh conditions of the under-provisioned adventures.

(Or, click here for a recap of the highlights of the Roanoke colony.)


Please feel free to add your own recommendations to the comments section.

Why Doc Brown killed Jennifer

Before I start ranting, let me say that I consider “Back to the Future” a nearly perfect movie, and the entire series gets an “A” from me. But then, I’m a sucker for time-travel stories.

I don’t even mind the number of times that Doc killed Jennifer.

The crux of a good time-travel piece is generating clear and consistent logic, and the first movie did that well. In that world, anything one does in the past will have ramifications in the future and they show us this again and again, from the Lone Pine tree to Doc’s bullet-proof vest.

In the second film, they elaborate on this by explaining that each change is creating an entirely new world. You remember the scene where Doc draws this out on a chalkboard.
Line A shows the original timeline. Line B shows the new universe created when the inciting event happened in the past. Generating the new timeline means the original universe was “erased from existence.”  (I love that line!)

Their logic up to this point is fine. Nevermind the whole “a person can’t erase himself” hullaballoo — if you’re going to suspend disbelief for any time-travel story, you have to be willing to let the story set its own rules.

No, the problem is that Jennifer was such a boring character (even after the addition of the sweet Elizabeth Shue) and since the first movie ended with her hopping a ride with Marty & Doc into the future, the writers of movies 2 and 3 were faced with the prospect of having her hanging out in the DeLorean while the guys did all the fun saving-the-world business … or (Heaven forbid) actually creating a personality for her. They chose option C, dumping her at the first available moment and leaving her out of most of the third film.

They leave Jennifer, of course, in alternate 1985, then decide to journey to the past to right Biff’s wrongs. Marty is hesitant about ditching his girl, but Doc assures him that she’ll be fine, because when they straighten things out, she’ll be dropped in the real 1985 as though nothing had ever happened.

But wait. That is contrary to everything else they’ve ever shown us.

When Biff took the Sports Almanac to 1955, he changed everything, right? Original Doc was replaced by Declared-Insane Doc. Original Marty lost his spot to Fatherless-Dropout Marty. And Original Jennifer presumably became an even more boring Jennifer because she wouldn’t have been hanging around with too-cool Marty anymore.

(Side note: there would have actually been two Jennifers in alt. 1985 – the version who rode in the DeLorean and the alt version who grew up in that universe. But since that leads us to mundanity squared, we can feel free to forget all about it.)

Marty and Doc up in 2015 were not immediately effected because the time-space continuum sometimes has a delayed ripple effect as it regenerates, as shown by the disappearing kids in the photo in the first movie. This inexplicable (yet essential, if Marty was going to restore his existence) phenomenon is, again, consistent throughout the movies.

Except for Jennifer.

The DeLorean Duo gave the world plenty of time to redraw itself between the time they regained the Sports Almanac and when, after a full movie spent hanging out in the Old West, they finally returned to 1985. So would anything from the alt. timeline have survived? Of course not. And Original Jennifer? She’d been dumped in the alt-verse. She, and that entire world, were erased.

The only way for our Jenny to be alive and well in Hill Valley 1985 is if she had never hopped that fateful ride in the DeLorean. But not only did she remember visiting the future, she still had the fax in her pocket.

(Side note: in-home faxes in 2015? Does anyone else suspect that Doc funded his Mr. Fusion by stealing all the patents that led to the invention of e-mail?)

There’s only one logical conclusion. For the greater good, Doc Brown lied to Marty when he explained that Jennifer would be fine if left alone in alt 1985. He was well aware that he had killed her off. Then, stricken with guilt, he and his space-locomotive time-hopped to 2015 once more, snatching Jenny in the last few moments that she continued to exist in our timeline. He then planted her in our 1985, a few days before Marty arrived (to give the ripple effect enough time to do its thing), and gullible Marty believed she had always been there.

As did we. Well played, Doc.