Leaving aside all the contradictions about killing grandfathers (and not just in nursing homes in New Yuck) time travel ( a once major staple of sf – and as these things tend to cycle, probably will be again. It’s full of fascinating conundrums.
Two of the classics of the genre would be L. Sprague de Camp’s novel LEST DARKNESS FALL in which ‘Mouse’ Padway – an archaeologist – who finds himself transported back in time to Rome of 535 AD and Poul Anderson THE MAN WHO CAME EARLY (a short story) about an American Army MP Gerald Samsson (IIRC) who is transported back in time to 10th century Iceland.
Now, LEST DARKNESS FALL is one of my comfort-reads, one the 10 books I took to the Army with me, that lived in my magazine pouch. I can quote sections of it. That said, I suspect THE MAN WHO CAME EARLY is probably more realistic as to what would happen to the time-traveler. It too may be too gentle.
Mouse Padway, a small man with a great deal of knowledge, arriving in a relatively peaceful, tolerant society (for the time, exceptional) which had all sorts of peoples from across Europe and North Africa mingling (so he didn’t stand out) with a grasp of Latin and Italian (thereby meaning he could work out the language) sets about trying to stop the dark ages falling across Europe, by introducing 20th century inventions. De Camp being De Camp some of it is probably satire, as what he introduces may well not be our finest! But he changes the course of history with what he knows.
On the other hand, Gerald – despite being an engineering student and having a gun, and being sure he can use his 20th century knowledge to ‘uplift’ the Icelanders. He fails dismally. He lacks the practical knowledge and skills, and his ideas rest on a huge bed of prior-existing skills, equipment and knowledge. He doesn’t understand the culture he finds himself in and assumes that his is superior, and more relevantly, that the Icelanders will find them superior and accept them. He ends up failing and getting killed.
They’re both good stories, but LEST DARKNESS FALL requires a sequence of special circumstances to work. De Camp didn’t make success too easy, but firstly, his character was much more au fait with history than most people would be, secondly, was put into an era when people of many cultures mixed fairly safely under the Gothic rule of Italy, and thirdly Padway was much more cautious about ‘fitting in’ with the people -fishing for their beliefs and positions and claiming to share them) Gerald seemed to open his mouth to change feet, knowing little and coming from a diametrically opposed set of cultural values. Think about it, that’s probably where most of us sit, dropped back into 99% of human history. Even the Taliban are more similar than people a thousand years back.
It’s an interesting exercise to imagine how you would cope dropped back in an earlier time and place, with just what you have on your person. I suspect the right answer might be ‘very briefly’. And if you did… just what could you do to change things, to improve things, even just for yourself. Or even just to survive.
What do you do? where would you go? How do you try to survive? You’re a computer programmer in the Neolithic. A bank clerk in 3000 BC Australia. Or a HR manager in Ancient Sparta…