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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Writing with Multiple POVs

When you think of a typical book, you think of a single-character, linear-timeline, which Allen Steele breaks completely when he wrote Arkwright. Containing 6 different perspectives, Steele covers at least 8 generations of Arkwright’s while following the trajectory of his novel. Refer to the genealogy below.

family tree

Note: It’s unknown how many generations were skipped before Nathan Arkwright II was born. Only that the Galactique landed during Dhani’s lifetime, near after Julian’s honeymoon, and it took nearly 300 years before the first Sanjay Arkwright generation. This is only an estimate from the book. 

I really enjoyed the non-singular character trajectory. I think it makes it a little more fun to write, since you get to cover so many more “mini” stories, but it’s definitely a break from the norm. That’s not to say it isn’t linear—it is. We move from past to present to future. But, at least it covers more than one main character, which I think was relatively done well. I know a little bit about all of them:

Nathan…the writer. 

Kate…the science journalist.

Ben…the engineer.

Matt…the lazy, nomad. 

Dhani…the physics teacher. 

It’s great to pair each of them with a profession and a strong personality because it makes them easier to keep track of, even with a novel that skips characters like this one. And I like the fact that it didn’t skip multiple generations but always traveled into the next one. This way it gave me someone concrete to remember while I expanded my character list. Overall, well done.

Steele, A. Arkwright. New York, NY: Tor. Print.

Stories inspire our future

Steele seems like a great last name for a science fiction writer. Just because it makes you think of metal, which is used to build star ships in space, which are a thing of the future, which for right now, we can only really dream about in books…See! We’ve come in a complete circle!

Steele is a full-time science fiction writer, originating from the south—Nashville, TN. And the fact that I find most interesting about him is this quote from his website: “In April, 2001, he testified before the Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics of the U.S. House of Representatives, in hearings regarding space exploration in the 21st century” (Allen M. Steele). This makes sense considering the end of his book, which I’m going to spoil before you read it.

“I like to believe that his stories inspired the voyages that brought us to this world, but I know that his were only a few of many. There were countless other visionaries like him, and all had faith in the future.”

With this, he opened the book and began to read The Galaxy Patrol. (332)

From this understanding, it was Steele’s stance was clear—he’s of the belief that science fiction writers are the inspiration for the engineers of the future, which is why I highly enjoyed the ending of this book. The whole time I’m reading, I’m basically watching the birth of the Galactique, the star ship that began the first extraterrestrial birth of our species. And the whole time I’m reading, I’m watching history come alive, skipping generation after generation as Steele skips me through the timeline to watch the most significant moments in Galactique and Arkwright’s history.

And it is Steele’s belief, the same for every Arkwright, that propels the plot of this novel: that we can make it to space and we can travel beyond Earth, if only we set our sights on the stars. This belief, or theme, is what makes this novel so enjoyable for me. Even though the journey itself is only somewhat entertaining, lulling at times, because the theme was so strong, so inherent  from beginning to end, it left me with a feeling of awe.

I think the only thing I can take away from this is to write from experience, and then to take that further until the whole story blows out of proportion, until what you get at the end is a book.

Steele, A. Arkwright. New York, NY: Tor. Print.

Peregrine

Having just finished All the Birds in the Sky, I feel like this should be a more momentous occasion. Especially—Spoiler Alert—after that last scene.

“You are,” the Tree said, “like me.”

“A distributed consciousness, yes,” Peregrine said. “Although your network is much larger and vastly more chaotic than mine. This may require…a rather ambitious firmware update. Stay tune.” The screen went dark.

Through this ending, Anders draws attention to the similarities between technology and magic. Both having a sort of network, one connected by magic, the other connected by internet. This shows how dissimilar the two societies communicate, and yet, it shows how alike they are, both working in the same way. By understanding how this book crosses genres, using fantasy and scifi elements, you can better understand how scientists can be religious and religiously devoted to their studies, how people can be devoted to explain the explainable and, at the same time, accept the unexplainable.

And yet, it was so slap in your face, so obvious, that I find a hard time being attached to this ending. Imagining a piece of technology attached to a tree? It was practically waving the theme in your face. And I found it hard to accept, especially since this if the first time of technology attaching to nature in the book. I would rather accept Peregrine—the know-it-all tablet and AI baby of witch Patricia and scientist Laurence—as the savior of humanity instead. Maybe since he’s already a cross breed?

I also didn’t really like how the timeline took these awkward jumps forward.

He would be doubting his relationship aloud with Serafina…

“This is weirding me out. I mean, I feel like our communication has sucked for, I don’t know, a month or so…”

“So…I’m not on probation then?”

…”I guess you are now.” (138)

And then all the sudden they’re on the equivalent of a ‘probation.’ How does one follow that logic? Maybe I’m just too easy going, but surely when someone voices their own doubts, you don’t punish them for it? Isn’t that a betrayal of trust and communication?

Then, we would go from Laurence dating Serafina…

But this was someone he’d known half his life, with whom he had this whole labyrinthine history. He could not screw this up. Plus Patricia might be used to crazy magic sex. (218)

To him and Patricia getting down and dirty. Isn’t that third base? They hadn’t even made it to one. And what happened to Laurence dating Serafina? I wanted some closure (or at least explanation) of what happened to the first relationship before he moved with a new one.

Overall, these were only minor hiccups to the story. Still disturbing—jolting you out of the story when you least expect it—but it’s not anything super bad. In this case, it was outweighed by the positives: creating realistic characters.

Truth was, Laurence only half paid attention to the amazing sight of these bright tropical birds devouring flowers, because he kept trying to wrap his mind around the fact that he had nearly erased a human being from existence…Plus when he tried to sleep, his heart did a circus drumroll as he remembered Priya’s mouth opening and closing.

Even now, sitting with Patricia on a rough horse blanket on the grass, Laurence kept bracing himself for her to say something—she knew full well what had happened to Priya, maybe even better than Laurence did, and she hadn’t said one judgmental word about it yet. She was probably just waiting for the right moment. (207).

What I particularly like about these paragraphs is that it shows how guilty Laurence feels for what he did, and yet not once does it say, ‘He felt guilty.’ Instead, Anders shows us how guilty he feels: re-imagining Priya in pain, going over the scene again and again; imagining he’s going to get punished, expecting that punishment. These are all the signs of a child who knows they committed an immoral act. And it was sooo much stronger than saying, ‘He felt guilty.’ I definitely want to practice this skill more because this is what made this book special for me. The emotions are so intense!

Anders, Charlie Jane. All the Birds in the Sky. New York, NY: Tor, 2016. Print.

Dual Timelines

I have so many posts that are backlogged right now from when I had time to start them, and I simply don’t have time to deviate from the list…and yet, I’m going to. Why? Because I’m passionate, and I’m too caught up in my current read to not deviate.

Which means, if you don’t have a copy of this book yet, so far (on page 103 out of 383 –> 27 percent completed) I’d totally recommend this book.

Right now the book is alternating between two main timelines (although it certainly deviates within those two main timelines as well): currently – now – and then, or ten years in the past.

Then: Ten years ago, Victor and Eli – two college roommates – were in their senior thesis class, in which each of them had to invent some argument to research. Vic decided upon boring adrenaline research (quite easy in his perspective), and Eli decided to research the factors of an EO (extraordinary) development phenomenon – when a person gains supernatural powers. This eventually evolves into each of them trying to helpfully kill each other (commit suicide) in order to prove the thesis. FYI: Right now they’re friends.

Now: Fast forward to the future, where in alternating perspectives (that are either two days ago, last night, or two weeks ago), we find out that Victor now hates Eli. After he has escaped from jail – no idea how he got there – we learn how desperate he is for revenge on his friend and that he now has EO powers.

It’s driving me crazy! All these why’s and how’s!

  • Why does Victor now hate Eli?
  • How did he develop his powers?

When I’m reading then, I’m desperate to see how they eventually developed their powers?

When I’m reading now, I’m desperate to see how their friendship turned into hate? How/when did Eli go evil, because in Victor’s perspective he is? Even though he thinks of himself as the villain, as Eli as the hero…

I have seen this book as having the most reasoning for two timelines. Each one adds a question, a piece of tension, to the story. Most books I read where there’s multiple working timelines, they usually only add background, maybe reasoning. But this book, it adds questions, each one reflecting questions for the other half of the story.

This would be a good study on how to integrate dual timelines.

Advice: Make dang sure they’re dependent on each other for a full story.

Schwab, V. Vicious. New York, NY: Tor, 2013. Print.