LAST PAGE, EVERYONE
Doc shoots Marty down about trying out his car (“That can wait.”) and says to bring her along anyway, since this concerns her too!
Marty felt a strong surge of apprehension. ”What do you mean?” he demanded. ”Does something happen to her? To us? Do we turn into assholes or something?”
Doc gets his big “no, you and Jennifer turn out fine. But your kids! Marty something’s gotta be done about your kids.” line, only with a period at the end instead of the way Christopher Lloyd exclaims it, so I guess it’s not that big of a deal after all. And Jennifer, oh Jennifer, you are so sheltered, so naive:
“Our kids?” Jennifer asked, her head swiveling between Marty and Doc Brown. “What kids? We aren’t even engaged yet…”
Marty asks if she would like to come along to 2015, Doc interrupts to say “We better hurry” (why, Doc? You’ve got a time machine - you’ve got all the time in the world!). Jennifer accepts the fact of this time machine incredibly easily and says, “Sure. Why not?” and they get into the DeLorean. Unlike the movie, where Doc’s got his crazy glasses and is refuelling the Mr. Fusion as he talks, here they’re just standing around talking at each other, so props to the movie for making this scene visually exciting!
When Doc Brown jumped behind the steering wheel, Marty reached over to touch his arm.
“You’d better back this thing up, Doc,” he cautioned. ”We haven’t got enough road to get up to eighty-eight.”
And right now you’re all saying this:
But give us one last messed up line for old time’s sake, Gipe!!
“Where we’re going, we don’t use roads,” Brown smiled.
Perfect! Now cram in the Mr. Fusion in the last second after all, and take us home!
He pointed to a new switch on the dashboard labeled MR. FUSION HOME ENERGY CENTER, hit it, and grinned with satisfaction as the DeLorean rolled about a hundred yards down the street, blased off into the sky trailing a thin flume of silver smoke, and then disappeared.
Thank you all for reading this book with me. If you go back to that first page eight months ago, you’ll see my plan was to hit the 20 or so dog-eared pages and be done in a month. But as I read I kept noticing new crazy things and so we ended up hitting every page in the book to one degree or another over the better part of a year! This was among the craziest books I’ve ever read, and I’m glad we could go on this journey together.
Those of you who haven’t seen the movie: GO WATCH IT NOW. Send me your feedback, and I’ll post some updates here!
Our final tallies for our “Doc!” and “Butthead” and “Great Scott!” counters were pitifully small, but the counter that I never actually started but let’s pretend I did for the number of brand names Gipe namedropped is EASILY in the mid double digits. We’ve all hopefully learned something about storytelling and writing, or at least how the natural charm of Michael J can save a script which could so easily tip into terribleness. And I’ve learned that a careful reading is its own reward!
Just now I’ve put up a reformatted ebook version of this site up for sale (only $2.99! which is as cheap as Amazon would let me sell it for because it’s so big because of all them crazy pictures!). I’ll make a post about this shortly. This is from Amazon, so you can IN THEORY buy Gipe’s book and my Crazy Reading Guide side-by-side and it’ll make kinda the best present ever if I do say so myself!
Up next: I dunno! The novelizations for Part 2 and 3, as I said, are way less crazy and written for a much lower reading level. For all his faults, Gipe didn’t talk down to his readers like the sequel novelizations do, and that’s what makes this book interesting and those other books hella boring. For a taste, here’s how Book 2 (written by Craig Shaw Gardner, a man who isn’t dead, which means I’d also feel bad about tearing his work to shreds so publicly) describes some of the scenes we’ve already gone through with Gipe:
Everything - but everything - was different now!
The truck was a clincher. It was a new Toyota Four-By-Four, jet-black and gorgeous. And his parents had said it belonged to him!
Marty McFly still couldn’t believe how much had changed.
That’s how the book begins. The jump in style and in how the book talks to the reader like they’re six years old is jarring, especially when you consider how Gipe started his book by KILLING EVERYONE IN A NUCLEAR EXPLOSION. Hot damn.
Here’s the Jennifer bit, again holding our hand to make sure the six-year-olds aren’t left behind:
“Marty—” she said with a bit of a frown, “you’re acting like you haven’t seen me in a week!”
“I haven’t!” Marty answered without thinking.
She looked at him even more strangely.
“Are you okay? Is everything all right?”
That’s right! Marty realized there was no way she could know about everything that had happed to him. He had spent a whole week back in 1955, but he’d actually come back to 1985 at almost the same time he had left. So, to somebody who had stayed put in 1985, instead of jumping around in time like Marty and the DeLorean, it was like he hadn’t been gone at all.
How do you explain something like that to someone without sounding absolutely crazy?
Marty leaned over the top of the door just enough to see the wheels were rotating ninety degrees to flatten beneath the bottom of the car.
That meant the tires were no longer touching the ground.
That meant they had to be flying!
Doc gunned the car into the sky.
Marty and Jennifer looked at each other.
Nobody would ever believe this.
AHHHHHH, please oh please give me striving and failing for greatness any day over “shooting low and nailing the target”. George Gipe also wrote the novelization for Gremlins, but I’ve never seen that movie nor have I spent my formative years thinking about it, so the book to movie comparison blog is a task I leave to one of you. I wish you luck!
My name is Ryan North. I write Dinosaur Comics at qwantz.com, I write the ongoing Adventure Time comic book series at Comixology and your local comic book store WORLDWIDE, I co-edit Machine Of Death whose sequel book is coming out next summer, right now I’m buying things with Andrew Hussie’s credit card and he with mine, the awesome shirts I designed are here and my main tumblr is here and my Twitter is here. I’ll have some more exciting projects for you soon!
Jennifer (“as gorgeous as ever”, Gipe assures us) interrupts Marty’s car sex scene with her “How about a ride, mister?” and Marty says “Jen! Are you ever a sight for sore eyes! Let me look at you!”
In the movie, Jennifer says “Marty, you’re acting like you haven’t seen me in a week!” and hah hah it’s because he’s been gone for a week! That worked out really well!
Okay Gipe, let’s mess this up for no reason!
Jennifer was somewhat taken aback by the unexpected display of emotion. It wasn’t as if they had been separated for a long time, having seen each other only the evening before. [Editor’s note: wiiiiiiiiiiiiiink]
“Are you O.K.?” she asked. ”You’re acting like you haven’t seen me in a year.”
As a writer, why would you do this? Changing “week” to “year” ruins the gag of him actually not seeing her for a week and you gain nothing by it. It’s just bad writing! But it turns out there WAS a reason:
“I feel like I haven’t seen you for thirty years,” Marty smiled.
“That’s a long time to be deprived,” she smiled back.
Oh it’s because he travelled thirty years but it’s still stupid because from Marty’s POV has only been a week, so this thirty years thing is demonstrably a worse version of the same idea! Once again, it’s like this book takes place in a crazy alternate universe where everything sucks just a little bit more than it needs to??
ANYWAY at this point they are kissing and OH SNAP remember when Marty got clockblocked? This time he’s…
In contrast to that picture, Doc’s book outfit is different from the movie: rather than Future Clothes and Trademark Opaque Future Shades, he’s got all sorts of different time periods going on, which I kinda like because it hints at all sorts of different adventures we haven’t seen!
Inside sat Doc Brown, wearing a cowboy hat. When he got out of the car, it was possible to see that he was dressed in a bizarre mixture of clothing types that included striped plastic pants, a cape and a strange variation on a Roman tunic.
Then he delivers his wham line of “Marty, you’ve got to come back with me - BACK TO THE FUTURE!” (it’s the title of the story, see) but the book entirely deflates it with what comes next. Seriously, this is right after the big dramatic “Back to the FUTURE!” line:
“Why?” [Marty said.]
“It’s important.” [Doc said.]
Haha yep there goes that momentum! Marty whines that he doesn’t want to go (“But I’ve got Jennifer here. I was just gonna try out my new wheels.”) and every kid who ever wanted to see the future (yes I am raising my hand here) is wanting to punch Marty for being more interested in a STUPID CAR FROM THE PRESENT when he could go drive FUTUREMOBILES. It’s Luke Skywalker whining about power converters all over again! (That is from a different movie called “Star Wars” and if you haven’t heard of it, he’s a dude who fights another dude, I dunno)
Another short update today!
On this page Marty asks Doc what his plans are, and Doc says he’s gonna wait till the cops are gone from the parking lot, go back to his van, pick up the plutonium pellets there and take a look at the future. How far?
Doc shrugged. ”I figure I’ll take it slow at first,” he replied. ”Maybe I’ll go about thirty years, just to get my feet wet. Then maybe I’ll take a look-see at the 22nd or 23rd centuries…”
“Well, good luck,” Marty said.
The 22nd and 23rd centuries part stands out as being weird, but whatever, maybe it’s cool that the temporal expanse of Back To The Future can get enlarged a bit! The time machine is good at travelling through all through time, we don’t need to limit ourselves to within a claustrophobic plus or minus 100 years of 1985!
Doc says “It’s funny, isn’t it? I had to wait thirty years to catch up with you. Now you’ve gotta wait thirty years to catch up with me. Ain’t life weird…” and then he winks and closes the door and drives off.
Then Marty presumably walks home and goes to bed and the next morning wakes up and thinks it’s was all a crazy dream! But then he pinches himself and it’s not! So he pulls out his record company submission form from the trash and puts it in a mailing envelope (“Why not? My music has been wowing them for three decades. I’m a cinch to win.”) and then goes downstairs his house and family is all different!1 Weird!
END OF UPDATE
1. So! Let’s talk about Marty. Specifically, let’s talk about this sequence of events:
- The Marty we’ve been reading about (Marty Prime) goes back in time at the Twin Pines Mall.
- Marty Prime has some adventures that change things (the name of the mall, the circumstances of his parents meeting, his family’s history)
- Marty Prime goes back to the present, goes to the Lone Pine Mall, and watches himself go back in time again.
See the problem? Whether or not you buy my meta-time explanation of Back To The Future’s time-travel mechanics (though you TOTALLY SHOULD because it TOTALLY WORKS), Marty has returned to a future where at least SOME things have changed: we know for sure the name of the mall has, and we know for sure that Doc’s spent the past 30 years trying to act natural while knowing he’s totally going to invent a time machine and meet Marty and wear a bullet-proof vest someday! And if you don’t buy my theory of changes to the timeline themselves take time, then you’re arguing that EVERYTHING in 1985 has already been altered, and we’re already fully in this Improved 1985 that Marty created for himself.
Either way, the world we’re in isn’t identical to the one that Marty left at the beginning of the story. And that’s a problem. It’s actually a huge problem, because it means the Marty going back in time NOW isn’t the same Marty that left at the beginning of the story, and time travel is basically the poster child for sensitivity to initial conditions.
This new Marty has had different experiences, from things as small as the name of the mall to as large as what his family does for a living and whether or not they hire their old high-school bully and sexual assaulter to wax their car (yes this happens, no I dunno why). Due to different life experience, this Marty is a different person than the one we met at the beginning of this story. Let’s call him Marty 2.
Marty 2, being that different person, is absolutely going to have different adventures in 1955 than Marty Prime did. There’s a few ways these adventures could turn out, especially considering how narrowly Marty Prime avoided disaster when he was running through them:
- Marty 2 doesn’t get his parents back together, and so he ceases to exist. RESULT: Marty 2 and Marty Prime were never born, which causes major damage to the space-time continuum.
- Marty 2 does get his parents back together, but slightly differently, as Marty 2 would interact with Doc differently, blabs about the future differently, steps on different bugs, etc). This results in a new, again altered 1985 where Marty 2 watches Marty 3 go back in time. RESULT: a loop, potentially infinite. The timeline may never stabilize into a solid reality ever again, and Marty 2212626 could watch Marty 2212627 go back in time. This is probably a bad thing.
- Marty 2 doesn’t mess with his parents meeting at all, and so has a different adventure in 1955! At the end of this, either he returns or he doesn’t.
- If he DOESN’T return, then no Marty returned to 1985, INCLUDING THE MARTY PRIME WHICH CREATED HIM. RESULT: Paradox, Marty 2 ceases to exist (and maybe the entire universe does too? I dunno)
- If he DOES return, then he still altered 1955 as he must interact with Doc to get the machine to work, and we’re left with the again-altered 1985 where Marty 2 watches Marty 3 go back and all the potential for infinite loops that presents.
So either Marty is never born, Marty’s successful trip back to 1985 gets erased (undoing all the work Doc and Marty have put into it and maybe destroying the universe in a paradox), or the timeline starts looping, never reaching a stable new reality. Those are really the only options we’ve got, and none of them are great! They all kinda suck, actually!
“But Ryan!” you’re saying, “The movie doesn’t show any of these catastrophes happening! So there’s got to be a different way.”
And this is true. When we reach a conclusion from a set of facts that doesn’t match up with reality, our only option is to look at our reasoning and find the flaw in it. And I totally slipped in an unfounded assumption earlier on you guys when I was talking about the sequence of events. It’s this part:
3. Marty Prime goes back to the present, goes to the Lone Pine Mall, and watches himself go back in time again.
Here’s the thing: we only saw Marty 2 travel through time. We never were told his destination. And I submit to you this hypothesis, this wham-bang anagnorisis that changes everything now and forever:
Marty 2 didn’t go back in time.
At least, not like Marty Prime did.
Doc’s a smart guy, and he’s had thirty years to work out the consequences of what happened during that week in 1955. He would’ve gone through this reasoning and made all the same conclusions we did here. So what’s the third way? How do we solve this? There’s two solutions:
- Option 1
- Step 1: Kill Marty McFly.
- Option 2
- Step 1: use these thirty years to design a different time machine, one which rather than travelling within one timeline, allows you to also travel sideways to a different timeLINE.
- Step 2: (Optional) Kill Marty McFly.
Option 1 is the cleanest, but it’s pretty clear why Doc didn’t chose it. If he had, all he had to do was send Marty 5 billion years into the future, when the sun’s a red giant. Poof: Marty McFly killed instantly in a causality-free way, he never goes back in time, and we avoid the undesirable outcomes of “Marty never born/universe destroyed” or “Timeline constantly in flux”. Instead, Marty dies, Doc never got warned about the terrorists so Doc dies too, and the timeline stabilizes at the cost of both Doc and Marty’s life.
Option 2 is trickier, but it’s the only thing that gets us to what we were shown happening in the movie and book, so it must’ve been what happened. Here’s how it goes down.
Doc uses the thirty years head start he has to design a new DeLorean, one that looks the same but operates slightly differently. Rather than go back in time along one timeline, it takes a step sideways and sends you back in time in a parallel timeline. That means that Marty 2 goes to Hill Valley X, and Doc doesn’t have to worry about Marty anymore. Our Doc’s timeline has finally stabilized, with Marty 2 disappearing and replaced by Marty Prime, who watched this whole thing happen.
But Marty 2’s not dead! He’s in 1955 in Hill Valley X, where he can mess up all he wants and it’ll only affect the future of Marty X, who is causally unrelated to him. This is the critical part. Marty 2 no longer can mess up his own birth, only Marty X’s birth. Let’s say he ends up keeping Marty X alive and then makes it back to 1985. When Marty 2 arrives in 1985 in Hill Valley X2, he’ll watch Marty X2 (as both the town and Marty X himself were altered by Marty 2’s actions) travel through time.
The problem is this: if Doc X lets Marty X2 go into ANOTHER new parallel timeline, this whole mess repeats, only instead of a constantly-shifting timeline we now have a messy and potentially-infinite explosion of parallel timelines. That’s probably not wise. So instead Doc X (perhaps informed by a note Bulletproof Vest Doc hid in the machine) punches in a different demonstration date of 5 billion years in the future, and Marty X2 quickly burns to death in the heart of our dying sun.
And that’s it! Both timelines are now stable AND we’ve eliminated the chance of them being altered by killing off an alternate Marty as he makes his first trip in time. Things are stable, the timeline avoided both catastrophic destruction AND an infinite series of Marties, and all it cost us was the life of one Marty X2 McFly.
I’d say that’s worth it, and it seems like both Doc and Doc X agreed with me.
(It’s worth noting that the book and the movie both gloss over this point and skip right to the scene of Marty 2 arriving in 1985 Hill Valley X2, which I can only assume was for time concerns.1)
END OF FOOTNOTES
1. “But Ryan,” you’re saying, “if that’s true, why does Marty 2 react to Marty X’s family with such surprise?” and the solution is obvious: as we skipped over Marty 2’s household (recall we only get to see Marty X2’s family), we can conclude that his family life was different from the X2 universe too, hence his surprise.
END OF FOOTNOTE FOOTNOTES
OH SNAP I JUST REALIZED YOU COULD TOTALLY ARGUE THAT THIS IS WHAT THAT STUPID “DOC FLIPS A MYSTERIOUS SWITCH” SCENE ON THE LAST PAGE WAS ABOUT!! Doc’s putting the time machine back to “travel within one timeline” mode in preparation for his trip to the future, because he wants to be able to return to the very same timeline he departed from. It all fits! HOT DAMN, GIPE! YOU WERE ONE STEP AHEAD OF US ALL THIS ENTIRE TIME!!
MY BALLS ARE BEING SO TRIPPED!!
Some odd choices and one truly inscrutable one await us on this page! SO LET’S BEGIN:
Doc does his “Well, what the hell” line to Marty, and you know how we just saw a firefight, with terrorists, INVOLVING ROCKET-PROPELLED GRENADES, down here at the mall? Well the cops in this book are better than movie cops, because they totally noticed when that happened too!
Nearby, the police had poured out of their cars and were busily rounding up the terrorists.
(And you could argue putting that “the terrorists” in bold is unfair but COME ON Gipe went out of his way to give them names and motivations earlier on! He gave himself OPTIONS when it came to referring to these van dudes and has squandered them all, alas, alas)
Anyway these book cops aren’t THAT much better than the movie cops because they entirely miss out on the only other people standing around in the deserted parking lot by a van and don’t so much as glance in their direction, allowing them to run away with ease:
“Let’s get out of here,” Doc Brown said. “This is going to be impossible to explain.”
“I’m with you,” Marty said.
Together, they ran toward the mall core and disappeared into the shadows as even more police cruisers turned the corner into the mall.
As they sped away in the step-van, the two men discussed their adventures…
And man wouldn’t it be awesome if that was the ending to the whole book right there? Wouldn’t it? No? Okay I can see your point and I respect it.
Marty admits to “screwing up a little”, Doc asks how, and Marty explains the whole “this used to be Twin Pines mall tilll I ran over a pine tree in the past by accident” thing, ending with “I guess that’s why they call it Lone Pine now.”
Doc Brown smiled. “You’ll probably notice a lot of things like that,” he said. “It’ll be your own private joke with Hill Valley for the rest of your life.”
That’s how the conversation ends, with Marty just trailing off with “Yeah…”, and I’m pretty sure you can read a lot into that. I, for example, read it as Marty being worried that he’s changed so much he won’t recognize anything, and concerned that all his relationships and friendships he remembers have been destroyed or altered beyond recognition with strange new ones in their place. But whatever!
Okay so here’s the part I don’t get AT ALL:
A few minutes later, they reached the DeLorean and Doc got inside.
“Won’t start, eh?” he said.
Doc reached under the ignition, flipped a hidden switch and smiled as the engine roared to life.
“What are your plans now?” Marty asked.
What the hell? What’s that switch doing there? HERE ARE POSSIBILITIES:
- That switch was always there, and Doc built the DeLorean with a “will deke you out by failing to start for a little while the first time, and then actually fail to start the second time” switch in the machine. BUT WHY??
- All cars have this switch - for some reason? - and I am dumb about cars (possible, I don’t spend too much time thinking about cars and missed that you can totally floor a manual transmission car more than once in an earlier post)
- Past Doc somehow knew that the car had trouble starting (perhaps he started it a few times) and so resolved to build a switch in when he built it again, which Present Doc is now taking advantage of? But it doesn’t make sense! NONE OF THIS MAKES SENSE
- This scene is weird, you guys, the end