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Old 16th September 2021, 09:26 AM   #1
HansMustermann
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Time Travel, Technology and Anachronisms

Mod InfoThis thread started here: More Pet Peeves in TV & Movies but the discussion deserved a place of its own.
Posted By:Agatha




Well, here's something that's not quite up to pet peeve level, but I have to wonder anyway: people ending up in a medieval world and not using any modern knowledge even if/when their life depended on it.

In That Time I Got Reincarnated As A Slime the Garry Stu style hero can, among other things, create copies of anything from memory. Which he uses to produce duplicates of a decade worth of Earth comics, but not a single technical manual or even school-level science book.

In Isekai Cheat Magician, it involves two high school kids, so you'd think at least one of them would even vaguely remember something they learned recently in school. Nope, one of them just uses it to improve her spellcasting (apparently you have to imagine the spell, so instead of imagining a camp fire for her fire spells, she imagines a gas welder) but that's the whole extent of it.

But what tops the scale is In Another World With My Smartphone, where the Garry Stu hero literally has a smartphone that can connect to the internet back on Earth, just not send any message back for some reason. You'd think he could look up everything from antibiotics to refrigeration to better agricultural techniques. Nope, the only thing he ever looks up is an ice-cream recipe.

Like... what's even the point of having the hero come from another world, if that's not going to play any part whatsoever? It's a massive Chekhov's gun that never gets fired.
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Last edited by Agatha; 25th September 2021 at 12:58 PM.
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Old 16th September 2021, 09:32 AM   #2
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The isekai genre is escapist fantasy. You've already put more thought into it than the writers have.
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Old 16th September 2021, 10:06 AM   #3
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Kinda makes me wonder if Japan as a whole is getting clinically depressed. Seems like they have a lot of people whose fantasy is to be run over by a truck, or who can't even fantasize about getting powerful/famous/whatever without being given a God Mode cheat.
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Old 16th September 2021, 11:11 AM   #4
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If all you have is the knowledge in your head, where would you start to put in any technology when all you have to work with is what's available in the 12th century and your vague notion of how to improve (for example) steel production?
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Old 16th September 2021, 11:26 AM   #5
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Originally Posted by Captain_Swoop View Post
If all you have is the knowledge in your head, where would you start to put in any technology when all you have to work with is what's available in the 12th century and your vague notion of how to improve (for example) steel production?
The show I plug every chance I get covers this:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H-WHAISI02w

Michael's answer is the best.

Michael: "I'd go to back to medieval times or the Wild West. Sell cures for diseases."
Katie: "What makes you think you could cure a disease."
Michael: "I didn't say cure a disease. I said sell cures for diseases. You know mix a bunch of random (crap) in a bottle and hock it?"
Soren: "Oh you'd be a snake oil salesman?"
Michael: "Oh well sure, if they had had snakes back then."
(Reactions from the group)
Michael: "My point is I'm privy to 200 years of scams. All these rubes are green to it."
Dan: "So what happens when none of your cures work? They would kill you."
Michael: "Would they though? Did you know there was a doctor in the early 1900s who claimed he could cure impotency by surgically implanting goat testicles into your body? Not connecting them to veins, not even putting them where testicles should go..."
(Offside to Katie) "The scrotum" to which Katie mouths "I KNOW!"
".. but just like... shove them in there, wherever they would fit. I mean this dude got rich because everyone was either too embarrassed or dead to complain."
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Old 16th September 2021, 12:19 PM   #6
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Well, maybe it's because I didn't sleep in class, but I'm pretty sure I could make a steam engine with 12'th century tech. Probably wouldn't be very powerful, without needing some more precise work than available at the time, but it would work.

Or I'm pretty damn sure I could make a more powerful crossbow with 12'th century tech, than any that has existed at any point during middle ages and renaissance, seein' as it literally only takes 2 small pulleys to overcome the inherent inefficiency in those designs. Namely both the limit on draw length, AND the fact that effectively they used more of the stored energy to move the lathe than the bolt.

Hell, even the counterweight trebuchet, it only got invented by the end of the 13'th century, and it doesn't require any special materials or technology. Literally the only revelation it required compared to the pull trebuchet was the very long sling, as just keeping making the arm bigger was hitting an efficiency limit.

Or a few other things.

Frankly, I don't get the meme that everyone is so <bleep>ing stupid that they couldn't possibly remember ANYTHING useful. I mean, obviously some people are, but I wish they'd stop projecting it on everyone else.
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Old 16th September 2021, 12:19 PM   #7
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Why would you think that anyone in the 19th century wouldn't be any less wise to scams than today?
Not that they wouldn't buy scam meds, plenty of people still do that today.
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Old 16th September 2021, 12:20 PM   #8
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Originally Posted by HansMustermann View Post
Well, maybe it's because I didn't sleep in class, but I'm pretty sure I could make a steam engine with 12'th century tech. Probably wouldn't be very powerful, without needing some more precise work than available at the time, but it would work.

Or I'm pretty damn sure I could make a more powerful crossbow with 12'th century tech, than any that has existed at any point during middle ages and renaissance, seein' as it literally only takes 2 small pulleys to overcome the inherent inefficiency in those designs. Namely both the limit on draw length, AND the fact that effectively they used more of the stored energy to move the lathe than the bolt.

Hell, even the counterweight trebuchet, it only got invented by the end of the 13'th century, and it doesn't require any special materials or technology. Literally the only revelation it required compared to the pull trebuchet was the very long sling, as just keeping making the arm bigger was hitting an efficiency limit.

Or a few other things.

Frankly, I don't get the meme that everyone is so <bleep>ing stupid that they couldn't possibly remember ANYTHING useful. I mean, obviously some people are, but I wish they'd stop projecting it on everyone else.
OK how would you make a steam engine in the 12th century?

As for pulleys on crossbows, what would you use to make them in the 12th century that would be any more efficient than the methods used at the time with what was available?
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Old 16th September 2021, 12:24 PM   #9
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Originally Posted by Captain_Swoop View Post
OK how would you make a steam engine in the 12th century?
Pretty much the same as in any other century, really.

Originally Posted by Captain_Swoop View Post
As for pulleys on crossbows, what would you use to make them in the 12th century that would be any more efficient than the methods used at the time with what was available?
No, I mean the whole technique is literally just putting a pulley at each end of the lathe, instead of just connect the rope there. It doesn't involve any special kind of pulleys. Just the fact that they're there.

That's literally how little you must know about almost anything, to make a better version than they did in the 12'th century.
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Old 16th September 2021, 12:31 PM   #10
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Why do you think they weren't already doing it? They weren't stupid.

Steam engines for example.
You would have to develop the materials and processes for producing them first.

Last edited by Captain_Swoop; 16th September 2021 at 12:33 PM.
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Old 16th September 2021, 12:32 PM   #11
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Originally Posted by Captain_Swoop View Post
OK how would you make a steam engine in the 12th century?
I dunno the same way they made on in 1 century AD.

Okay I know the Aeolipile was more of a Sterling Engine than a true steam engine, but the point stands.

But actually there's a lot of things that got invented and the forgotten only to be reinvented later because the original inventor couldn't think of a practical use for it so discarded it as a curiosity.

The Aeolipile, the Antikythera mechanism, the multiple times someone invented calculus but didn't know what to do with it and it got lost to history.

If I were going back really trying to advance history it would be less trying to figure out whether to teach a caveman how to build an Xbox or teach a peasant farmer in the middle ages to make a toaster and more going back to THOSE moments in history where things were invented and proven as possible but got lost to history because there was no immediate practical use for them and trying to convince people that no this is actually going to wind up being super useful and practical, don't give up on it.
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Old 16th September 2021, 12:33 PM   #12
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Originally Posted by Captain_Swoop View Post
Why do you think they weren't already doing it? They weren't stupid.
We put a man on the moon before we thought to put wheels on luggage.

By your argument why wasn't everything invented and perfected right after the opening scene to 2001?

History can miss an obvious solution for a LLLLLLLLLLOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOONNNNNNNNNNNNNN NNNNNNGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGG time.
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Old 16th September 2021, 12:34 PM   #13
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But, anyway, this is turning into a discussion about technology, which I don't think we're even in the right forum for. My point is a more literary one, and it just boils down to Chekhov's gun. If it's not going to be fired, don't waste 15 minutes of my time just on showing it to me. Or in the specific case of isekai, if you think it's impossible to use any modern knowledge or generally just can't think of a way to actually use the fact that the guy is coming from 21st century Japan, then just use a dude from the that other world and century instead.

Like, say you're making a series about an MMO (which a lot of these isekai series are.) Let's say a series about World Of Warcraft, since most people will have at least heard of it, so it saves me some explaining the setting. What's the use in making the hero be transferred from 21st century Earth, if it will be used for absolutely nothing? Not for technology, not for satire sake, not even to make some point about how he can't actually remember how to make a computer, nothing. Why not just use a dude born on Azeroth, and who never even heard of Earth?
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Old 16th September 2021, 12:38 PM   #14
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Heck with that, if I time travelled to the thirteenth century I'd build a Gundam out of windmills and conquer the world with it. Rivers of blood! Lakes of urine! Ponds of phlegm! Then I'd invent Bakeoff and construct a system of government where my empire would be divided into prefectures governed by my cabal of Star Bakers. Only the worthy could survive my technical challenges!
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Old 16th September 2021, 12:41 PM   #15
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The best argument against time travel is how "wash your hands before cleaning a wound" wasn't common sense advice until we had microscopes to see why for ourselves.
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Old 16th September 2021, 12:41 PM   #16
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Real talk.

I think because at some point people started to (rightfully to some degree) sour on the whole "Person from our time goes in the past, wows them with their knowledge and everyday tech which he uses to save the day" trope but they still really like making time travel stories (because obvious, they are cool) but thought of exactly what to replace the original cliche with.
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Old 16th September 2021, 12:45 PM   #17
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Originally Posted by JoeMorgue View Post
Real talk.

I think because at some point people started to (rightfully to some degree) sour on the whole "Person from our time goes in the past, wows them with their knowledge and everyday tech which he uses to save the day" trope but they still really like making time travel stories (because obvious, they are cool) but thought of exactly what to replace the original cliche with.
Nah, this is isekai. A modern-day loser gets sucked into their role-playing game or dream fantasy realm where they're a mary sue with a harem.
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Old 16th September 2021, 12:49 PM   #18
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Originally Posted by HansMustermann View Post
But, anyway, this is turning into a discussion about technology, which I don't think we're even in the right forum for. My point is a more literary one, and it just boils down to Chekhov's gun. If it's not going to be fired, don't waste 15 minutes of my time just on showing it to me. Or in the specific case of isekai, if you think it's impossible to use any modern knowledge or generally just can't think of a way to actually use the fact that the guy is coming from 21st century Japan, then just use a dude from the that other world and century instead.

Like, say you're making a series about an MMO (which a lot of these isekai series are.) Let's say a series about World Of Warcraft, since most people will have at least heard of it, so it saves me some explaining the setting. What's the use in making the hero be transferred from 21st century Earth, if it will be used for absolutely nothing? Not for technology, not for satire sake, not even to make some point about how he can't actually remember how to make a computer, nothing. Why not just use a dude born on Azeroth, and who never even heard of Earth?
It's a pretty common habit in both science fiction and fantasy to employ a real-world origin for a protagonist simply to provide opportunity for the other characters to explain the worldbuilding to them. Someone born in that world would already know about all the stuff that the audience needs explained, which would make the infodumps even dumber.

Quote:
"As you know," said the wizard Gargadalf, "demons invaded the kingdom of Elfskull (capital Elf City, ruled by King Elfus, pop. 2 million) a thousand years ago through the Gate of Stars (the round glowy thing from Chapter 2) and now we are proceeding along the Dwarfbutt River (312 miles long, empties into the Dwarf Sea) northwest towards Giggleburg, the city where you were born."

"What I don't know," replied apprentice wizard Prentissy, "is why the river is called the Dwarfbutt. I'm sure there's a story behind that."

"I cannot tell you that story," answered the wise Gargadalf, "because we are now being attacked by demons."
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Old 16th September 2021, 12:54 PM   #19
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You do need to explain stuff, to be sure, but there are other ways. Like, in one series, literally 3 out of 5 harem members are foreigners. Including one who's basically the equivalent of a 16'th century Japanese who just landed in Europe. I feel like that would provide plenty of opportunity to explain stuff. I don't think there was a great need to ALSO have the protagonist come from another world.
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Old 16th September 2021, 01:04 PM   #20
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Originally Posted by HansMustermann View Post
But, anyway, this is turning into a discussion about technology, which I don't think we're even in the right forum for. My point is a more literary one, and it just boils down to Chekhov's gun. If it's not going to be fired, don't waste 15 minutes of my time just on showing it to me. Or in the specific case of isekai, if you think it's impossible to use any modern knowledge or generally just can't think of a way to actually use the fact that the guy is coming from 21st century Japan, then just use a dude from the that other world and century instead.

Like, say you're making a series about an MMO (which a lot of these isekai series are.) Let's say a series about World Of Warcraft, since most people will have at least heard of it, so it saves me some explaining the setting. What's the use in making the hero be transferred from 21st century Earth, if it will be used for absolutely nothing? Not for technology, not for satire sake, not even to make some point about how he can't actually remember how to make a computer, nothing. Why not just use a dude born on Azeroth, and who never even heard of Earth?
Zapped! On Dave channel is a comedy about an office worker transported to a Pratchett like fantasy world where he turns out to be just as useless as he is in present day London.
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Old 16th September 2021, 01:12 PM   #21
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Confession. Despite being cliched, usually over dependent on established tropes/gags/bits, and just generally lazy... I'm a sucker for Temporal Fish out of Water stories. Hell I even loved that weird Sleepy Hollow reboot they did where Ichabod Crane got brought to the future and wound up the partner to a black female small town cop.
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Old 16th September 2021, 01:18 PM   #22
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So, you go back in time and do all these clever things, introduce all this new info etc.

How do you avoid the local religious nuts burning (or hanging) you for witchcraft?
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Old 16th September 2021, 01:23 PM   #23
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Originally Posted by SteveAitch View Post
So, you go back in time and do all these clever things, introduce all this new info etc.

How do you avoid the local religious nuts burning (or hanging) you for witchcraft?
"Witch, I would be a Witch." - Katie's repeated response to everything the guys suggest so go back in time and accomplish in the aforementioned After Hours video.
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Old 16th September 2021, 01:50 PM   #24
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Originally Posted by SteveAitch View Post
So, you go back in time and do all these clever things, introduce all this new info etc.

How do you avoid the local religious nuts burning (or hanging) you for witchcraft?
I remember that Dark Shadows remake from the 1990s. It was fairly stupid but fun, and at one point the heroine time-travelled to the past. The past people took as proof of her witchcraft the mysterious hex sigils on tags in her clothes--it was the Do Not Iron symbol and other washing instruction icons.
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Old 16th September 2021, 03:22 PM   #25
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Originally Posted by SteveAitch View Post
So, you go back in time and do all these clever things, introduce all this new info etc.

How do you avoid the local religious nuts burning (or hanging) you for witchcraft?
Same as every other clever boots - tell people god did it. If it's post-Reformation you've got it easy, you can get visions like anyone's business. Prior to that, you need to become a priest and then it'll be kosher, or at least make sure to very very overtly credit the church and tell people to behave themselves.
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Old 16th September 2021, 05:59 PM   #26
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Originally Posted by JoeMorgue View Post
Confession. Despite being cliched, usually over dependent on established tropes/gags/bits, and just generally lazy... I'm a sucker for Temporal Fish out of Water stories. Hell I even loved that weird Sleepy Hollow reboot they did where Ichabod Crane got brought to the future and wound up the partner to a black female small town cop.
Which leads me to a pet peeve about how the Showrunners squandered the potential of what started out as a pretty fun show.
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Old 16th September 2021, 06:17 PM   #27
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That guy me thinking about Futurama. It already has a lot of anachronisms in it. The president's heads, for example. There is Nixon but no Trump.
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Old 16th September 2021, 06:21 PM   #28
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Originally Posted by a_unique_person View Post
That guy me thinking about Futurama. It already has a lot of anachronisms in it. The president's heads, for example. There is Nixon but no Trump.
Futurama ended in 2013.
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Old 16th September 2021, 06:29 PM   #29
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Originally Posted by arthwollipot View Post
Futurama ended in 2013.
I know.
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Old 16th September 2021, 07:22 PM   #30
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Originally Posted by a_unique_person View Post
I know.
Just checking.
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Old 16th September 2021, 07:31 PM   #31
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Our knowledge of geography would be invaluable. Telling people where coal, iron, gold and gems can be found would have a huge effect. being able to tell how far an in which direction new land can be found on a sea voyage might be useful.
But that is almost never something in Time travel Stories.
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Old 16th September 2021, 07:45 PM   #32
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Originally Posted by The Great Zaganza View Post
Our knowledge of geography would be invaluable. Telling people where coal, iron, gold and gems can be found would have a huge effect. being able to tell how far an in which direction new land can be found on a sea voyage might be useful.
But that is almost never something in Time travel Stories.
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Old 16th September 2021, 08:34 PM   #33
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Originally Posted by SteveAitch View Post
So, you go back in time and do all these clever things, introduce all this new info etc.

How do you avoid the local religious nuts burning (or hanging) you for witchcraft?
It wasn't as easy as you seem to think to actually get burned for anything else than religion. People love to point out Giordano Bruno as some kind of martyr of science, but omit the part where the list of stuff he was asked to give up on included stuff like Mary's virginity. It's Catholics, man. You don't mess with the Holy Pussy.

Otherwise, if you're just some traveling scholar from a far away land, who knows how to put a pulley at the ends of a crossbow lathe, nobody's going to think there's anything heretical about that. Hell, even stuff like alchemy, it was not some kind of devil's stuff, but part of a well rounded education in any medieval university.

That said, even turning it into a "Guy has to explain to a group of *ahem* inquisitive bishops how a steam engine is not magic" would actually be a more interesting scenario than "Guy gets transferred to a medieval world and turned into 1 million stat man, everyone is treating him like the chosen one, kings and nobles love to hang out with him like he's the hottest stuff around, a bunch of women including a princess wet their panties just seeing him, and the only debate they have is which of them is gonna be wife and which are going to be concubines." As in, literally, the princess of the realm only pulls rank in that, yeah, no, she's taking the wife slot. And if you think I'm just doing hyperbole for sarcasm sake, and surely that kind of extreme Mary Sue plot would even get past an editor to get printed, much less get a studio to buy the rights and turn it into a series... you might have a surprise. That's actually the exact plot of one isekai series.

So, yeah, when Beelzebuddy called it an "escapist fantasy", that's the extreme kind of escapist fantasy we're talking about.
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Old 17th September 2021, 05:33 AM   #34
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Originally Posted by The Great Zaganza View Post
Our knowledge of geography would be invaluable. Telling people where coal, iron, gold and gems can be found would have a huge effect. being able to tell how far an in which direction new land can be found on a sea voyage might be useful.
But that is almost never something in Time travel Stories.
Just imagine what power a cheap generic map, globe, or Atlas would have in the past.
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Old 17th September 2021, 06:06 AM   #35
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In Alan Dean Foster's "Spellsinger" novels, a man from modern day Earth gets transported to a fantasy world, but he's a law student and wannabe rock musician, so he doesn't have the technical knowledge to make anything. He does discover the ability to cast spells by playing songs from our world on a special instrument and occasionally conjures things from our world, but the magic is unreliable. He summons a fully-equipped yacht with "Sloop John B", for example, but incapacitates himself by appointing another party member with more sailing experience to be Captain, making himself First Mate. "The First Mate he got drunk". A huge storm also comes up to make it "the worst trip I've ever been on".
Rather than technology, he mainly tries to apply modern US morals to situations he encounters in the fantasy world, which usually goes horribly wrong. He comes across as "I'm from a civilized world, so I know what's best for you", and can't understand that the people like the way their society works.
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Old 17th September 2021, 09:10 AM   #36
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Originally Posted by JoeMorgue View Post
Just imagine what power a cheap generic map, globe, or Atlas would have in the past.
"Ugg give Lord Monkey many fruits and best cave, or Lord Monkey hit Ugg with map!"
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Old 17th September 2021, 09:47 AM   #37
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Originally Posted by JoeMorgue View Post
Just imagine what power a cheap generic map, globe, or Atlas would have in the past.

I remember one of the old Choose Your Own Adventure books in which you time travel back to the Middle Ages, and at one point you're given the opportunity to help solve a riddle that points to the location of a lost castle.

"In the South, where it is cold.
Where that which falls stays where it is."

The proper answer was high in the mountains in a range to the South, near a waterfall, but you could also choose to reference the South Pole or talk about the sunset and heliocentrism, which gets you hauled away as a madman.
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Old 17th September 2021, 10:05 AM   #38
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Originally Posted by a_unique_person View Post
That guy me thinking about Futurama. It already has a lot of anachronisms in it. The president's heads, for example. There is Nixon but no Trump.
There are limits!
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Old 20th September 2021, 07:17 AM   #39
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Originally Posted by HansMustermann View Post
Well, here's something that's not quite up to pet peeve level, but I have to wonder anyway: people ending up in a medieval world and not using any modern knowledge even if/when their life depended on it.
It's funny, but a big pet peeve of mine in shows is kind of the opposite situation.

When the story is in our world and our present-ish day, but some character comes up from the future.

They never seem to have any superior knowledge or understanding of technology or science.

I'm not a physicist, chemist, biologist etc
but my basic understanding of what I was taught in highschool alone is far superior to what the person in medieval times would know.

So why isn't it that if someone comes back from the future have a far better understanding of things than I am?

P.S
For all the people who kept asking, how would you do this or that with medieval conditions - watch Doctor Stone.
That's literally the whole point of the show.
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Old 20th September 2021, 07:50 AM   #40
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Originally Posted by GrandMasterFox View Post
It's funny, but a big pet peeve of mine in shows is kind of the opposite situation.

When the story is in our world and our present-ish day, but some character comes up from the future.

They never seem to have any superior knowledge or understanding of technology or science.

I'm not a physicist, chemist, biologist etc
but my basic understanding of what I was taught in highschool alone is far superior to what the person in medieval times would know.
The 2 reasons I can think of that would explain taht:

- The old default of "Not wanting changes in the past to affect the future", or "its too dangerous to give people in the past advanced knowledge in case they use it to destroy themselves"

- Having "basic understanding" may not be as practical as you might think, and any time traveler might not be able to explain things that would make his knowledge useful

For example, if I were teleported back 1000 years (and could actually communicate... given how much languages change over time, that would actually be a HUGE hurdle)... I could talk about "the universe is made of atoms.... germs cause disease... the solar system is heliocentric... etc." All things part of a basic 20th century education. But how useful would that knowledge be? They don't have microscopes to see germs, I don't have the mathematical expertise to show why the heliocentric universe is correct (and they don't have telescopes to do proper observations). Anything I tell people in the past is likely to be forgotten within a few years.

Same thing with a traveler from the future visiting the 21st century. They may know the basics of using a dilithium matrix to adjust a quantum flux capacitor in subspace (since they were taught that in school). But we in the 21st century would have no idea what any of that means, unless they can show how it ties in to 21st century technology (which they probably don't know). So why bother trying to pass on their advanced tech?
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