Friday, July 6, 2018

Time Travel Stinks

Time travel is one of the most enduring themes in science fiction, as well as one of the most implausible -- I've discussed the science of time travel here. But there's one piece missing from almost all fictional discussions of time travel: the smell.

About fifteen years ago I attended a reenactment of a World War II battle at Fort Knox, complete with tanks, artillery, and various other period weapons, all firing blanks, of course. The US Army was thoughtful enough to distribute earplugs prior to the battle, something I am pretty sure did not happen at Kursk or the Ardennes. But the thing that really struck me about the battle was the smell. When it was all over, the entire field stank of exhaust fumes. Gasoline-powered armored vehicles driving into battle produce exhaust fumes? Who would have suspected??

Our ideas of the past are largely driven by films and television, so we can experience the sights and sounds of time travel. But we hardly ever experience the smells. And that's probably a good thing -- any century powered by animal transport will smell really, really bad.


Kathy said...

In some real battlefields, the smell of exhaust would be the least of your worries. Consider WWI, where soldiers lived in trenches for days or weeks at a time, before perhaps moving forwards or backwards a few yards. You'd have lots of human and animal waste, as well as decomposing corpses and pieces of corpses. If you've ever had beef or chicken go bad, imagine a few orders of magnitude stronger.

BTW, in an episode of The Librarians they traveled back to Elizabethan England. Col. Baird, the Library's Guardian, noticed the terrible smell before anything else.

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