"The first ten million years were the worst. And the second ten million, they were the worst too. The third ten million I didn't enjoy at all. After that I went into a bit of a decline."
— Marvin the Paranoid Android; The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
In the time travel genre, a character is taking the slow path if after time-traveling to the past, he returns to the time he came from by living through the intervening time like a normal person instead of time-traveling back. This is typically the highly undesirable result of being stranded in the past.
If a time traveler travels directly to the future, non-time traveling characters that live through normally while waiting for him to reappear are also said to be taking the slow path. A character who uses stasis, suspended animation or similar methods that leave him unconscious for the intervening period is usually not said be taking the slow path, counting as a time traveler instead.
In some cases characters who experience far more time than everyone else in a given period through some temporal anomaly are also said to be taking the slow path.
When a character lets a piece of information take the slow path by hiding away an item to be recovered in the future, it's a case of Write Back To The Future.
Game and Story Use
- When traveling a couple of decades back, a disguise is recommended. If someone sees you in the past then recognizes you after you return to the present, they'll know that while they have taken the slow path, you have not.
- This is a typical setup for a predestination paradox, with an older character knowing about the time trip before the character taking it does. Usually this is revealed only after the trip takes place.
- It is exceedingly dangerous for a time traveler to acquire an immortal enemy, even and perhaps especially in the distant past. Such a character can use the intervening time period to learn everything about the traveler's history and to insert himself into his life, setting things up to leverage an enormous advantage. If the immortal wants to get the secret of time travel himself, things can become even worse. Various paradoxes might ensue.
- A sort of reversal of this is if the traveler discovers that one of his friends is immortal (or at least very long-lived) by meeting him in the distant past. This earlier meeting may even be the reason they became friends later on. If the trip to the past was made because of the friend's recommendation, this is a predestination paradox as well.
- If there are no immortals in the present, the traveler might be safe. Or things might be far worse than he thought…