The variable of time

I’ve been meaning to read this book for a while: The Time Traveler’s Almanac, except to be honest, short stories don’t hold the same appeal to me as books. So forgive me if I update this continuously (at least until I finish the book), but as of right now, I think I’ve got the basics.

As I’ve mentioned before, if there’s one thing that every person wants in their life, it’s control. We all pine to control our own destines, if only for the reason that we don’t know what will happen next. There’s simply too many variables to consider. And this is the reason why I believe time travel is such a pined-for element. It’s impossible. It’s more fantasy than science fiction as Rian Johnson likes to write, which is why there’s so many theories on how it works. How it could work. Because without the science behind it, how many possible explanations are there? SPOILERS ALERT!

1. TIME IS RIGID

In Geoffrey A. Landis’ “Ripples in the Dirac Sea” the main character lives in the past, constantly changing and experiencing a myriad of different lives, unwilling to live in the present because the present means his death. And yet, no matter how many different iterations he lives, he learns one thing: You can never change the future, perhaps because your fate is already decided.

Perhaps the most unrealistic (and most depressing) approach, this belief shows readers that we have no control over our destiny because our fate has already been decided. My least favorite, it seems to make no sense. It’s like driving to California and finding out when you get there that you’ve been in NYC the whole time. 

TIMELOOP. In Michael Swanwick’s “Triceratops Summer” Imagine triceratops invading your neighborhood kind of like that one pack of deer that like to feed on your flower beds, and you’ll have this story. What I think is interesting about this story is that while the story occurs in linear fashion, because time is rigid and cannot stand to be interrupted, even by wandering dinosaurs, everything that has come to pass will eventually reset. And no one will remember a thing. 

2. LINEARITY

In “Needle in a Timestack” Silverberg writes of two men, Hambleton and Mikkelsen, who have both fallen in love with the same woman: Janine. Only Hambleton had divorced Janine, and Mikkelsen is currently married to her, going on around ten years. And while having another man in love with your wife wouldn’t necessarily be a problem, in this story, it is, especially when you can time travel just as easily as flying to Houston.

So far this story is my favorite. I love how time flows in a linear fashion, how what you do in the past affects the present, and how no matter what, fate finds a way. 

TIME AS A CHAIN. “Think of it as taking a link from a chain and inserting it earlier in the chain” (140). That’s how Ernest explains it to Ernie when he describes how his suit works, why they can put on the suit and live in a moment while everyone else lives frozen in time. What the two of them don’t expect are the consequences. This story is good cause it’s different, because it explores big themes like right and wrong or cause and effect. I love how it plays with the concept of ‘living on borrowed time.’

Other stories to note: “How the Future Got Better” by Eric Schaller, “A Sound of of Thunder” by Ray Bradbury

3. MULTI-UNIVERSES

In Black Courch’s Dark Matter the main character Jason is disappointed with his life. Sure he loves his wife and his son, but what if he had followed his dreams? Became something else other than a physics professor? And so follows the plot of Dark Matter, exploring every what-if scenario in the form of another alternate universe. This book’s strength was its excess of worlds, and while it’s fun to imagine the number of sheer possibilities, this structure hits me as an impossible thing. Time would not seem to follow the structure of a tree diagram. Wouldn’t it prefer more normal shapes?

4. DIMENSIONAL

The best example of time as another dimension would be Interstellar, the movie. Here pilot Cooper falls through a black hole, only to be rescued by another sentient species, where they visualize time as another dimension, if only so that Cooper can comprehend it. And this is the same moment when he manipulates time in order to save those still on a dying Earth.

To me, this seems the most realistic. Because we can’t comprehend the other elements of time, instead simplifying it to past, present, and future, where really we only experience the present, I think time is best portrayed as another dimension, one we can’t see. 

So if time-travel hasn’t been proven, then why are we so desperate to know how it works or what will it do? For simplicity’s sake, Rian Johnson phrases it best: “How much of our lives do we live in the past or future, looking forward or looking back, whether regretting or pining or fearing?” (XII)

VanderMeer, Ann and Jeff, editors. The Time Traveler’s Almanac. Tor Books, 2013. Print.

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A book of memories

Let me just start out with saying this: although this book kept me disinterested for 3/4 of its content, I have to say that when everything came together in the end, it was fairly intriguing and noteworthy to think about. And really, I’m wondering if my disinterest was a symptom of confusion as to how all the characters related to each other. So in order to entice more possible readers, know this:

Richard: Son of Inga Beart (famous writer), raised by his Aunt Cat, father to Neil; retired middle school English teacher, currently in Paris doing research on his late mother

Neil: Son of Richard; historian in France doing research with his Professor

Magdalena: Friend of Lina; girl who sees people’s truths on their skin, who meets up with Neil to exchange their parents’ Christmas presents

One thing that I think is really noteworthy about this book is not necessarily the plot, because the characters themselves don’t really do too many noteworthy things, but the reflections that the characters partake in, particularly their musings. SPOILER ALERT.

As they hiked up hillsides covered with olive groves, Magdalena listened to Rachel talk about her days doing junk, sleeping in doorways and robbing her mum, and it occurred to Magdalena that the things she’d gotten used to reading as her mother reached for a pan or changed her skirt or stretched out her toes to let the polish dry had something in common. They were stories Magdalena had heard as a little girl, or they were hints of stories her mother might someday decide to tell her, and a number included phrases in the imperative tense-don’t pick the thin-stemmed mushrooms, check that the butcher’s scale is zero to begin with-as if her mother had made notes across her skin of the things that Magdalena ought to know. (206)

Two sentences, in which they ramble on and on about her internal musings, not necessarily about the route she was taking or how hard the road was on her feet or how everyone was avoiding or annoyed by Rachel, who must’ve repeated her story five times to each individual person. This story focuses so much more on memories, thoughts, and reflections, which I think is why this book has such strong, well-rounded characters. They definitely have wants. Fears. And I think for a first book, Adelia Saunders did a great job crafting her characters. Her style is certainly unique. One of my favorite stream-of-conscious in the story is shown below:

Starts with Ellameno, Neil said once when it was his turn to choose a letter, and his dad thought that was so funny that they started making up a whole world populated with made-up fantastical things: the ellemenopede who liked to eat ellamenoghetti twirled around forks held in each of its ellamillion hands. (214)

The trick to Saunders’ reflections is not only the fact that she writes this huge enormous sentences (which could attribute to the book feeling so slow and drawn out), but the fact that most of her reflections are descriptions of a memory. She could’ve stopped at ‘they started making up a whole world filled with things starting with ellameno,’ but she goes beyond that memory, describing the actual scene of the world itself. Saunders has so many fantastic visual descriptions, which develop the whole life of the character. Because even as she describes this single memory, it evolved into other times Neil and his dad would spend time together, what happened when they didn’t, and what happened when they grew apart. I love how these 2 pages defined how their relationship changed before and after certain significant events. It really helped strengthen the characters.

Other than that, I like how this book also addresses our memories – maybe that’s a motif for this book – because while this book examines Richard’s singular memory of his mother’s red shoes, convinced she had come back to see him, this memory evolves as we learn more and more about his mother’s situation, which in turn shows us how memories are subject to your own delusions or interpretations.

SPOILER: I’m specifically thinking of when Richard finds out how his mother gouged out her eyes. Initially he was mad at his Aunt, thinking sooner or later he would’ve learned the truth that she went crazy and had caused her own death. But later he realized that she had gouged out her eyes because she didn’t want to see him when he was flown back to Paris to meet her. See page 259. 

So I’m going to stand by my opinion that I liked this book. I think it’s hilarious it was marketed under Science Fiction because although Magdalena can see “truth” on people’s skin (and it’s revealed a number of additional people can as well), this played a minor part of the story. It may have been the driving force behind a few of the character’s actions, but it didn’t play an enormous visual role in the story, which is typically how science fiction or fantasy books work. It was very subliminal, which convinces me to argue this is more of a fiction than a sci-fi piece. And although it’s slow, I think it’s still well worth it to pick it up and read.

Saunders, Adelia. Indelible. New York, NY: Bloomsbury, 2017. Print.