Time travel blog

Happy Birthday HG Wells!

The Time Machine by H.G.Wells is not the first time travel novel, and as far as time travel novels go, it doesn’t have much time travel in it. But both he and this novel have opened up the world of time travel. Happy birthday Herbert!

Today, 21 September 2016, marks not only the day before the 2016 autumnal equinox but also the 150th birthday of H. G. Wells.

H.G.Wells
Author H. G. Wells (Image credit: www.biography.com/people/hg-wells-39224)

Herbert George Wells – or H. G. Wells – is of course the author of The Time Machine, arguably the most famous of time travel novels. It was one of the first novels which brought the concept of time travel to the reader – and it still does today.

But to be honest I’m a little upset because I believe that H.G. Wells is credited with too much when it comes to time travel.

For example, he is often credited with being the first time travel author by writing The Time Machine – but this simply isn’t true! Just like the moonwalk existed before Michael Jackson mastered and performed it for us, time travel existed (in literature) well before H.G. Wells wrote The Time Machine.

Now admittedly it is pretty terrible, but H. G. Wells’own The Chronic Argonauts was written before The Time Machine (some consider it as a prequel, or at least a foundation). And before that is the (bloated) The Clock that Went Backward (Edward Page Mitchell) where the title clearly gives the game away!

Just two examples within the same decade of publication as The Time Machine – a simple internet search I’m sure would throw up many more earlier examples of time travel in fiction, and from even earlier.

And what of The Time Machine itself?

It’s heralded as being the Bible of time travel – the ultimate time travel novel that all other time travel novels should aspire to being.

But I disagree.

The Time Machine book cover
Image source: en.wikipedia.org

Well, it’s OK. I mean, it’s not fantastic as time travel novels go. The Time Traveller goes into the future, meets the Eloi and the Morlocks, and makes a few assumptions about present day sociology. Aside from the description of time being the fourth dimension quote, the actual time travel aspect in The Time Machine is pretty crap; the novel could have started off with “Once upon a time there was a chap living in the future and saw a load of Eloi and Morlocks.”

Take the time travel out of The Time Machine, you’ve still pretty much got the same novel as before – although the title would probably need changing!

But I don’t mean to slag off The Time Machine – or H. G. Wells! After all, the novel has been responsible for bringing many readers into the realm of scifi / time travel, and indeed H. G. Wells has written some brilliant scifi novels in other areas.

And it’s also inspired other authors to write sequels for it. Stephen Baxter, vice-President of the international H. G. Wells Society, wrote The Time Ships which is the official authorised sequel. And I’ve also read Epilogue (Jaime V. Batista) which to my mind is a far superior sequel to The Time Machine than The Time Ships.

(You can read my interview with author Jaime on Time Travel Nexus.)

Another worthy mention is The Map of Time – an extraordinary novel by Felix J. Palma which features H. G. Wells as the main character and either has or has no time travel within it, depending on how you view it! Brilliantly written!

So OK. H. G. Wells isn’t the first time travel author, and on top of that The Time Machine isn’t the best time travel novel, but there’s no denying that H. G. Wells has certainly popularised the genre and inspired many readers and authors alike!

Time is an arbitrary measure when you have a time machine, but all the same I’d like to sending my birthday wishes across time and back to H. G. Wells.

Happy 150th birthday, Herbert! πŸ™‚

Paul

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Clock Anti-Clock – a time travel short movie

How does time flow in Clock Anti-Clock? Is there personal time, is it a matter of perception of time, or does time actually flow backwards?

Clock Anti-Clock is a time travel movie produced by Deepak Sharma (Paragravity) with the simple premise of a time traveler who meets himself. But there’s a twist…

I’ve only got one issue with this movie, and I only noticed it because it accentuates the first of a few of my thoughts when I watched Clock Anti-Clock: Is time personal?

It relates to the construction; when the character is experiencing a backward flow of time, he stares at everything running backwards; it’s strange, it’s unusual – it deserves a good look.

But why was no-one staring at him? Relative to their time frame he’s also walking backwards etc. and would be strange to look at. He seems to be in a personal time bubble.

Personal time

In my post A Unique Signature of Time I alluded to the question: Is time personal?

In Clock Anti-Clock the question is very relevant because I think it explains a situation at the end of the film where otherwise there’d be a paradox.

We hear the door knob rattle. He puts his glasses on and from then on it seems that time runs backwards from around 12:00 pm. This is inside the room where we see the clocks going backwards, and also outside where he observes people walking backwards, taps dripping upwards, etc..

By the end of the movie we have a better perspective on what’s going on outside. The ‘experienced’ version of the character tries to open the door (causing the door handle to rattle), and realising it’s locked, walks away.

But here’s the thing: if time is running backwards for the guy inside his room and opening the door (to find no-one there) why hasn’t he seen the guy outside walking backwards back towards the door and trying the handle?

In other words, time appears to be flowing in different directions by the door – or at least, in different directions for each character.

I think it’s clear by the end of the movie we’ve figured out that it’s the glasses which cause the change of flow direction for time (though whether time actually flows backwards, or that things look like they’re going backwards can be questioned!). Since only one person can wear a single pair of glasses at the same time, it seems reasonable to assume that time is indeed personal and that there is a time bubble or something around our guy. After all – he’s still walking forwards whilst everyone else is walking backwards.

The Perception of Time

The flip side of this is that no matter what direction time flows, we perceive it as forwards – rather like applying a modulus function on time ( -2 seconds becomes 2 seconds).

This already happens in physics; I remember a cretinous teacher who took joy in deducting a mark from me when I was calculating “work done”, given as force times distance. We were told that distance was measured positive from left to right, but in the example the force was applied to an object moving in the opposite direction, so I gave it a negative sign. Of course, this gave me a negative product, but since work done cannot be negative I applied the modulus and gave the final work done as a positive number.

Mr Cretin took a mark away because he didn’t even want to see the negative number in a work done calculation. I still disagree with him. But the point remains – having a closed mind and removing a negative sign completely, or being a budding scientist to be and applying the modulus are just 2 ways in which direction is made a non factor.

So why not with time? Maybe wearing these glasses “opens our eyes”!

(As an aside, you might like to read my guest post on the perception of time and its relevance in time travel on the Theory of Space Time blog.)

Time running backwards

The question of time either being personal and acting under its own rules within personal space, or being perceived to be so, brings me onto my final point – time actually running backwards.

Time travel seems to be obsessed with moving from one point in time to another, but for the large part, time flows in one (forwards) direction. It’s often referred to as the “Arrow of Time” – a term developed by astronomer Arthur Eddington which basically says that there’s an obvious direction or flow of time reference: Wikipedia.

(Sometimes we experience time appearing to move backwards from the viewpoint of a time machine making a backward trip, but I’d suggest that this is little more than illusion – parked cars don’t really move backwards when we walk forwards alongside them, for example.)

So how does physics work when time runs backwards? For example, we saw in the movie a plane flying backwards because time flows backwards. But for the plane to remain in the air, complete with its aerodynamic design, surely physics must have changed to keep it airborne?

Plane flying backwards

To the left is a snapshot of the plane in the sky. It’s not falling, yet it’s not defying gravity. The force of gravity is an acceleration so has a time term, but here in this snapshot time has simply been removed from the equation. Is the gravitational force now working in the opposite direction so keep the plane airborne?

Physical processes at the microscopic level are believed to be either entirely or mostly time-symmetric: if the direction of time were to reverse, the theoretical statements that describe them would remain true. Yet at the macroscopic level it often appears that this is not the case: there is an obvious direction (or flow) of time. Reference: Wikipedia

In practice, I don’t know what this actually means and how that relates to the (macroscopic) plane, but I wondered further about the sign of time in vector physical equations. For example, velocity. Where speed (a scalar) is concerned only with how fast something goes, velocity is more specific; direction is also important.

Usain Bolt is the fastest human on the planet and ran 100 m in 9.58 seconds (reference: Guinness World Records). (That’s a speed of 10.43 m/s – he can run further in 1 second than he can fall if he fell off a cliff in the same time!) But Usain wouldn’t have won the Olympics unless he ran in the right direction – i.e. from the start line to the finish line. He needed to have the fastest velocity.

Where speed can’t be negative, velocity can (e.g. if Usain ran in the opposite direction). We’re back to my work done calculation here…where we can switch the sign for distance and come up with a negative velocity, can we not equally change the sign of time instead? We’d end up with negative velocity – and it would explain why everyone would be walking backwards…

Personal, perception or actual?

So how is time flowing in Clock Anti-Clock? Is there personal time, is it a matter of perception of time, or does time actually flow backwards?

The more I think about this movie, the more intricacies I find. And getting someone to think can only be a good thing!


You can see more of Deepak’s productions on his website (paragravityfilms) and follow him on Facebook and on Twitter (@deepaktrivadi).

Paul

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Review: Stumbling on a Tale (Suzanne Roche)

“Stumbling On a Tale” is the next novel in the “Time to Time” series by Suzanne Roche. Like its predecessor it’s written beautifully and sweeps the reader in the author’s enthusiasm for the time and place that the novel is set. Layers are gradually added to the time travel mechanism, and there’s also promise of more great time travel things to follow too!

Stumbling On a Tale

Stumbling On a Tale by Suzanne Roche is a beautifully crafted time travel novel aimed at middle grade readers (8-12 years old). It follows Book 1, Making it Home, in Suzanne’s Time to Time series.

The writing style and fluency in Stumbling On a Tale is just as wonderful as previously, but the style in mapping out the story line differs substantially.

Perhaps all sequels should be like this.

Stumbling on a Tale (Suzanne Roche)

Often, sequels follow the same format as earlier novels in a series – Suzanne does it differently in Stumbling On a Tale and I think the approach works well.

We have the same characters – brothers Henry and Max, and their older step-sister Peri, and we have the same scenario where they’re transported back in time. From here there’s a divergence in the structure.

Plot structure

Where the plot was moved forwards in Making it Home by laying out a series of tasks for Peri, Henry and Max to follow with a clear end goal in mind, the plot in Stumbling on a Tale appears at first glance to be stationary. The children are dumped in a forest and come across secondary characters who tell stories to each other.

And that seems to be about it. The children are lost in a forest – but have we lost the plot somewhere?

I don’t think so. It’s not until the closing chapters that the tales come into focus and their context with each other is made clear. Indeed, things are wrapped up very nicely.

But that’s not to say that prior to the revelation of clarity that Stumbling On a Tale is dull! Suzanne’s writing style is gently humourous and we get the feeling that this is an author who genuinely has fun in the time and location that she’s placed her characters – and she sweeps the reader up in her enthusiasm by educating us in a subtle yet effective manner through her narration!

Characters

My biggest disappointment was the loss of Peri as the main character (as she was in Making it Home). The focus in Stumbling On a Tale seems to be on Henry – although of course he frequently looks to his older step-sister and star of the last book.

Henry is not as strong a main character as Peri was. Mostly he just whines and wants to be at home playing chess. He’s a negative kind of a chap and I felt little sympathy for him. Sadly, Peri often seemed to be dragged down to Henry’s level in discussion. Actually, even one of the indigenous characters even noted how much they bickered with each other.

Thrust into time travel

I’ve always hated the confusion beset by unknowing time travelers. Not that I’d do any better, but I’m a reader and I’ve picked (or been given) a book from the time travel section off the bookshelf. Unlike the characters in the novel I at least partly know what to expect.

Peri, Max and Henry have their share of confusion but being younger maybe they rely on their adventure method of learning more than getting bogged down like us oldies who stumble and rummage around looking for previous experience to help us deal with problems. And with no time travel experience we’re lost and confused.

The children in this second novel of the Time to Time series have a new take. They’re ready for adventure (sort of – Peri is, and Max is young enough to, but Henry whines), but they also have experience of how their time travel works. It happened before, so surely they can follow the same rules and get back home the same way that they did last time?

There’s the catch. Either they’re prevented from following the rules, or the rules have altered, or they need to develop their ideas of the rules further.

In Making it Home, the time travel rules weren’t known, so the children – and plot – kept moving forwards. In Stumbling On a Tale the time travel rules aren’t playing and so present a problem. The children spend more time in mental solving mode – and this is the journey which moves the plot forwards.

Time travel

The time travel mechanism itself, as you can imagine in a novel for younger readers, isn’t exactly realistic, but it does fit nicely into the realm of magic and fantasy – and ideas for children to consider.

We’re reminded of the time travel method fairly early on. An antique is placed on an encyclopedia and the children are taken back in time to where that antique first came from. The return mechanism is slightly more complex – but won’t be mentioned here because that’s a large part of this novel!

I missed it when I read Making it Home, but I caught it this time; when the children go back in time, they ‘arrive’ in clothing suitable to the period. Often in time travel novels there’s a lot of attention given over to the transport of non organic matter (such as clothing) when time travelling.

Again, there’s no scientific explanation as to why clothing morphs from the style of one time period to another, but then again – this is a kids book! But the point is embraced here all the same, and indeed the clothing styles help the children (through Peri) understand something about the era in which they’ve arrived, as well as the status that they – and those they meet – hold in relation to each other.

I like the closing scenes of Stumbling On a Tale because we start to hit some of the deeper time travel stuff. I mentioned earlier that Peri, Henry and Max are in need of figuring out how to possibly expand the rules of their time travel and one of their discussion ends up with the idea of pre-destination – the things that the children did in the past had to happen because they had already happened in the present and had been already been recorded in history.

We can therefore deduce that we’re operating on a single time line, and not several time lines with alternative histories.

That said, there’s the encyclopedia. I mentioned in my review of Making it Home that the encyclopedia had an interesting angle, and indeed we are slowly learning some more of the intricacies behind the the mysteries that it holds – such as a change in location of publisher. The epilogue here adds another layer of of mystery of the origin and meaning of the book. I’m looking forward to reading more!

Print layout and quality

I’ll finish with a superficial look at the print layout and quality. It was a problem in the first book and I harped on about it in my review of Making it Home and I’ve since noted that several other reviewers have also mentioned it. It’s sad that it hasn’t been addressed in the second book of the series.

This print edition has the look of a low quality novel. The paper quality is good, but the text is faint. The point size is one bigger than previously which helps, but the text is squidged within a narrow print space with huge margins on each side so it looks like there was a problem with the printer – a possible scenario given that the Epilogue and following pages have a more sensible layout.

The images suffer the same problem as before – they’re too small. Perhaps this is an odd thing to say because they already reduce the amount of text on a page (leading to more page turns) so increasing their size would exacerbate the problem the problem further.

I’m in two minds about the inclusion of the captioned images. They seem like an easy way of removing description from the narrative which may be appealing for the young target audience and they do make the page visually attractive. But there’s no real right time to look at / read them because they’re relevant for a large chuck of text on the page which may or may not flow onto the next.

Personally I don’t like pictures in books. To quote / paraphrase Sheldon from the “Big Bang Theory” sitcom, the greatest graphics card is the human imagination. That’s where the power of an author lies – in helping to shape a reader’s imagination. Slapping a picture ‘saves’ a thousand words but it makes us lazy.

Admittedly, maybe it’s a different condition with younger readers.

I’d advocate resizing the images to page width, and inserting them at a suitable locations in the text. They’d be larger, clearer, easier to read, and at the right place. But yes – more page turning.

How the above issues translate on an electronic book format I don’t know.

Final thoughts and rating * * * * *

My first instinct was to knock off a star because Peri is no longer the wonderful main character that she was in Making it Home, and instead we have whingey Henry.

Will Max be the main character in the third novel? Personally I hope not. Good child actors are rare, and I’d be cautious that we may have a literary equivalent here with Max. I’d love to see Peri return, but I do concede that it’s probably Max’s ‘turn’.

I was also tempted to knock off a star because of the vagueness of the general story line where we stagger from one tale to another (as the title may suggest!). But I got to thinking that not only is this a novel approach in appealing to younger readers, things do sort of come together at the end and wrap up.

I also really appreciate that layers are being added to the time travel element – not just the the encyclopedia aspect, but in more subtle things like the discussions leading to the idea of predestination.

I’m looking forward to Book 3 which guessing from the Epilogue sounds very promising – Peri trying to the solve the mystery which shrouds the encyclopedia. Perfect!

Review: Making it Home (Suzanne Roche)

Paul

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Disclaimer: I received a free copy of “Stumbling On a Tale” from Word Slinger Publicity to read and provide an honest review. This is it!

Star ratings:

| 5* Excellent! | 4* Good | 3* OK | 2* Not good | 1* Crud |

Lessons in time travel anyone?

This video (transcript below) from guest author “Entangled in Time” explains the reasoning behind “The Quantum Time Travel Institute – the world’s first school of human powered time travel” – and a chance to sign up for lessons!

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Learn to Time Travel (video transcript)

Time travel is HERE! There is absolutely NOTHING in the laws of physics that impedes time travel in either direction and as a matter of fact, at this moment in human history there are no less than ten different time travel technologies, being developed by organizations and researchers in labs, including NASA’s “Alcubierre Drive”. This does not any individuals working out of their own home. Simultaneously, over the last 200 years or so personal human development has progressed to the point where psychic and psionic abilities such as telekinesis, pyrokinesis, aerokinesis and others; have gone from mere curiosities to being taught as formal systems of instruction. There are now several schools that teach them, and YouTube is filled with legitimate videos of people demonstrating these skills. We feel it’s time to “take it to the next level”.

Over the last few years, has developed what is known as the “quantum paradigm” and variations of the Many World’s Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics, along with a “Global Awakening” of consciousness and a far greater awareness of what is known as the “Law of Attraction” or the concept that thoughts do indeed “become things”. Through the study of quantum theory, along with different models of what is known as “holographic universe theory” we are learning that “reality” is not all it’s “cracked up” to be, and that it is in FACT far easier to make seemingly impossible changes to one’s “reality”, by the power of one’s consciousness; than previously thought. All of these things taken in combination have allowed us to develop a methodology for teaching people the basics of time traveling without the use of machines!

We don’t want you to harbor any illusions that by taking one of our courses you will be able to time travel to a timeline where you are the pharoah of Egypt or travel to the future thousands of years, because this is only the dawn of the human time travel experience. On the other hand things like transforming a small object to your liking or warping time for a few minutes because you are late to an appointment are QUITE doable!

We believe the future shows great promise for humans to advance naturally, without the use of pills, injections, genetic engineering OR machines! Once humans get accustomed to time traveling on their own, we expect that humans will develop even MORE advanced abilities; including teleportation, quantum tunneling, transmutation and direct materialization. We envision a far future where we are able to time travel “great distances” – far greater than any machine technology could POSSIBLY take us! They say a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step – Come walk with us!

The author is the founder of the the Quantum Time Travel Institute, the world’s first school of human powered time travel.

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About time for a reflection

Is there a future with optic fibers and warped mirrors as time machines? Or are these just some random thoughts from the reflection of a wrinkly old man day dreaming in front of a mirror?

As I stood in front of a mirror a few days ago I saw wrinkles on the man in the reflection. Sadly the wrinkles weren’t from the mirror itself, but an unwelcome sign of my increasing age and my ongoing one-way movement along the time line.

I’m sure they weren’t there a few days ago…but what’s a few days in the scales of the infinity of time?

It got me thinking…

In a guest post I wrote a couple of years back, I commented that we perceive a reflected ray of light as an extension into and beyond that of the reflective surface. In other words, the reflection is a construct which our brain has put together. What this means for time and time travel is outlined in the full article on the Quantum Time Travel Institute.

In this post I’d like to revisit this idea of light rays and their parallels with the time line.

Admittedly this post is a little long as I briefly describe a couple of optical properties, but you can jump straight to the time travel bit here if you wish! (Time is a precious commodity, after all!)

Commutative

Reflection is commutative – in the same way that the order of the factors in multiplication is irrelevant (e.g. 2 x 3 is the same as 3 x 2), the same can be said for the direction of a light ray. i.e. the angles of incidence and reflection are interchangeable.

Or to put it another way, the direction of the light beam can go along either pathway – from source to destination, and the vice versa.

Torch rays and reflection
The torch can be moved from the left of the line to the right, but the ray of light follows the same path. (Image source: http://spaceguard.rm.iasf.cnr.it)

Here’s a practical example: shine a torch at a mirror in the dark, and you’ll see an illuminated spot on the wall where the light beam from the torch has been reflected. Now shine the torch from the illuminated spot on the wall onto the same spot on the mirror, and the new reflected spot will be in the place where you were just standing. Source and destination are interchangeable!

Note that the same principle also holds true for refraction, where a ray of light (partially) enters another medium of a different optical density and follows a different direction.

Total internal reflection

In optics there’s a condition called “total internal reflection” where a ray of light doesn’t enter and refract into a medium of a different optical density, but is instead reflected within the same medium as it’s source. More simply put, the interface between the two optical mediums becomes a mirror, even though this particular mirror can under other conditions allow light to pass through it.

Incidentally, this is the principle behind fiber optics – the light stays within the optic because it’s totally internally reflected (it doesn’t pass out of the fiber optic cable).

Image source: http://askmichellephysics.blogspot.nl/2012/04/light-and-sound.html
Image source: http://askmichellephysics.blogspot.nl/2012/04/light-and-sound.html

It’s also the principle that a certain 7 year old tried putting into practice by sticking a torch in his mouth and taking a leak in the dark to see if the fruit juice he’d just drunk glowed in the dark when it came out… I’ll let you conduct the experiment yourself if you’re interested in knowing the outcome…! πŸ˜‰

Critical angle of incidence

Between reflection and refraction there’s an interesting phenomenon.

As the angle of incidence away from perpendicular is increased, there comes a certain angle (the “critical angle”) where on meeting the second medium there is a line of light which is reflected along the interface. The light ray doesn’t bounce away, and it doesn’t penetrate through – it simply zooms of sideways! It’s explained well in Mr Cutlife’s Web Pages where I also found the image below.

Progression (left to right) from refraction to reflection
Progression (left to right) from refraction to reflection. Note the ray of light parallel to the interface third from right. Image source: http://www.edu.pe.ca/gray/class_pages/krcutcliffe

Recall from commutativism (?) that the torch in the above graphic can be moved to the top of the picture and the rays would propagate downwards.

And put it all together…

Now this is the juicy bit!

Let’s take that case third from right in the above image. The torch shines from the blue side, and the resulting ray travels along the boundary. But we know that light rays are commutative, so we can expect that if we now place the torch on the line between the blue and the white and aim it to the left, the ray of light will bend down and enter the blue.

Here’s the thing: at what point along the boundary (and how) does the ray of light change its horizontal direction downwards?

This is a paradox, because actually that single point is undefined – it can be anywhere at any and every point along the light ray. And further, what physical mechanism exists to cause the light ray to change its direction? It’s scientifically possible but (currently) inexplicable!

(My high school physics teacher tentatively suggested there’s a small irregularity on the reflecting surface, but I disagree – the effect occurs with a perfectly smooth interface.)

Arguably, the above paradox could be considered to be an inverted version of the scientific explanation of time travel mechanics in physics; there’s nothing in physics to say that it can’t happen, but we don’t know how it can happen – let alone know how to explain it!).

Finally…the time travel bit!

Now let’s compare the line of light to the time line.

The time line is probably the simplest model of time that there is – that time progresses linearly from past, through present and into the future.

Many mechanisms for time travel in science fiction refer to a ‘river of time’ where it’s a little easier to visualise the flow of time in one direction. It allows for certain modifications and adjustment to the simple time line model, thus providing ways to allow time travel. For example, inserting loops and meanders into the river of time, creating eddies, or just getting out the river completely, walking along the river bank and jumping back in again.

(I’ll momentarily interrupt myself here to point out that moving away from the traditional time line has been discussed in my imaginary yet complex post post.)

In short, we have some form of time travel if we’re able to deviate away from the regular and unbroken) linear flow of time.

Using our light ray example, can a fiber optic be seen as a parallel with a time machine, causing us to jump out of a time line?

Optical fiber as a time machine
Image source: http://www.edu.pe.ca

Such a time machine would maintain the basic principle of optical / temporal straight lines, yet provide a physical mechanism for the same net result as a departure from the linear condition.

Timewarp – a change in reference

There’s another way we can add curves to our time line – by changing the viewing reference.

Now after a very complimentary comment on my post about complex time I do feel quite self conscious about my following example which this time, yes, I read from Stephen Hawking (“The Grand Design“).

This particular example examines the view which a goldfish has of the world whilst viewing it the confines of his goldfish bowl. The water and curved glass make straight lines outside of the bowl appear distorted and curved, but for the fish, that ‘means’ straight. That’s his reality and a question of perception.

(You might be interested to read my guest post on Mihir’s Theory of Space Time blog on the Perception of Time).

View from a goldfish bowl
Image source: http://www.scientificamerican.com/

Perhaps we can imagine the life of a goldfish more readily when we see the wobbly shadow of a straight stick on the rippled surface of a beach. From the sun’s view, that wobble is a straight line because the dimension of (sand ripple) height is projected – and to use the Matlab programming term, squeezed – onto the 2D surface of the Earth; it becomes hidden in perspective. As our viewing angle changes, that third dimension comes of out hiding and becomes visible.

Going full circle and coming back to the mirror – or at least going on a trip to the funfair and visiting the hall of mirrors – we put ourselves into a kind of goldfish bowl; an altered state of fixed reference where normal images and lines appear distorted thanks to optical trickery and misdirection of rays of light.

Wobbly mirrors play with our perception of straight.
Light travels in straight lines but our perception is otherwise. Image source: www.static-ip-85-25-168-52.inaddr.intergenia.de

If we consider travel between two points on that warped image, where they’re stretched apart if follows that travel between them will take longer. The inverse is true for points which have been compressed or squeezed together. Of course we know that these points aren’t really at differing spatial distances and the speed between them must be constant. Yet we see them differently.

But could we consider a possible explanation in having a change in local time to account for these differences in speed? This is covered in General Relativity.

Can we achieve time travel by changing our point of reference?

Like most things, it’s easier said than done. We can’t jump into the mirror and become the reflection, although we can certainly influence it’s behavior. And recall that a reflection, after all, is a construction from our own perception of optical rays of light based upon our knowledge that it always travels in a straight line. Maybe if it’s in our head we can totally immerse ourselves after all.

But perhaps our analogy with time may still hold.

Aside from the synergistic view, we can assume that the total travel time of all light rays must be equal to the sum of the individual components from all directions. By definition, the average speed will then be the baseline norm given with a flat mirror where all light paths are straight and parallel to each other. But if we could get a handle on local variances in the speed of time effectively trading moments of low speed for high speed (or vice versa depending on your point of view) then maybe time travel would be within our reach.

Oddly, this brings us back to the optic fiber based time machine I mentioned earlier. The paths of individual some rays of light will be longer than others, depending on the number of internal reflections it’s suffered. Whether all travel durations take the same amount of time, or that we simply cannot perceive the fractional differences in arrival speed from within the fiber is a question best directed to general relativity specialists.

Is there a future with optic fibers and warped mirrors as time machines? Or are these just some random thoughts from a wrinkly old man day dreaming in front of a mirror?

Paul

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Punished for Punctuality?

Punctuality seems to be a rare commodity, yet it’s presence isn’t recognised. I’d like to think that punctuality to time is a matter of temporal precision and should be rewarded!

The doctor appointment was set for 14:20, and I was requested to ensure that I turn up on time. No need to tell me – I say it myself but punctuality is one of my strong points!

Doctor's receptionist misses the point of coming in a little early

So I did. I was still waiting at 14:35 when the doc came out – but he wasn’t looking in my direction.

“Miss Jones?”

The lady next to me stood up and started straightening her dress. “Finally!” she muttered. “Late as usual…” She gathered her bags and followed the doc.

The door closed behind them, but another opened on the other side of the waiting room. A smartly dressed gentleman walked through and reported at the front desk.

“Jeff Smith. I’m here for my 14:40.”

The receptionist covered the mouthpiece of her phone and looked up.

“You were requested to be here 10 minutes early to avoid being late” she barked, and went back to her phone call. “Sorry about that – you were saying something about satin?”

Aside from the personal phone call, the receptionist had a fair point – people often do turn up late and really mess things up for others. Building in a time buffer zone helps to reduce the likelihood of this problem; pseudo punctuality.

Waiting for the plane which is already there.
Waiting for the plane which is already there.

It’s like when we’re asked to turn up 2 hours early before a flight. How people can look forward to a holiday for months ahead, and then still not factor in delays and still turn up late is beyond me. At Schiphol Airport, Amsterdam, the automated announcement on the loudspeaker is classic Dutch directness when a poor soul hasn’t been punctual and able to check in on time: “John Smith you’re holding up the flight. Please check in immediately”. Yep – nothing wrong in a bit of public naming and shaming when you’re causing hundreds of other people to be late because you can’t tell the time!

Anyway. In the doctor’s waiting room it was a different story because the receptionist had completely missed the point – Jeff was actually in time for his 14:40 appointment (which was itself running late).

Still thinking about Miss Jones and her late appointment, I started to question how it is that it’s acceptable for doctors and dentists to keep patients waiting, but seemingly never the other way around.

This is crazy! If we’re late, we miss our appointment, or the plane leaves and takes off without us or whatever. It’s our fault and we suffer the consequences. But if a doctor is late by 5 minutes it doesn’t affect him; not because he’s salaried but because the consequences are carried on to the next patient…and the one after that and so on until it’s closing time.

In other words, there’s a knock-on effect. Doc is late by 5 minutes, and the following 20 patients are also late by 5 minutes – a cumulative value of just over an hour and a half. It’s getting on for the butterfly effect where a small change leads to much bigger ones. Maybe it does here too – a patient is late for his job interview and doesn’t get his job.

Or someone misses his plane… πŸ˜‰

From planes to trains

Ah yes, back to our airport scenario where we’re called to arrive early to ensure that we’re not late for the plane. But isn’t it more common that it’s the plane or the airport staff which keeps us waiting? And if that plane takes off 5 minutes late, the total man hours of delay accumulates very quickly. Butterfly effect? You’d think that aircraft staff would be especially keen to avoid hurricanes! πŸ˜‰

Surely punctuality should be rewarded – but it seems that the opposite is true; being punctual doesn’t count for anything, even penalised.

Take for instance, the train conductor on my morning commute. He walks along the carriage asking for tickets to inspect. Although people see and hear him coming they wait until he’s standing over them and asking for their ticket before they start rummaging around in handbags and wallets to pull out their ticket ready for inspection.

Personally, I like to be ready in advance (besides, knowing I’m going to be interrupted from reading my book isn’t handy!). He walks towards me, he sees me, my arm is holding out my ticket ready for his cursory glance, and…he asks the person on the other side of the aisle for their ticket(!). Said passenger bends down to pick up her handbag. She rummages through it and pulls out a purse. Flips it open and fumbles to find her ticket.

And me? Forgotten, and kept waiting. *growl* πŸ™

It seems that good time keepers just aren’t recognised.

Problems at the roots?

Anyway. That’s planes and trains – infamous for tardy time keeping. (Begin sarcasm tag) It’s not like they need to run on a timetable or anything…(end sarcasm tag).

Some time ago I wrote a post about how being late is sometimes unavoidable, but measures can be taken to alleviate some of the problems that being late can cause.

Sometimes though, being late really can’t be helped, and I’ve learned to try to get morning appointments so that accumulated lateness is minimal. Like today though, it’s not always possible and I’ll need to literally join the queue of other patients.

But – sometimes being late is inevitable, or even avoidable. The power hungry doc receptionist who’ll spend 5 minutes tapping away at a screen before checking someone in, or chatting away “Oh doctor, giggle giggle, yes, what? Oh this. Yes, I just threw it on. Do you like it? It’s made of satin.”

receptionist-doctor-late

Admittedly I don’t have patience for these kinds of people. These are the people who have turned being punctual into a sop for other people who can’t keep time.

Lateness ripples through the waiting patients downstream in the river of time. As the cause of lateness, perhaps this explains why Public Service Agent Miss Blond 00:07 is so keen on holding a tight rein on the appointment schedule.

Psychological problems

All that said, I should mention that in fairness it’s not always the fault of the receptionist – or the doc. It’s the patient.

A German flatmate once told me about some research she’d read where it was found that if someone talking in a public phone box (which, incidentally, dates the research!) knew that someone was waiting for them then they would spend longer on that phone call than otherwise.

Whether this is a psychological phenomenon (“Look at how popular I am – people want to talk to me for so long“) or that they were made to wait so they’ll do the same I’m not sure. Perhaps it’s perceived time dilation by those waiting for their turn. I mostly suspect that they realise the importance of time on the phone so they make the most of it.

I think the last comes into play with patients who are called in late for their appointment.

Having invested so long in waiting for their appointment and their time with the doc, some people wish to make the most of it whilst they’re there, or even spend 10 minutes complaining about being late – making the problem even worse!

Time’s up!

It’s 14:50. I’m late, I suppose as I always knew I would be. The doc walks in and calls me through.

“I’m running late, so I’m going to have to rush you.”

“That’s fine. I understand.” Yeah, I understand you can’t tell the time and can’t apologise for it.

He leads me to his room and spends a few minutes staring at his monitor, then asks me what my problem is. Funny – I was hoping he was going to tell me. Anyway, we have a discussion at the end of which he looks away from the monitor and for the first time looks at me.

“Mr Wandason, this is very serious. You should have come in earlier!”

It would have made no difference doc – you can’t even handle it when I’m on time.

He writes out the prescription and I leave, walking through the waiting room which has evidently fills up faster than the rate the patients are being seen.

Jeff is visibly narked off for being kept waiting. I understand how he feels.

I walk into the pharmacy to pick up my prescription. There’s a customer ticket machine there which dispenses numbers so people know who got there first and who’s turn is next, so I take my ticket. It turns out I’m next but I can see the assistant pharmacist is stirring her coffee and facing the opposite direction.

I sit down and wait, presumably, for her coffee to cool, till she’s had a sip and feels that she’s ready to see me.

Ah well. Being punctual doesn’t just mean turning up on time – it means we need to be flexible enough to accommodate for those around us who can’t be πŸ™

Paul

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Review: Fated Memories by Joan Carney

Fated Memories by Joan Carney is a well written and interesting exploration into the times of the American Civil War seen through the eyes of Kitty and Maggie. Surviving as nurses they see the harsher sides of the war, although a romantic light shines its light into the novel. Frequent comparisons between the duo’s past and present keep the time travel theme alive, though as is fitting with the flavour of the novel, there is no heavy scientific content.

Fated Memories by Joan Carney is an interesting delve into the past thanks to a simplistic time travel device and characters who yearn to be back in their own time.

Fated Memories book cover (Joan Carney)

It’s a relatively simple plot – Kitty and Maggie inexplicably find themselves transported back in time to 1861 – the time of the American Civil War. Without knowing how they got there, or more importantly, how to get back, they enlist as nurses at an army camp which gives them food, shelter and a degree of protection.

Although they often seem to wallow around a bit waiting for things to respond to rather then trying to actively deal with their predicament, Joan writes with an easy style which keeps the reader engaged and interested in what’s happening – and what will come!

A large element of Fated Memories devotes itself to the day to day living experiences within that compound – some pleasant, and others harrowing, and this is where the main thrust of the novel lies; in how Kitty and Maggie come to terms with their new temporal location.

Many time travel novels involve characters being thrust into another era who then need to deal with finding a way back or getting on with things. Fated Memories has a bit of both – the lack of knowledge of how things happened and the uncomfortable environment they find themselves in brings an intense internal conflict.

At times Kitty and Maggie make temporary plans with an eye on the near term future (for example, getting things to eat and a place sleep) to a longer term view as their prospect of return becomes increasingly bleak. Soldiers around them help them settle in, and for the most part are respectful and friendly (complete in one case with a proposal). That said – this duo could look after themselves pretty well!

Writing style

Fated Memories is very well written. Joan writes smoothly with sentences which somehow give more information and feeling than at face value. No, I don’t know how it’s done!

What I really like is that every now and then there’s a small section with a couple of paragraphs which describe conditions or feelings then we’re back to main story line. These small sections are almost like an aside or a semi-running commentary or something. It’s a powerful writing technique which I’ve not seen before – and don’t know why not!

At times I was reminded of Marlys Millhiser’s The Mirror – not in the negative way in that I didn’t enjoy it, but in the way that Kitty and Maggie seemed to resign to being in the past and just got on with things. This is predominantly a destination novel where the focus is on what characters do once they’re done with time travel (rather than the ‘journey’ novel which focuses more on the time travel mechanics and time machine side of things).

But where The Mirror is dull and misses several time travel opportunities, Joan keeps things active in Fated Memories – not necessarily through time travel related mechanics and paradoxes, but with active comparison between the past and present, complete with frustration of life threatening changes in medical practices. (Actually in this last respect Fated Memories has a huge amount of medical information. It doesn’t come over as contrived, but as natural thought processes that Kitty and Maggie have as trained nurses. I thought it was really well done!)

Genre

Science fiction?

I wouldn’t normally include a “Genre” section, but whilst reading through Joan’s website regarding the front cover (which I’ll come back to in a bit) I thought I’d write a few thoughts here.

Joan describes Fated Memories as science fiction because time travel isn’t possible. I think this is a fair point to make, although personally I subscribe to Asimov’s description of a science fiction novel being one in which science plays a central role, i.e, if the science was taken out then the novel would no longer make sense. In this latter sense, Fated Memories isn’t science fiction.

OK, so Fated Memories contains no science, but it does make use of a phenomenon which for now has not been scientifically realised and therefore remains within the (science) fiction camp…!

Time travel romance?

Where there is no scientific content, Fated Memories picks up on character development. Indeed, Kitty and Maggie are characters who for the most part seem to be driven by their love interest.

That said, I’m not sure if Fated Memories comes in as a romance novel either – there is a love interest and a heavy emphasis on relationships, but I’m not convinced that this is the main thrust of the plot. Certainly it’s a strong back-drop and motivation (or induced behaviour) for much of what Kitty and Maggie do.

Chick lit?

I’m not sure what “chick lit” is (or even if it’s an offensive term), but Fated Memories, especially at the end, starts to drift into what I imagine romantic fiction geared towards ladies would be like.

For me the ‘give away’ is that whilst Kitty and Maggie are well developed characters, the male characters are superficial at best. This may be a little unfair to point out because in other novels with mainly male characters the reverse can often be said for the female participants in the plot. But where I can imagine a “hot girl” quite easily, when Simon’s described as “hot” I draw a blank. Then again, I don’t want to read about rugged looks or tight buns or whatever, so I suppose that’s a good thing.

Ultimately, I just don’t know who he is and what he really thinks about things. Where the “hot girl” in the male dominated novel is often there to support the big boobs, Simon (and others) are around in Fated Memories to be either the knight in shining armour or the dragon.

Towards the end of the novel Kitty was winding up in an unrealistic soppy love story with too many conveniences and people to help her out. It’s very cuddly, goody goody and drives the point home that everyone lives happily ever after.

On the time travel side of things, there’s a huge explanation of what I thought was pretty obvious, but admittedly perhaps this is justifiably toned down for a non scientific novel. That said, there’s potential for a paradoxical twist regarding time travel which never came, though by this stage I think I’d probably bought into the chick lit thing – I wanted the happy ever after bit.

Mission accomplished, I guess!

Historical aspect

Kitty, Maggie and Simon end up travelling back in time to 28 June 1861 which is commensurate with Simon’s memories…of the American Civil War.

By now I’m sure you’re already aware that I’ve got no knowledge of history so it’ll come as no surprise that some names (e.g. Commander Biddle and Colonel Kane) meant nothing to me. Come to think of it, I don’t even know if they’re not supposed to mean anything to me… But I should mention that I don’t think my lack of historical knowledge detracted from novel (unless Simon was a well known and famous chap and I was expected to have known about him, thus negating the need to provide some deeper character building for him…).

Kitty and Maggie had a few deep conversations about philosophical approaches to war which I found interesting. For example, ethics are called into question when as nurses they end up caring for wounded ‘enemy’ soldiers. Effectively, this means that a wounded enemy can be brought back to health so they then get to have another shot at killing you later. Killing someone presumably means winning the war? It’s insanity – and as Kitty and Maggie note, these men just wear different colour clothes and stand on the other side of the line.

It’s a good point: caring for the wounded is not crazy, but often war is.

Time travel aspect

Time travel isn’t really a large part of this novel other than it was used to transport the main characters back in time. The time travel element mostly comes into play not through the mechanism or paradoxes, but more through a description of the past through the eyes of Kitty and Maggie who have a modern perspective.

The time ‘machine’ is simple and necessarily black box. It has an interesting trigger mechanism which I won’t reveal here. It does the job and basic though it is, I was happy to note that there is consistency in its operation and how it’s capable of transporting more than one person at the same time. (“At the same time” – is that even relevant with a time machine? πŸ˜‰ )

One of my pet peeves with unwilling or unknowing time travelers is that a huge amount of time spent is often spent in confusion after the trip to the past (or future). That is the case in Fated Memories although I’m going to forgive Kitty and Maggie here because of Simon’s previous interest in historical reenactments which blurs the distinction between past and present. It’s a nice new angle which gives credence to the confusion and disbelief, and adds a layer of depth to the new setting the time travelers find themselves in.

Whilst the story line is a little slow at times, Joan keeps the characters treading water by taking opportunities to wander around the area in that time. For example, Kitty and Maggie go off to get dresses tailor made which means that they get to meet the temporally indigenous people. Whilst it didn’t move the plot forwards these kinds of events provide interesting insights into the destination side of Fated Memories.

There are other indications that we’re reading a time travel novel; there are frequent links back to the present with references to old houses which now look new, for example, or to local history, how a pinafore got its name, etc. – these things mercifully aren’t done explicitly, but gently and surreptitiously through observations made by the characters.

There’s one scene which had me in stitches – Kitty swears in front of men who are shocked because women don’t use such language in this time. A cover up story is made hastily – she has tourettes and needs a smack in the mouth to shock her out of it(!) Later, Kitty swears again so a soldier raises his arm as he’s about to hit her as prescribed – but Kitty gets in first; she hits him and warns him not to try it again – and walks off swearing under her breath!

At first I read this as Kitty being a leopard who can’t change her swearing spots (as well a lady who could look after herself in a male dominated setting) then I got to thinking that maybe we are just tied into our times just as we are with our spatial location – we have a language and a culture which take their roots from where we grew up. Usually.

A couple of final points

The butterfly effect

The front cover of Fated Memories shows a butterfly on a watch.

Butterfly effect in Fated Memories (Joan Carney)
The butterfly effect in Fated Memories

This makes it fairly clear that this is a time travel novel, and indeed there’s a discussion on Joan’s blog where Joan explains that “The butterfly is taken from chaos theory and represents the possible damaging effects a time traveler might have on the future. It is not meant to be whimsical.”

Indeed, within the novel there’s mention of the butterfly effect. I particularly liked how it was handled at the end by mentioning that the effects of actions in the past, if any, weren’t known. Realistic, and fits with the tone of the novel – perfect!

Why not?

The end of the novel made me raise my time travel alert eyebrow. This is the eyebrow over the eye beneath it which sees a phenomenal opportunity to go time travelling and curls upwards in mouth watering anticipation. But in Fated Memories this route isn’t taken.

Having found the mechanism behind time travel, Kitty, Maggie and companions lock the time machine away. Why? Why not make the most of it? Or is the point that they are now in the happy ever bit and don’t want to change anything?

Maybe this scientific curiosity / opportunity is another difference between a science fiction novel and novels in other genres.

Summary and Rating * * * *

Fated Memories is a well written and interesting exploration into the times of the American Civil War seen through the eyes of Kitty and Maggie. Surviving as nurses they see the harsher sides of the war, although a romantic light shines its light into the novel. Frequent comparisons between the duo’s past and present keep the time travel theme alive, though as is fitting with the flavour of the novel, there is no hard scientific content.

All in all, an enjoyable read!

Paul

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Disclaimer: Joan kindly sent me a free copy of “Fated Memories” to read in exchange for honest review. This is it!

Star ratings:

| 5* Excellent! | 4* Good | 3* OK | 2* Not good | 1* Crud |

Temporal Disentanglement

We’re deeply entangled in space and time – but if people can’t deal with different cultures or with people who change location how can we expect to deal with time travelers?

On 23 June 2016 the UK voted to leave the European Union. When I say “the UK”, I should clarify: statistics show that older voters were more likely to vote to leave the EU and opt for a regression back to pre-European times than voters younger than 49 years.

Temporal origins

Presumably the elderly are more tied up with the(ir) past and olden day values than younger generations who may not have been around much before the eighties or who have experienced and remember happier more recent times.

And of course being mortals, older people have less ties with the future than younger generations who will see more of it. The descendant argument applies to both age groups.

To be clear: I don’t intend the above to be ageist (that would be nonsensical) but to point out that differing age groups have differing strengths of ties and attachments with different temporal origins.

Spatial origins

And for the immigrants in the UK who are cruelly beaten, mocked and despised in these post brexit racial attacks (carried out by lunatics across all ages)…they are permanently reminded of their spatial origins, however long ago they (or their ancestors) shifted their spatial location.

What's worth more - experience with age, or from location?
Is time passed more important than space traversed? (Image source: www.thedailybeast.com)

My youngest daughter is growing up and is well out of her baby years. But bring on the sound of a baby’s cry and both my wife and I are brought straight back to those times of disrupted nights, continual nappy changing and bottle feeding.

In much the same way, reading about these post Brexit racist attacks brings me right back to the eighties – those British days where I was bullied at school and shouted at in the streets just because my skin colour is different from the local majority. It seems that like it or not, I have a tie with the past, albeit in part to my spatial origins.

(And I should publicly add here, that despite a few tongue in cheek comments about the Dutch, my experience with them over the past 7 years or so has been very good! It’s a turn of the tables – in Holland I have an English origin; in England I was made to feel I didn’t.)

Politics has had its time

It is evident that campaigns for and against Brexit needed to address how people perceived their ties with the past and their hopes for the future (however the ratio of the balance of duration between their past and their future is weighed). Apparently for some, disentanglement from their past was difficult and called into question the essence of their being.

Anyway, this is all fickle politics – whether it’s correct or not is a separate issue.

Entanglement with time

It is easy to understand that people have ties with their country of origin and culture etc., but less prevalent are the temporal ties. How tangled are we with our past, or to a deeper level, to time itself?

Many time travel mechanisms in time travel fiction refer to the flow of time as being like a river (The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers is an excellent example); a river in which we are bound, for example, in some sort of marine vehicle which by design is attached in some way to the water (so to time, in this analogy). Being able to travel in time means separating from the river. To disentangle ourselves from time.

Or there are more biological forms of time travel where our bodies are intrinsically linked to some ethereal omnipresent time cloud or something. Just as we’re immersed in our usual 3 spatial dimensions we have a ‘place’ or point in time from which drugs (or a virus) can extricate us.

Drugs which alter our physical existence in one way or another sound harsh – a more softer approach (arguably…) is hypnotism (for example, in Richard Matheson’s Somewhere in Time) where we play with our perception of time, or take on a more spiritual awareness of it around us. Mental techniques can be enough to separate the body from time, with memory being the simplest example.

Time slips through our fingers but we can’t escape it. We think about it, and are ruled by it, and apparently in some books (and on some blogs! πŸ˜‰ ) we can’t stop going on about it!

entanglement in time
Image: Gabriela Barreto Lemos

In Bonnie Rozanski’s The Mindtraveler there were a series of experiments which lead to the conclusion of a temporal entanglement – I remember it because shortly afterwards I read an article in New Scientist which reported evidence of quantum entanglement.

I’m expert here, but entanglement isn’t simply the joining or merging of two otherwise distinct entities, but something much deeper which an intrinsic union of inherent

I’m struggling to find a good example, but perhaps this comes close: The birth (or actually, the news of an impending birth) transformed me into a father. Whether my kids are with me, or separated from me, I still feel and think as a father. I’m entangled with them because when I think about them I smile. The fatherhood entanglement, once created, cannot be uncreated.

And so it is with quantum entanglement; we don’t simply exist in a moment (or spread of moments) in and across time, but rather we’re both embedded within time and time in us. And separating the two may not be easy.

Some argue that one reason why we like swimming is because we’re tangled with our evolutionary past when at some stage some bright fish suggested a walk on the beach instead of swimming along-side it. Apparently we want to return back to our watery roots. We’re tangled in both time and space.

Will we ever be free from time, or are we destined to be forever ruled and tangled up by it? Or do we just leave that to the politicians and voters?

Brexit racism against refugees.
If we can’t deal with people who change location how can we deal with time travelers? (Image source: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/jun/27/brexit-racism-eu-referendum-racist-incidents-politicians-media)
If people can't deal with different cultures how can we expect to deal with time travelers?
If people can’t deal with different cultures how can we expect to deal with time travelers? A halal butchers in Walsall that was firebombed. Photograph: DD Maxwell/FameFlynet UK (Image source: http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/jun/29/frenzy-hatred-brexit-racism-abuse-referendum-celebratory-lasting-damage)

So perhaps the time travel dream is going to be a tough nut to crack. If we can’t get on with freeing ourselves from spatial origins, how can we deal with doing the same with time?

Feel free to comment, but please let’s keep it time travel! I’ll remove political / racist / ageist commentary. Time binds us all – or does it…?

Paul

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Review: Backwards by Rob Grant

Backwards isn’t strictly a time travel novel – playing with time is simply a backdrop to the plot which at the same time creates plenty of comedic scenarios…as you’d hope from a comedy!

Backwards is the third novel from the “Red Dwarf” TV sitcom devised by Rob Grant and Doug Naylor.

The novel continues from Better Than Life (the sequel to the original Red Dwarf) so the main characters are the same and the plot is consistent.

Book cover for Backwards (Red Dwarf Series, Rob Grant)

An introductory summary paragraph provides the relevant thread of the previous book to get us up to speed, so the plot in Backwards is pretty much self contained. That said, the characters are complex – who’d have thought a computer generated hologram, a mechanoid, a humanoid creature descended from a cat and the last ‘real’ human!

I’d therefore suggest reading the first book (Red Dwarf) or watching a couple of TV episodes before reading Backwards.

At first I was hesitant in deciding to write a review for Backwards – it doesn’t set out to be a time travel novel in itself; rather it has an element of time travel in it.

Synopsis

The basic premise is that (in the previous book) a 30-odd year old Lister encounters time dilation and comes out as an old man and dies. He’s placed on a planet where time runs backwards (“Backworld”) so that he’ll get younger and get picked up by his crew mates when he’s ‘aged’ (or ‘younged’?) back to his original age as it was before the time dilation event.

Writing style

You can imagine that writing a novel which by definition is going to be backwards is going to have to be done well for it to makes sense. And it does!

Backwards leaps straight into backwards time, assuming that the reader is aware of it.

The writing is very clever – it describes an event and then shows how that event comes about. This isn’t done in a chunky Tarantino style swapping of sections but in a smooth ‘unhappening’ of events where the reader (and characters) are slowly introduced to scenarios and logic which map out the plot line.

For example, Lister runs towards the crime scene where he’d discover whether he really was guilty of the crime that he’d been put away in jail for. Or, the pain disappeared when the policeman hit him in the face. It’s really clever stuff!

I was pleased to see consistency in that everything was backwards, including speech. For Rimmer (a computer generated hologram) and Kryten (a mechanoid) this poses no problem as they can be reprogrammed. But for Lister and “the Cat” (a human-like creature evolved from a cat) speech was more problematic. Thankfully there’s no extended or overused attempts at trying to write backwards speech phonetically.

As an aside, there’s a rumour that in the TV version if you record the backwards speech and play it backwards to hear what is being said, you hear comments such as “I bet there are sad people who have recorded this and who are playing it backwards to hear what we are really saying!”

Backwards Time Travel

Despite the backward motion of time, Backwards isn’t a time travel novel.

Time travel can perhaps be defined as experiencing time at a different rate to it’s normal flow rate. e.g. experiencing 1 second, but going forwards in time by 1 hour. I think going backwards is “different” enough!

There’s no explanation why or how time runs back wards, it just does (or undoes depending on how you look at it). Given the comical nature of Backwards, the exclusion of the scientific intricacies and nature of time is not important, indeed it would be out of place. Rather, it’s the effect of time running the wrong way that is central to this novel more than anything else – it’s the canvas upon which the story line is painted.

Final thoughts

Playing with time is simply a backdrop to the plot which creates plenty of comedic scenarios – as you’d hope from a comedy! Some of the humour does get a bit repetitive after a while, but I suppose this is the nature of the book. As the plot progresses though, what starts out as humorous writing changes to a simple description of “Backworld” with different physics than ours. It’s not detailed to be scifi, and it’s no longer comedy. It kind of falls flat.

Rating * * *

Backwards continues the Red Dwarf comedy series with a time travel component used as a sounding block for its comedy. The concept is interesting and handled well, though the novel is clearly too long to be able to keep this up and peters out into more description than anything else towards the end.

Paul

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Star ratings:

| 5* Excellent! | 4* Good | 3* OK | 2* Not good | 1* Crud |

Review: Before you Leap by Les Lynam

Before you Leap by Les Lynam is a wonderful YA time travel novel with many other scifi ideas included. Les gives us ideas of future technology as well as an elegant time travel methodology – and how strained relationships between a Grandfather and a 5 times great grandson can be!

…Before You Leap (Les Lynam)

…Before you Leap by Les Lynam is the first book in the Time Will Tell series for young adults.

Book cover for Before you Leap by Les Lynam

This is a novel which has a huge array of futuristic ideas enveloped within it!

One of its strongest points is how futuristic technology is put in juxtaposition with that of 1995. At the same time, the importance of history – and knowledge of the future – is brought to the fore. The social interaction between the characters bring these elements into the light, and is presented in a writing style which is both sensitive and light-hearted!

Brief Synopsis

16 year old Sean receives a visit from his great-great-great-great-great-grandson, Alex, who has come back in time to 1995 from the year 2217 for what is effectively a historical research study. To assist him with this, the “5G grandfather” wants to get to know Sean better and has his methods to do it. Alex also has plans to get further back into the past to 1969, specifically to meet Sean’s father. For this he requires a DNA sample to use as a “dimensional beacon”- something which Sean is able to help out with.

The novel centres on the relationship between Sean and Alex – complete with differences in their temporal-based cultures.

Prologue set in the future

The Prologue sets the scene from the view point of KLE1752-NI28-949-LX (or Alex as he becomes to be known in 1995). It’s 2216 and Alex is competing against 126 other applicants for a sponsorship from Chronos University grant to pursue his proposal.

In this future we’re introduced to the realisation of many technological advances.

For example, there’s a direct interface between Alex and a computer which seems to be able to control many things both externally and internally within Alex’s body. There’s a brilliant description of him sitting in a virtual auditorium and awaiting the results for the award of the scholarship; two ‘attendees’ log in from the Moon (so by now human-kind has made it off the planet) and Alex displays frustration that the bad connection means that their images flicker and cause distraction – he wishes they sat at the back.

We’re lead to believe that the society that Alex belongs to frowns upon emotion – certainly the expression of it – which reminded me of the Equilibrium movie (where feelings are suppressed with drugs because emotion can lead to violence and an unstable society). In …Before You Leap we’re not told the reasons why things have become like this, only that Alex’s father would disapprove of such kinds of behaviour.

His mother on the other hand is considered odd because she encourages the expression of emotion, and indeed at the end of the Prologue Alex displays happiness and excitement (in private) that he wins the scholarship. Thankfully in 2217, emotion’s not completely dead!

Writing style

…Before You Leap adopts a young adult style of writing.

It’s written mostly from Sean’s point of view, though sometimes gives an insight into Alex’s thoughts and feelings too. Sean is 16 so I expect that his feelings, frustrations, hopes and ambitions will be mirrored by the target audience.

I did notice there were frequent descriptions of clothing, specifically of matching colours and cut lines and things. At the risk of sounding sexist (or at least, recalling my own sweet 16 years) – these are issues which boys usually don’t know about. Interest in what lies beneath, yes, but all the rest of it?

Sean’s reaction to some characters is melodramatic at times. He treats his parents badly and his mates are a couple of idiots as well. Sean makes a big deal about breaking off a relationship where he was used as a toy boy, but he goes on to ditch Alexis for her more attractive twin sister, Nicole, who on a conversational and intellectual level is for all intents and purposes identical.

Sean is slow at putting things together, although in his defence I picked this book based on genre, I’ve read the Prologue – and I’m not 16!

I didn’t particularly like Sean, a feeling amplified when he shows little patience with Alex. Certainly for the first few chapters I found it was my interest in Alexis which got the pages turned!

All that said, I can see teenagers lapping up this novel! Actually, despite my misgivings about Sean, so did I!

Getting the girl

If nothing else, …Before You Leap (especially the beginning) is yet another thing which reminds me I’m very lucky to be married to my wife! …Before You Leap is written very well – and I say this because it takes me right back to the prolonged agony in high school in trying to get the girl. Thankfully I don’t need to go through all the angst of getting the girl again!

Slowly does it?

My initial feelings with the initial chapters was that it’s a slow beginning. Having got to the end I think it would be fairer to call it ‘paced for the long haul’, recalling here that this is the first book in a series of three novels (“Saves Nine” and “In One Basket” being the following novels in the series.)

Plot direction

As the novel progresses into the second half the general plot shifts from Sean and the twins to Sean and Alex. The focus changes and things settle down.

Although time travel plays a critical role in …Before You Leap, it’s not the main subject – it’s the relationship between Sean and Alex brought about by their differences in temporal rooting. This didn’t hit me until I’d got to the end of the novel, so like Sean and his attempts to get the girl, it’s fair to say that in this respect I was slow!

Alex’s solution in getting to know Sean is clever but flawed (at first), and he comes up with a solution which had me at times vaguely concerned on behalf of young adults in case there was a following in the footsteps of Heinlein’s All you Zombies or The Man who Folded Himself by David Gerrold.

All that said, I didn’t expect the truth behind Alexis and Nicole which came as a complete surprise. (Nicole’s name, by the way, shows Les’ breadth of knowledge across many disciplines – details revealed in the novel!)

Juxtaposition of 1995 and 2217

One of the strengths of …Before You Leap is how the ideas and values that Sean has in 1995 are so different from Alex’s view with a base line in 2217. They have interesting conversations, each getting frustrated with the other for reasons and principles they either don’t fully understand, or disagree with.

For example, I fully sympathise with Sean’s boredom surrounding history, whereas Alex is much more aware after several good and bad events between 1995 and 2217 of the need to learn from past mistakes. (Although there’s been an equal amount of good and bad mistakes up to 1995 too…)

At times Alex reminded me of a likeable version of Sheldon in the Big Bang Theory sitcom comedy. I think this was due to his logical and sometimes emotionless way of thinking and speaking, though to be fair, Sheldon has no social skills whereas Alex is fully integrated into his own societal norm. And crucially, Alex is keen to be on Sean’s good side.

Sean has a lot of difficulty in trying to break through this passionless barrier, and we read further that Sean finds Alex difficult in his misconception of 1995 lifestyles and values. Sometimes he imagines how things would be for him if he were to go back in time and suffer the need to get on with those around him who were less technologically capable than he, so I suppose in fairness he isn’t a completely unsympathetic moron.

On the other hand, despite his training, Alex found it a minefield to navigate through Sean’s thought processes and struggled to understand many of Sean’s irrational actions. Alex displays a much higher level of patience with Sean than I would have done!

Futuristic ideas

Through Alex and his conversations with Sean we gain an insight into the future of 2217 – the year in which he completed his training and went back to 1995 to carry out historical research.

Nanites lead to ticks

One of the pieces of technology I really liked in …Before You Leap was microscopic programmable nanite robots which are inserted into the body during gestation. People could then use them for a multitude number of reasons ranging from body monitoring and drug administration, to accessing a main frame computer for near instant information.

This latter use tended to lead to a facial tick. So here I am, reading at my pleasure in the peace and quiet of a local wood. Totally immersed in the world that Les is painting in …Before You Leap, then come home to find out that I had a completely different kind of tick…one burying his head in my chest πŸ™

(Now how many book reviewers would mention that?! πŸ˜‰

Non nanite insertion tick
My own non-nanite bodily insertion procedure. Gives me a tick.
Close up of my unwelcome tick
Close-up of the little blighter. This is a tick I didn’t want!

Nanites were also used to disallow memories to be stored into long term memory. That feature might be handy here…

A different outlook

Personally, I find the lack of emotion in the future disturning. But there is a saving grace in the futuristic outlook – at least from Alex; a refusal to over-use technology.

This happens today – people drive 500 meters instead of walking, or splel bdaly thkans ot spl chcek and atuo corect. Similarly, Sean wants to use Alex’s access to holographic technology to reserve him a good spot in a car park. Alex suggests coming in 15 minutes earlier. Spot on!

And then of course there’s the time travel!

Elegant time travel methodology

Alex first describes the time travel methodology as moving or slipping through time as if it were a spatial dimension. This of course is similar to H. G. Wells’ famous description of it – but whereas Wells leaves it there, Alex describes it further in a dumbed down format to Sean; he compares a time machine to flying a jet engine where energy is required to provide enough thrust which can then use aerodynamics to combat gravity. Or if a person is freed from the gravitational constraints of the Earth then remaining stationary in space means a relative motion on Earth (so Coriolis force). (Actually this also applies to spatial relocation too, with the same analogy).

Similarly, given enough energy, a time traveler can be lifted out of the river of time and placed in another temporal location. Quite elegant!

Following the “time is like a river” theme, small changes get washed away whereas other disturbances affect things close by or further downstream if the disturbance is great enough. Whilst it’s not possible to change the flow rate of the river of time, it’s possible to change its direction creating another time line.

An interesting feature of the time travel method is the “DNA dimensional beacon”. Again, we don’t know exactly how this works, but it was developed by one of Sean’s descendants. By using DNA it’s possible to go further back in time than without the DNA. I find this a particularly interesting concept because it starts to cross into the biological time travel arena – an area which I think potentially holds a lot of promise for future time travel!

Epilogue

As the Prologue starts with Alex in 2216 prior to his training and his trip into history, the Epilogue concludes with Alex in 2217, after his trip to 1995.

Alex looks back over his experience and we share in his thoughts, augmented of course with his nanite connection to his home computer who lets up on an observation that it made some time ago. This observation in some ways calls into question the ethos of the futuristic society in which Alex lives.

On a personal level, I’m very pleased that the epilogue isn’t a padded out “buy the next book in the series” statement. Indeed, …Before You Leap is self-contained and concludes – but I should ‘warn’ you that the notes following the epilogue effectively crush some of the tension which has been building up by telling us what happens in Book 2 (“Saves Nine”) πŸ™ When you get to the end of the novel, I’d urge you not to read the notes. Just have faith that Saves Nine will be as fantastic as the novel you’ve just read!

(So my only negative comment is actually not about the novel! πŸ˜‰ )

Rating * * * * *

…Before you Leap by Les Lynam is a superb scifi novel with time travel and futuristic technology. Although aimed at young adults I think this novel has much to offer for us older types too! I’m giving this 5 stars because I really like how ideas and concepts from 2217 are brought and examined from a nineties viewpoint.

…Before you Leap is available from Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com in Kindle and paperback formats.

Stand by for reviews of the next books in the Time Will Tell series, …Saves Nine and …In One Basket, as well as an interview with Les Lynam. I’ll keep you posted!

Paul

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Disclaimer: Les kindly sent me a free copy of “…Before you Leap” to read in exchange for honest review. This is it!

Star ratings:

| 5* Excellent! | 4* Good | 3* OK | 2* Not good | 1* Crud |

Action Cut: Echo Back – The Time Travel Virus

The Echo Back Action Cut shows the physical strain of time traveller Vance’s fight with the authorities, and his frustration that he needs to repeatedly go through this fiasco. He learns and becomes wiser – but they don’t.

First time around

A little while ago I watched Echo Back – The Time Travel Virus. A short online movie written and produced by William Rosenthal and Tristram Geary.

Biological time travel in Echo Back
Biological time travel in Echo Back

As well as the underlying plot line of the reaction of the masses (and authorities) should time travel be preferentially ‘available’, Echo Back also lead me to think about the reality of time travel using biological processes, and how that might stand up against current (or future) technological advances.

Echo 1: Action Cut

Now comes another installment. It’s not a sequel or a prequel (or any other kind of a ~quel) but more of a subset – an “Action Cut”. Will explained that some viewers of the full version really wanted to see what the fight scenes with Vance looked like by themselves, so he and Tristram edited it all together without the stock.

I suppose that just as cuts through a solid object give us a better idea of what’s inside that object, perhaps the same can be said in the filming / editing business. In this case, the Action Cut offers us another view into the original film. Actually, it’s the same stuff, but the focus is different.

Personally, I think this Action Cut version shows more clearly the physical strain of the fight that Vance has with the authorities, but what I particularly like is how his mental frustration of having to go through all of this again also comes through really well.

It’s this latter point which got me thinking about repeating various parts of your life. Again.

Echo 2: Oh no, not this again!

The idea of reliving part of your life again and again is not new. Indeed, it seems to come round again and again! πŸ˜‰ Replay, Groundhog Day, and my recently reviewed Buckyball all have this theme, for example.

Phil Connors clearly shows frustration to the point of self harm in Groundhog Day until he grabs the bull by the horns and steers his own destiny. Jim in Buckyball, perhaps being younger (at first), is much more open to the possibilities which are available when you effectively have second chances.

(And to be blatantly honest here – I can’t remember any more what happened with Jeff in Replay regarding this angle).

Phil and Jeff have no control over their replays or repeats, whereas Vance and Jim do. Control is a much sought after commodity, but both Jim and Vance have another variable which they can’t control – other people.

Vance in the Action Cut of Echo Back.
Other people are the problem for Vance in the Action Cut of Echo Back.

But back to Vance in Echo Back. It strikes me that he’s just had enough. He’s learning with each iteration, quite literally so that he can get on with his life. But the trouble is the people around him – they’re not learning or becoming wiser because they don’t know any better. For them, it’s the first time that things happen.

Vance in Echo Back: Frustration.
Vance in Echo Back: Frustration.

Reliving a part of your life again sounds like it might be fun, sometimes – but only if other people are willing to let you.

The choice is yours?

Would you choose to relive a given day or moment again? People around us wouldn’t behave differently, but we would. Our accumulating experience would make sure of that.

In some ways some of us already do relive the same moments in our lives – and we’re not impressed. And thee are others of us who bring a stop to their enjoyment, or at least, make their lives a living misery.

I remember my first year at university. We played many practical jokes which at the time we thought were blindingly comical – and original. But here’s the thing – what we thought was new and original had already been done before by previous year groups. And of course the staff were never impressed – they’d seen it all before. They had to relive these first few days of first year students every year.

Or there’s the time at secondary school when an overly self-conscious version of me is taking a leak and a female cleaner walks in. I rapidly zip up.

“Don’t worry!” she says, “I’ve seen it all before!”

Yeah, but not MINE!

So the point is that a repetitive life isn’t always a good thing. Production line workers need variation in their schedule before they numb themselves with boredom. Like them, and the university staff, Vance seems tired of it all. Wouldn’t you be?

Einstein’s sometimes quoted (perhaps incorrectly) as saying that doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is insanity.

But I think the question remains: who goes insane – the time traveller, or those around him?

Paul

PS: Here’s the link to the full version of Echo Back – The Time Travel Virus:

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Complex 3D Time

Can complex number theory be applied to time? Would a “complex time” component would effectively turn a time line into a time plane (or time volume?) possibly allowing for multitasking?

complex wall clock

Here’s my wall clock. Again. I ‘introduced’ it and its angle on warped space time in this post back in October 2013. That’s not really that long ago, but the clock’s given up the ghost now and moved on to places and times beyond the ken of humankind.

I admit it – I’m playing with your perspective here! Naturally the wall clock’s off the wall, but it’s also been in the hands of my young daughter (after the time of death! πŸ˜‰ )

Do you ever have time on your hands? My daughter did – and this is how my clock looks from another angle after she’d finished with it.

My old knackered clock

Her child’s play got me thinking about the ‘normal’ movement of hands around a clock. What if they could move not only clockwise on the plane of the clock face, but also in the third dimension?

It sounds like it might be complex…

Complex time

Time moves linearly – usually forwards – hence we have a time line. We also have number lines (also linear) which range from lower integer values, through real numbers to the next highest integer, and so on. Or in reverse if we count backwards.

Linear number line
Linear number line (image credit: www.math.tutorvista.com)

But perpendicular movement is possible on the number line – “complex numbers” (multiples of the square root of minus 1, often denoted by i or j) explain a deviation away from the time line along the “imaginary axis”.

Complex numbers provide perpendicular movement
Imaginary numbers (denoted j) provide a way for perpendicular movement away from the number line (real axis) (Image credit: http://cnx.org)

So can complex number theory allow for a similar methodology to be applied to time? Can there be a “complex time” component which effectively turns a time line into a time plane? Or a time volume?

complex time is similar to a sundial

Admittedly, this might look a little like a sundial with pturned hands casting time shadows across the clock face area.

I remember watching a lunar eclipse and someone nearby mentioned that this was the largest shadow that there was. Being keen on astronomy (and a nerd with no social skills) I was compelled to mention that actually the shadow on the moon was just a 2D image of the 3D shadow of the Earth which projected into space and struck the moon.

Perhaps as sundials signaled the advent of clocks and telling the time, they may also signal the beginning of an understanding multi-dimensional time.

Now, I’m not a mathematician but is this idea of complex time something which can be worked out further?

is complex time the solution for multitasking?
Is complex time the solution for multitasking? (Image credit: www.moebiusnoodles.com)

Practically speaking I’m guessing the realisation of complex time into the real everyday world would be something similar to multitasking (something my wife’s good at).

Worth a try, surely? Is 3D time so complex? Or is it just child’s play? πŸ˜‰

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Review: Timeshaft by Stewart Bint

Timeshaft (Stewart Bint) is a brilliant time travel novel which fully explores the causal loop. Time travel mechanics and paradoxes are rife in Timeshaft with intelligent characters who get us tangled in a spiderweb of predestination!

Timeshaft by Stewart Bint is a brilliant time travel novel which fully explores the causal loop.

Time travel mechanics, paradoxes, the journey in time – and what you do once you get there – Timeshaft has it all! It screams for every time travel fan’s bookshelf!

Cover for Timeshaft by Stewart Bint

I’m going to be singing praises here – perhaps untunefully – so I’ll get the disclosure out of the way now. Stewart contacted Time Travel Nexus asking for an honest review in exchange for a free copy of Timeshaft. This is the review, and I should also add that I’m really pleased that Stewart has agreed to give an author interview which will be (or has been – I’ll add the link when it’s ready) published over on Time Travel Nexus.

Timeshaft in context

I’ve read some absolutely crap books in the past (hopefully less in the future). More often than not I can’t bring my self to waste any further time in crafting a review unless I’ve either committed to it or need to vent. For these terrible books a 1 or 2 star review sends a clear signal.

On the much much greener side of the fence are numerable novels which are blinders! Original angles on mind blowing concepts…you know, the kind of novel which makes it stand out from the rest and leaves you gasping for more. And for these books I’ve always felt that the full 5 stars often doesn’t do those novels the full justice they deserve.

Often in review land (which incidentally is about the size of a desk chair, the desk (now a noun not an adjective) and a computer) 5 stars generally means “I love it” and nothing more, pretty much the same way as my daughter tells me she “loves” chips in the same sentence that she tells me that she “loves” me. In other words, there’s no scope for expressing – in stars – a truly outstanding novel.

Timeshaft is such a novel! It brilliantly scorches the brain and leaves it sizzling! (I think that’s a good thing…!)

Time travel in the timeshaft

I was really pleased that Timeshaft has a solid scientific mechanism for time travel. It’s not wholly transparent but we get a pretty good insight into it – and perhaps it’s even plausible!

Moreover, Stewart plays with the ideas he’s developed. For example, the time shuttle gets buffeted by temporal disturbances which ripple like waves across time. This means that not only does a time shuttle get flung in the direction of propagation of the time wave (in this case it was back into history) but also in the opposite direction (the future).

Sound odd? Actually it makes sense. Objects on the crest of a wave do indeed travel forwards. And backwards on the trough! πŸ˜‰

The time travel mechanism

Now I need to make a confession here. When I read I usually make notes as I go…except this isn’t the case here because I was too engrossed. That’s good and bad at the same time, so I’ll call Schroedinger’s bluff and from memory recount the basics:

Ley lines run across the Earth which contain kinetic energy. They form a network wherein intersection points hold particularly large amounts of this energy. A solar wind conversion plant located on one of these intersection points explodes and disperses that energy in time tearing a hole or shaft – the timeshaft.

Travelling along the timeshaft in a time shuttle that taps energy taken directly from the timeshaft, means travelling along time.

I should say that I have issue with “kinetic energy” – an object with mass and velocity has kinetic energy, so I don’t see how these ley lines contain any. Perhaps “potential energy” may have been a better term if we disassociate the mass and height terms and take “potential” more literally, but still (no pun intended there…) this is science fiction and I suppose anything goes (ditto…)!

One particular aspect of the timeshaft which I liked was the damaged or partially complete sections – in these locations the ‘lining’ was not in place so characters could see the energy fluxing as waves of light! πŸ™‚

Causal loops

One of the features which makes a time travel novel stand out from others is not only the inclusion of time travel paradoxes, but also how they’re utilised and dealt with.

Causal loops play a crucial part in Timeshaft. Indeed, they’re the backbone of the plot. The issues of predetermination, destiny, free will and choice also come into play in more philosophical contexts; this particular time travel paradox is recognised and covered fully!

Writing style

Timeshaft is an epic novel. It’s BIG! To be clear, this isn’t “big” in a shallow superficial word-county sort of a way, but big in the vastness of time, concepts and ramifications. To facilitate this there’s a requirement for breadth in content, and this comes through with rapidly changing chapter content.

When I first started reading Timeshaft I thought that I was reading a scifi novel in a particular setting. But the second chapter took on such a different direction I must admit that I wondered whether I was in fact reading a collection of short stories. Thankfully this wasn’t the case and continuity soon became clear.

This pattern set the benchmark for most of the novel; apparent hiatuses and jumps in the novel get sewn together very quickly and not right at the end which somehow I found to be a blessing!

The thread which sews the chapters and sections together is one of environmentalism – this is the reason behind time travel; to avert disasters or to change the course of the world’s history so that it can have a longer future.

The Time Store has miriad reasons to time travel – each of which means the world to the Time Store’s client, and in that novel we see how people react. In Timeshaft it’s literally how the world reacts!

Characters

I don’t think I’ve ever commented on this before in a review, but somehow I’m aware of it in Timeshaft: there is an optimum number of characters – which turns out to be 6 (although two of those are more of one couple than 2 people).

Some novels have just a single main character, leaving the reader screwed if there’s dislike or lack of empathy. Other novels have too many characters all fighting for reader attention and spoiling the broth that the author is desperately trying to cook up.

Stewart handles his 6 characters well. There is clearly one main character but he’s supported by the others who also have their own important roles to play. They are thrust into different times and settings which is reflected in differences in writing style as well as changes in the character point of view.

My only criticism is the characters are clearly intelligent but at times they ‘feign’ ignorance. I suspect that they do this to allow a narrative explanation to the reader; in other words, we the readers aren’t as intelligent as the characters and need to be brought up to speed (usually regarding issues surrounding causal loops).

No pun intended, but having the same principle explained again and again got quite repetitive at times, and I think that certainly by the end of the novel we’re more than well versed in casual loops. If you don’t understand them by then you may as well stick to banging a couple of rocks together – and let the characters do their thing.

Specific sections

Two sections in particular stand out to me. The first is truly horrific, and comes about a third of the way into the novel where Phillip and Nadia (“the pioneers of time travel”) find themselves in the midst of a witch hunt. I won’t say more to avoid a spoiler, but I will mention that as a father of daughters I was very happy that it was Nadia who, in this case, seemed to be the stronger of the pair.

Actually on this note, I was also pleased that the main character, Ashday’s Child, has a female helper (Caitlin) who is certainly more than up to the task.

The second section is where Ashday’s Child meets his parents in the past and explains that they’ll never see him again (till now). The combination of his own internal thoughts and his parents non-understanding – but complete trust and acceptance – is absolutely heart wrenching. Wonderfully written.

(So it seems that I have a thing about parents!)

Confusion

One issue has me stumped – though I’m sure there must be a simple explanation because everything else is so tight. Perhaps you can enlighten me if you are lucky enough to read Timeshaft and can figure it out!

The power plant at the beginning of the novel harnesses solar wind and channels and converts it into cheap energy. My confusion arises because it’s located on the top of a mountain – underneath the magnetosphere which deflects the solar wind away from the Earth.

So how is the solar wind collected and channeled from an Earth bound installation? It’s true that during solar storms the solar wind can be strong enough to penetrate the magnetosphere, but I was under the impression that the plant harnesses the solar wind all of the time.

I think it’s an important point because this features at the start of the novel, and effectively marks the start of the timeshaft itself – although not chronologically! πŸ˜‰

Random other points

I’m not sure if this point shows that I’m old, or that I’m young enough to be embracing new technology (in which I mean, an ereader) but it is this: chapters and sections are long. Am I too young and that my concentration limit is set to “low” and need a break every few page turns (or swipes)? Or am I finishing a chapter / section on the train and wondering whether I have time enough to wolf down another before my station comes?

Finally, I like the ending, specifically that it doesn’t stop at the Hollywood moment when people and events seem to have been sorted, leaving open and loose scientific loop holes. Nope – Timeshaft finishes when the science is sorted. Perfect! πŸ™‚

Rating * * * * *

Comments like “Wish I could give it 11 stars out of 10 have more cheese than my local market in Holland. And what would prerequisite a desired 12 stars? Or 15 or 20? I suspect it would be an inverted law of diminishing returns.

And the suggested solution of rescaling to the Spinal Tap approach wouldn’t seem fair for all those other good novels who would now get a less than the “full” 10 stars. (OK, actually 5 for blog reviews!)

But yeah. Full 5 stars – I loved it! πŸ™‚ Wish I could give it more… etc. πŸ˜‰

Read my interview with Stewart Bint over on Time Travel Nexus!

Time travel mechanics, paradoxes, the journey in time – and what you do once you get there – Timeshaft has it all! It screams for every time travel fan’s bookshelf!

Timeshaft is available at Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com

Paul

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Disclaimer: Stewart kindly sent me a free copy of “Timeshaft” to read in exchange for honest review. This is it!

Star ratings:

| 5* Excellent! | 4* Good | 3* OK | 2* Not good | 1* Crud |

Church Bells – a link with history?

Can we accept that church bells chiming β€œnow” aren’t for β€˜just’ now but that they’re a link through time where the past is connected through the present and into the future?

A couple of decades ago I was sitting in my English literature class which I was destined to fail. We were reading DH Lawrence’s “The Rainbow”. This – according to my teacher – was a novel where a spade wasn’t a spade. A horse in a field wasn’t a horse, it was a phallic symbol, for example. A church spire wasn’t a church spire, it was a vertical connection between Heaven and Earth.

Today, as church bells toll a couple of decades later, I am reminded of the nonsentities of literature – and of how much I hate church bells.

The bells, the bells πŸ™

Old church bell.
Are church bells really as old as they look, or do they have an apparent age? When they toll it seems like they go on forever πŸ™

The passing of time doesn’t need to be clanged out for us, especially by the bell in my local village which clangs every quarter hour – dark, ominous and with a terrible sense of foreboding . And then there’s the ordeal on the hour – or some other randomly allotted time – when the clanging is seemingly as relentless as Einstein’s use of a hot stove as a chair. It goes on forever πŸ™

There’s nothing inspiring, there’s nothing but…a clanger whacking the side of a piece of circular metal which has hung there for God knows how many decades. Perhaps centuries.

Spatial synchronisation

Church bells link time and nature?
Church bells ring out across nature and nations

The bells in my village aren’t the only ones causing this nationwide – in fact – international, sonorous display of monstrous monotony. The bells clang at the same time as other bells in other towns and villages, other countries and continents. Stamping out time’s beat at the same time in different places, a spatial synchronisation even across time zones.

They’ve always done it. Today. Yesterday. Last week. Last year…and all through the ages.

The spatial synchronisation is clear, but I think there’s an argument for a temporal synchronisation too.

Temporal synchronisation

My wife says that she likes the sound of church bells not for the sound they make (seriously…who does?) but because they represent a connection to history.

Clanging church bell disturbs

Can it be true that the church bells connect each moment in time? That the chime on the hour marks not only the passing of the hour here and the passing of the hour across the world, but that it also marks it for days gone by?

In other words, the one o’clock chime today also marks one o’clock yesterday, last week and all of the one o’clocks back through history? (And by extension – in the opposite direction – all of the one o’clocks in the future?)

There was a TV commercial several years ago which was trying to flog watches. According to the advert a watch didn’t tell the time, it marked the moments of memories and gave promise for moments in the future.

Much as I hate to agree with marketing directors, I agree. We celebrate dates with no question – birthdays and anniversaries, for example. Why not increase the temporal resolution to monthly, weekly, daily…or hourly? (It makes sense – young couples celebrate in this manner!) Passing hours on a clock are of huge importance, not just for now, but also for what has gone before as well as what it to come.

So perhaps we can accept that “now” isn’t ‘just’ now and that it’s a link through time where the past is linked through the chiming present and into the future.

Church bells then. A noisy insult to nature – or working with(in) it giving us a direct link across time?

Paul

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Review: The Trouble With Time by Lexi Revellian

Time travel plays a dominant role in “The Trouble with Time ” (Lexi Revellian) with many time travel issues addressed! Although the characters seem weak at times, they pull the plot forwards – complete with a brilliant inverted grandfather paradox!

Review: The Trouble with Time by Lexi Revellian

The Trouble with Time is Book 1 of the Time Rats series by Lexi Revellian.

Book cover for The Trouble With Time by Lexi Revellian

I’ve had a very strange adventure with The Trouble with Time! It started out as receiving a ‘proper’ paperback copy but finding that the font drove me insane I ended up buying the ebook format and reading that instead (well, later…my battery died after 2 page swipes!).

Whether or not a book reviewer should comment on a book cover is one thing, but I do feel compelled to mention that unless I received a dodgy misprint there’s either a strong case for avoiding the paperback completely, or – preferably – accepting that ebooks may be the way of the future! (Given enough battery power! πŸ˜‰ )

The underlying premise

Anyway. On with the content! I think this might be a blimming excellent time travel novel!

Remember that argument you had with your ex-girlfriend – the one when you said something sweet and innocent like “why don’t you try a larger size which might fit better?” and she inexplicably went ballistic? I had that argument too, and I spent hours agonising over the issue, twisting and contorting my mind in an attempt to comprehend what or how she was thinking.

I think I might have got there in the end.

And it’s a bit the same with The Trouble with Time – there seem to be some open questions and loop holes, but at the same time, if I bend my mind round far enough I think the novel works and comes clean! πŸ™‚

If my understanding is correct, the basic premise is a brilliantly inverted grandfather paradox. This is where the grandchild goes back in time, kills his grandfather and…blah blah, you know it already. The paradox arises because there’s a question over which history occurred (which affects whether the grandchild exists or not).

In The Trouble with Time the question comes from the other side – from the viewpoint of the past, which future will have happened?

Brief synopsis

Time travel is restricted and time cops ensure that this remains so. However, one agent is a good egg gone bad who has his own agenda. Running concurrently with this thread is the story of Floss who’s unwillingly brought from 2015 to 2045 under the impression that removing her from her own time will assist in setting the world’s future on a better path. Naturally Floss wishes to get back to her own time.

Holding these story lines together is Jace who is both a time cop and who through as series of events comes to know Floss. Together they deal with the issues of good-cop-gone-bad and getting back home.

The role of time travel

By 2045 time travel is possible with “TiTrav” devices strapped to the wrist. However, it’s illegal to own, wear or operate such a device. The “International Event Modification Authority” (IEMA) enforce this ruling and its superior officials are the only members allowed to travel in time – after intense training and under strict regulation.

In a way the novel reminds me of Hexad: The Factory which asks “What if everyone can time travel?” The Trouble with Time partly answers this question by making it moot – it’s not allowed!

Time travel is used to bring back information from the short term future to ensure that decisions made today don’t have adverse effects for tomorrow. This might be somewhat ontological but I was pleased that the novel avoided the more usual drama of going backwards in time to change the outcomes of wars etc..

The mechanics of time travel aren’t given, but The Trouble with Time does have plenty of golden time travel nuggets which keeps the genre alive and in the forefront of the plot! πŸ™‚ It touches, for example, on time travel tourism (visiting various times and locations in the past) and it introduces a time travel diction such as “timing in” (arriving with time travel) and “timing out” (leaving).

Then there are the IEMA rules to abide by…

Writing style

Time travel

What stands out in The Trouble with Time is how attention given to many aspects of time travel with bonus extras such as difficulties with time passing in real time during a time travel jaunt, the ontological paradox involved in miniaturising the TiTrav device or simply being (time) travel sick! Indeed, this is a ‘proper’ time travel novel where time travel plays a dominant role!

Sometimes it seemed that more was bitten off than could be comfortably chewed. Black box time travel is fine of course, but sometimes the lack of information seemed too apparent or even vague. For example, there’s a reference to the problem of the movement of galaxies when time travelling (so presumably also a problem of a spinning / orbiting Earth etc.) but this information is simply entered into the TiTrav device. Or “compensatory fuzzy logic” is used to avoid ending up in the same place as another object or in mid air. Without further information on this fuzzy logic, it seems a little superficial.

Admittedly, maybe I’ve been spoiled because these particular aspects are covered especially well in Nathan Van Coops’ “The Chronothon”.

That said, Lexi takes the concept a step further and describes how the “compensatory fuzzy logic” also ensures that a time traveller can’t time in when the destination isn’t clear of oncoming people, trucks and drones. This idea of needing clear space around you is taken forwards where IEMA have time travel-proof holding cells with metal rods and loops to ensure that people can’t time travel into them (although leaving is possible – which is probably handy if you’d like to escape a holding cell! πŸ˜‰ )

IEMA quite often seemed to be a tool for stating various problems associated with time travel, although I must admit that at times I got a bit annoyed because rules were stated without further explanation. There’s a rule not to go back in history to the same day and minute as before because it’s too dangerous to meet yourself. Why? Anyway. This is a personal thing – it’s not that I’ve got a problem with authority; I just like to understand things!

What I particularly like is how a person or event is written from the viewpoint of both the past and the future, for example, someone had been dead for half a century…or had not been born yet, or coming over in speech, for example when Floss mentions that someone “…knows Prince – I mean King William”.

In the same vein, references to actions are given which then come into the main narrative later either through eyes of another character or from a different viewpoint in time.

I wrote a while ago about how time travel novels can take on a journey or destination approach. Whereas The Trouble with Time pays little attention to the ‘journey side’ the above points highlight the fun you can have with the ‘destination side’ of things – what it’s like to be in another (unfamiliar) time setting by describing it as a new experience.

But there’s also the more traditional approach where Lexi expresses her ideas of the future and the available technology (or lack of) in 2045 and beyond. It’s all good science fiction!

There’s also a hint of philosophical thought at times, perhaps from characters you wouldn’t expect it from; the main antagonist ponders the consequences of going back to change the past and finding himself in a new future where he may have died. He doesn’t have an answer (who does!) but it’s nice to see the issue acknowledged!

Characters

The novel is strong in time travel and as with most novels it needs characters to lift these concepts. Sadly I feel that The Trouble with Time is let down by weak characters; they seem superficial and made of glass.

That’s not to say that they don’t think or have thoughts and feelings. In fact, perhaps they have too many – there’s much drawn-out explanation or expansion on what a character is thinking, often as a semi-explanatory note after something they’ve already done. A fox-and-grapey post-event justification, as such.

Still, the variety of characters used in The Trouble with Time is impressive, and by and large their interaction with each other keeps the plot active and steadily moving forwards. Or backwards! πŸ˜‰

The time travel icing

I mentioned earlier that there is a brilliant reversal of the grandfather paradox.

I think it was Jace who recounted to Floss something which he’d learnt during his IEMA training. Time is likened to a river; if it’s dammed up then it changes direction. This means that there can’t be multiple alternative time lines – just one; if things are changed in the past then there’s a ‘new’ future (rather than an additional one).

Crucially, this means that there’s a potential for a future (or present) to cease to exist if a trip back in time makes a pivotal change.

This comes into play in The Trouble with Time where the present as given in the first third(!) of the novel vanishes (I think). And certain aspects of the new present also undergo changes – even to the point of memories being swiped.

Given that events in the present initiate trips to the past to make changes, the basis for the inverted grandfather paradox is set up! πŸ™‚ Excellent stuff!

Rating * * * *

A single star rating is tricky.

I’m disappointed with the characters and the glossing over of many of the time travel tid bits, but I really do like how time travel plays a dominant role in this novel. Yes, some time travel issues are given only a passing mention, but others are handled really well; and I especially like the topsy turvy approach to the grandfather paradox!

I’m going to go for 3.7 stars, falling just shy of 4 because I found that putting on a ‘character filter’ ultimately made it slightly less than a “good” reading experience (see scale below). I’ll add again here though that there are many aspects of time travel covered very well in this novel which on their own would warrant a higher star rating.

I’m curious as to why this novel is called “The Trouble with Time” which seems rather generic, but then again, I’m also curious as to how a second book in the series will come out as things are pretty well wrapped up at the end!

Time will tell, I guess!

Paul

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Disclaimer: Lexi kindly sent me a free copy of “The Trouble With Time” to read in exchange for honest review. This is it!

Star ratings:

| 5* Excellent! | 4* Good | 3* OK | 2* Not good | 1* Crud |

Review: The Time Store by Andrew Clark and Dee Matthews

The Time Store by Andrew Clark and Dee Matthews is a strong character driven novel with a magnetic quality which has the reader zoned into the lives of the proprietors of the Time Store establishment.

The Time Store by Andrew Clark and Dee Matthews is a magnetic novel which invites us into the lives of Dan, Jason, Sarah and David Bradbeer – the proprietors of the altrusitic Time Store.

The Time Store

book cover for The Time Store by Andrew Clark and Dee Matthews

Brothers Dan and Jason, and sister Sarah work in the Time Store under the supervision of their father David Bradbeer. For reasons we don’t yet know, the Bradbeer family and their ancestors have always been the proprietors of the Time Store, and each family member is able to time travel with the help of a custom built bracelet and ring.

The Time Store both sells and exhibits expensive time pieces and this is where their income arises, but arguably the main purpose of its existence is to provide altruistic time travel services for interested clients who for one reason or another would benefit from a time travel trip. The family board must approve of any such request.

That said, “…the time store hadn’t always operated as a bespoke travel agent with the obvious twist” though as Jason also questions, we don’t know much about it’s history. I suspect that will become clearer in subsequent books in the series.

Time travel

Time travel is possible with a system of bracelets and rings and straddling the prime meridian for the outward time travel trip. Linking arms means a passenger can be brought. The bracelets glow with “something like lunar energy” and come to life when they’re in contact with member of the Bradbeer family.

In a way The Time Store adopts a salesman kind of approach to time travel:

Whilst at the garage a couple of weeks ago I was flicking through a new car sales brochure whilst the mechanics were fixing my old banger in the workshop next door. As you’d expect it was very glossy and very colourful, and full of shallow attempts to suggest that the life of the driver would be wonderful if they purchased this new car from this dealer.

But there was no description of what I was interested in – how big is the engine? How powerful is it? I know that the car door has a drinks holder and the rear shelf can be lowered and various other superficial crap, but there was nothing about the most important part of the car – the engine. So I asked the salesman…and he sloped off to the back office to find out about his product. By the time he’d returned I’d already paid the mechanic and had left.

The Time Store almost literally adopts a sales brochure kind of approach when it comes to time travel. Don’t get me wrong – Dan, Jason, Sarah and David know their timepieces and are very knowledgeable about them, but when it comes to actually travelling through time and the mechanics of the bracelets and rings it’s all pretty much black box. They seemingly have no idea about how they work – even though they’re able to create and manufactures these devices!

One thing is very clear to them though – the golden rule of time travel – do not alter anything in the past. Messing about with true time spells a lot of trouble!

To be pedantic, this rule isn’t strictly adhered to. Going to Elvis concerts or talking to people in bars will clearly have repercussions – as main character Jim comments in Buckyball, even a smile can change things, but to be fair The Time Store isn’t a historical / observational kind of a novel and I think we can forgive Dan, Jason and Sarah in these cases!

Still, they do repeatedly ask of their father “what is the point of time travel if you can’t change anything?” Indeed, perhaps this might be considered to be the reason behind the Time Store and may be the underlying story?

Time passes quicker in the past than in the present (in the same way that time passes quicker in dreams than in real waking life); all day spent in Chicago lasted two hours in real (present) time.

For reasons I didn’t pick up, it wasn’t possible to go back to the same place in time and meet yourself, although we do read that Dan took deliberate measures in a bar to avoid meeting himself.

These latter points show that the authors have considered some of the tricky aspects of time travel and have given them some attention in their novel.

It struck me that most Time Store clients wished to travel into the past than into the future, I guess because generally their reasons are more emotive. Sadly this meant that we didn’t get many glimpses into the future, although to be fair, The Time Store isn’t a novel which dwells on events in the past (or future) but rather on the people in the present and how they seek to come to terms with various problems that have (or will have).

Including the proprietors.

Writing style

The writing style is a pleasant bag of mixed nuts! What I particularly enjoyed is how the writing style was able to hook me into the novel and have me wanting to know what was going to happen next in an underlying ‘low frequency low amplitude’ storyline.

It wasn’t from cliff hangers and suspense, but more from a a certain magnetic writing quality which draws in the reader. Loved it!

One of the nicest parts for me is where one of the Time Store ‘children’ goes back in time to meet his mother to ask for her advice. It was written beautifully, and also reminded me a little of The Time Traveler’s Wife (Audrey Niffenegger) where people familiar with each other speak together but in unfamiliar ages brought about through time travel.

There are of course other beautiful moments brought to us through the requests of the Time Store clients. Often we hear about those visits in the past not through a dry third person narrative but through the viewpoint of the client or Dan / Jason / Sarah describing it to other people.

Some parts of the novel have a hint of humour, others are quite (too) violent; it seems that there’s a bit of something for everyone.

Some sections though seem to drone on at length about one thing or another. For example, there’s a long section about the art of reading tarot cards and setting up a stall at a convention. It shows lots of research has been carried out into the subject, but was it really all necessary though? My guess is that rather than being about tarot cards, the section was more about Sarah.

That said, there was a heavy emphasis on a secondary character in this section, and in fact this can be said about much of the novel. Indeed, I found that devoting a lot of attention to both primary and secondary characters made finding the general plot line a little unclear.

Story lines

The early chapters focus on John – a homeless guy who’s lost his wife in a car accident and then turned to drink, losing his two daughters along the way. His path crosses with a worker at the shelter, Winnie, who we read contacts the Time Store to go back 33 years to 1976 to see an Elvis concert she’d missed.

A little later, John is in touch with the Time Store and he goes back to the time of the car crash which killed his wife but kept him alive.

By now we’re well into the novel, but the main story line is still unclear because the focus has moved away from John and onto Winnie, then onto Dan, and then onto other workers in the Time Store.

We see throughout the novel that characters are very well-developed and have a solid history and background behind them. So it seems that The Time Store is character driven rather than action driven, albeit reading almost like a series of not quite disconnected short stories held together by a delicate thread of common characters of the Time Store establishment.

When there was a section handed over to some very mundane activities within the Time Store it finally struck me – this is a time travel soap opera! πŸ™‚

Location location location!

For the time travel methodology to work, the time travellers need to be straddling the Prime Meridian which is presumably why the Time Store is located in Greenwich, London.

Perhaps it’s a small point, but it’s nice to be reading a novel mostly set in London! There are familiar names and places and even terms like “oyster card” (= a card used for the London public transport system). Since the characters sometimes move around the country, other places around England are mentioned – even Birmingham where I used to live. And shop names. OK, maybe it’s not a big deal but it is to a stranded expat like me! πŸ˜‰

Error or misunderstanding?

*** SPOILER ALERT ***

This section contains a spoiler. Click here to jump to the end of it.

The underlying running thread through The Time Store is a play on the grandfather paradox and the cause of “Dan’s anomaly”.

Dan figures out something happened on the time travel tour that he’d returned from, so he goes back to put things right.

In original true time, John and his wife are in a road accident. Nathan cycles to the accident scene and is able to save John; his wife has already died. This sets the scene for John feeling guilty for surviving, he turns to drink and loses his children. In time he’s motivated to request help from the Time Store to go back in time.

During the time travel tour, John damages Nathan’s bike so that Nathan is now unable to make the rescue and John dies. Now that John dies, he doesn’t exist in the future present; the Grandfather paradox is set up: John doesn’t visit Dan and ask to go back in time. Dan can’t remember the trip back as it was never done as John doesn’t exist and didn’t need to go back in time. The is the cause of “Dan’s anomaly”.

So Dan goes back to the past a second (or first, if we ignore the Grandfather paradox as above!) to correct things and put true time back on course. There’s some cross character communication, but the main point is that Nathan sees that his bike is mangled and so gets a lift to the accident scene. He makes the rescue, and John lives, thus being able to contact Dan 5 years later and ask him to take him back in time.

This is the part I don’t get – wouldn’t Nathan have got the lift in the scenario during the time travel tour?

*** END OF SPOILER ***

Closing scenes

The ending of the book comes in two parts. There’s a very happy-ever-after bit going on in a pub. It’s a bit cheesy but we do learn a little about John’s last 5 years which I was very happy to read as it closed some open questions.

Another nice aspect is how Sarah keeps an eye on things – it’s a nice touch to see her father’s hand in things – although at a distance – and the idea of the Bradbeer family being special is enforced.

The last couple of paragraphs I thought were superfluous. These pick up on the opening scene (and a brief mention halfway through the novel) and are there I guess to serve as a cliff hanger or temptation to the second book in the series.

To be brutally honest, this isn’t necessary, just like cliff hangers in soap operas are pointless because issues get sorted quickly and others will rise just the same. Likewise, this ‘hook’ wasn’t strong and it’ll get sorted and no doubt (i.e. hopefully!) there’ll be another sub plot.

Ultimately the power of The Time Store is in the lives of the characters and how they develop rather than in the actual action itself!

The Future

Book cover for Phelix - A Time Store novel by Andrew Clark and Dee Matthews

Book 2 – Phelix was released on Kindle just a few days ago on 21 April.

And I read on The Time Store Facebook page that Andrew and Dee are busy with Book 3 which is a short story detailing the history of the bracelets.

Both sound great!

Rating * * * * *

The Time Store is a strong character driven novel with a magnetic quality which has the reader zoned into the lives of the proprietors of the Time Store establishment.

Paul

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Disclaimer: Andy kindly sent me a free copy of “The Time Store” to read in exchange for honest review. This is it!

Star ratings:

| 5* Excellent! | 4* Good | 3* OK | 2* Not good | 1* Crud |

Film: Echo Back – The Time Travel Virus

Echo Back – The Time Travel Virus (William Rosenthal and Tristram Geary) is an action Sci-Fi film about how the world would react if time travel was a virus. Does biological time travel have a head start on us?

Echo/Back – The Time Travel Virus

A couple of weeks ago William Rosenthal shared his film with me and asked what I thought of it. Will co-wrote and co-produced “Echo/Back – The Time Travel Virus” with director Tristram Geary. In his own words, “it’s an action sci-fi about how the world would react if time travel was a virus.”

A question of authority

The premise of the film is a simple one – that authorities who control us don’t like the idea that history can be changed. In some ways I echo their sentiment, though with the authorities it’s more sinister – they wish to remain in control and “Time travel dissolves their power”.

The ability to time travel is not attained through technology but by contracting a virus. There are echoes of the X-Men movies where the infected (i.e. those who are different to the societal ‘norm’) are forced to register or submit to the authorities.

In Echo/Back – The Time Travel Virus we identify with the main character, Vance (as we tend to with the X-Men), who in a way for us represents the underdog, albeit infected with the time travel disease (or who has advanced powers).

But it’s a possibility that there may be others who have less scruples than Vance and who would use time travel for more sinister purposes. For example, not just stopping the authorities making our decisions for us, but standing in their place, or other reasons for self gain and harm to others.

Then again, we don’t really know why Vance is being hunted, do we?

Biological time travel

We don’t always need a time machine to time travel.

In X-men: Days of Future Past biological time travel comes through accelerated or staggered evolution. In Edge of Tomorrow a time loop is set up through contact with blood from an “Alpha Mimic” (an alien).

And here Echo Back is similar – time travel comes to a select few through contracting virus. There’s no time machine, no flux capacitor and no TARDIS. Time travel is of a more natural origin – albeit unwelcome (by some).

The neanderthal reaction to something we don't understand is to club it.

I can’t help recognising the basic Neanderthal reaction in Echo Back – if we don’t understand it, whack it over the head with a club. Or a gun. It seems a shame (perhaps) that the authorities don’t think to approach the problem intelligently. Why not try to develop a ‘cure’ for the time travel virus? Or come to think of it, deliberately contract the time travel disease themselves to keep themselves ahead in the game?

Neanderthal reaction in Echo Back - The Time Travel Virus
Neanderthal reaction in Echo Back – The Time Travel Virus

(One of these guys is played by Will…)

Biological problems often require biological solutions.

Actually, technological problems often require biological solutions too and we see that technology frequently seeks to emulate nature. Nature is often just much better at things than we are – she can provide the strongest materials, the strongest glue, the most beautiful artwork, etc. and generally speaking it seems that we try to mimic nature where we can. Bullet-proof vests, velcro, swimming technologies…

We’ve always done it, and to quote the source of the image below, “Stone Age man copied Nature by wearing the fur of slaughtered animals to keep warm.” (sciencenordic.com).

Nature's echo - technological problems often require biological solutions
Image source: http://sciencenordic.com/top-10-best-copies-nature-part-2 (Illustration: Mette Friis-Mikkelsen)

Whilst we can sit with a pen and paper and work things out, even develop computers or other tools to help us do that quicker, it’s much more difficult to develop biological solutions to assist us with life’s obstacles. Copying, or being inspired by Nature is much easier.

My personal thought is that for whilst theoretical physicists are beavering and banging away at Einstein’s equations to find out if – and if so, how – we can travel in time, Nature is probably busy finding it’s own way. Maybe it’s already got there. And when it’s found or evolved or contracted, we’ll imitate it with our trailing technology.

Or maybe just whack it on the head.

Interview with William Rosenthal and Tristram Geary

In this interview with director, writers and producers William Rosenthal and Tristram Geary we get a behind the scenes view on Echo Back, as well as their personal thoughts behind some of the ideas they’ve written into their film!

Time is a precious commodity – Will and Tristram, many thanks for giving us some of yours!

The fight between the authorities and Vance might be viewed as a clash between technology and biology. Given enough time for development / evolution, would you consider technology or biology to have the upper hand?

In the earlier stages, while the ability is new and underdeveloped, technology (and existing power structures) would very easily mobilise to control it. However, time travel is such an incredible advancement that it simply couldn’t be contained forever. Ultimately, we feel technology and human ingenuity would make time travel more efficient, and expand its possibilities. It may be positive or negative, weaponisation or integration, but as long as we humans have such inquisitive minds, it feels like our biology will always be shackled to our technology.

Physical limitations are well known when it comes to operating technology and we see how you’ve incorporated biological limitations into your time travel method – avoiding cleanly the grandfather paradox and the creation of ‘major’ alternate histories! Were there any aspects of time travel that were difficult to incorporate into Echo Back and how did you solve them?

Oh absolutely! Time travel in fiction is so tricky, partly because you need to make something physically impossible at least internally consistent, but also because it needs to be emotionally satisfying in some way.

Logistically, it was quite difficult to come up with a scenario that would clearly demonstrate the power of small time jumps. We eventually figured out that we needed a clear space or object- something that moved or reverted whenever Vance jumped back in time.

The action also helped, as the audience can see Vance learn through trial and error (and injury!)We wanted to show that despite the huge advantages of this ability, there are still plenty of limitations. We also needed to work out some tactics and technology that would give the police an upper hand.

Can you explain the “Echo” aspect in the film title?

Well firstly of course, there’s the idiom β€˜to echo back’, meaning to evoke something similar from the past. The way in which the world reacts to time travel is similar to other, world-changing phenomena; excitement, fear, and ultimately a desire for control. The nature and mandate of governments means that they’ll always aim to regulate things, the internet for example. Sometimes that’s a helpful step, other times, less so.

It’s also a reference to the mechanism of our form of time travel. In the film, Vance jumps through what is essentially the same scenario many, many times. Each variation shares the same key features, but is slightly distorted from its predecessor; like an echo.

To turn things upside down, how do you think people would feel if their local authority was able to time travel and they weren’t?

As regular citizens, we’re already very much at the mercy of our systems and those more powerful than us. Authorities can monitor your phone activity, control the legitimate use of violence, and make decisions daily that most of us will never know about but which will profoundly affect our lives. Now, these aren’t always bad things- you could argue they’re necessary components of a government- but time travel would probably just be another (albeit near-omnipotent) string in their bow.

However, who knows, a shift in power this enormous might actually galvanise many people into protest and defiance. Instead of being the ultimate weapon for control, time travel could be the catalyst for a regime’s unravelling.

Are there any plans for a sequel / prequel to Echo Back?

Actually, we’ve drafted a screenplay for a feature film, so we’d love to see the concept explored further!

How did you go about writing Echo Back? Did you write, then ‘convert’ it into a screenplay, or did you write it as a screen play from the outset?

We always intended to convert the basic time travel mechanism into some sort of film, but we initially had very few specifics beyond that. Our excitement about the premise meant that we spent some time throwing ideas at each other. How would it work on an individual level? How heavily could it shake the world’s establishments? What would it mean for how we perceive death? Given our miniscule budget, we were obviously limited in what we could show, but we still wanted to express as many of these possibilities as we could- hence the narrated sections.

As a scientist I’m told that I need to spend about an hour in preparation for each slide I present at a conference. I can’t help considering that a movie comprises many frames per second, and arguably the story line is much more important! How long did it take to make this film?

We spent roughly three months on pre-production, including design, costume, rehearsal, choreography, and searching for locations.

We were extremely fortunate to get David on board to play Vance. On the day of filming, he spent about 16 consecutive hours being beaten up. Our budget limited us to just one day with the camera and shooting gear, so we had to make the most of it! He and the rest of our small, brilliant crew of volunteers were consummately professional and seriously hard workers.

Our tiny post-production crew spent the next months editing, sound editing, scoring, and crafting effects. It really was a huge undertaking for a small number of dedicated people.

I love the interplay between the narration (done by Tristram) and the action sequences which show the more physical side of the battle between the authorities and time travellers. Were there times when you struggled to mesh these two techniques together?

Fantastic to hear you liked it! It was definitely a difficult pairing to balance. We wanted to expose the audience to a larger world, while not encroaching too heavily on the emotional flow of the action sequence. The parallels with broader time travel struggles also hopefully reinforced Vance’s motivation and determination. However, we also couldn’t get too specific in describing these events, as it could jerk viewers out of his immediate predicament. Definitely a challenge!

Will and Tristram, many thanks again for your time – for both the interview and for creating Echo Back – The Time Travel Virus! I’m really excited to hear that you’ve got plans for a feature film!!

Follow Echo Back – The Time Travel Virus on Facebook and Twitter (@EchoBackMovie).

Edit: Will and Tristram have since compiled an “Action Cut” of Echo Back – The Time Travel Virus which offers us (yet) another view into the original film. Vance’s physical exhaustion and also his frustration in his need to endure the authorities and the masses really shines through in this cut. I’ve written a short piece (with the link to Action Cut) which touches on the ideas of other people’s role when you relive your life. It’s clearly not always for the better!

Paul

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Groundhog Day…again?

The classic movie Groundhog Day makes the basic assumption that February 2 will repeatedly come around again and again. It sounds like a dangerous approach…

After reading Buckyball (Fabien Roy) I somehow got round to watching Groundhog Day. Again.

Groundhog Day

Groundhog Day is the classic 1993 movie where grumpy chops weather man Phil Connors repeatedly wakes up at 06:00 on February 2nd (“Groundhog Day”). No matter what he does, everything excepting his memory resets. “He’s having the day of his life…over and over again”.

Calendar for the movie Groundhog Day
Image credit: http://montygog.deviantart.com/art/Groundhog-Day-267071440

Of course Groundhog Day is all Hollywooded up, but it’s still a great movie which asks the question: how would you spend your day if you lived it again and again with no consequences?

Poster for Groundhog Day with heads
Phil has it in his head that he’ll relive today

In the movie the main character Phil Connors assumes that no consequences means that you can do whatever you like. We see him driving recklessly, stealing money, being violent and eating ‘badly’ (a big no-no for Hollywood types I guess!) – all because he knows that February 3rd won’t come around and that any actions he takes (or causes other people to take) will be wiped away. No consequences.

Of particular note is that memories of other people are also wiped away, and Phil utilises this to manipulate people by memorising what he thinks are the right or correct answers to elicit certain actions from them the next time February 2nd comes around.

In other words, Phil operates with the certainty that tomorrow won’t come. After all, “It didn’t yesterday.”

And for me this is the sticky point. How does Phil know that he’ll get to relive February 2nd all over again with a clean slate? What is going on, why and what the boundaries are, are not fully known. It’s certainly not fully understood.

So it seems to me like a big risk to take. Phil steals money, but if the phenomenon vanishes as mysteriously as it came in the first place, then Phil will be (rightfully) facing a term in jail instead of reliving the day to steal that money again. The deadly outcome of his suicide attempts is morbidly clear.

I touched on the morals of changing the past last week. But is the past actually being revisited here in Groundhog Day, or are the events simply happening again?

There aren’t two versions of Phil so it’s probably not a revisit.

Whereas Phil retains his knowledge every time February 2 comes around, other characters don’t. It seems that for them this is the first time that they’re experiencing this day.

Surely this can’t be true? My wife noticed it as well – if February 2 is having multiple versions, then the other characters in the novel must be experiencing this day for multiple times too…even if they don’t realise it. The question is: why is it that only Phil realises that this phenomena is happening?

On a time travel front, the Groundhog Day producers don’t attempt to provide any explanation or answer any questions at all. At best, once Phil gets the girl they live happily ever after.

Yet again, I can’t help but realise the importance of now. I used to think it lasts only for a fleeting moment – affected by the past and affecting the future. But now I wonder if it’s an infinitely short moment in time stretched out to last eternity.

Live now wisely – we don’t know how many times we’ll get to live it!

Paul

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Review: d4 by Sherrie Cronin

d4 by Sherrie Cronin is an action novel for intellectuals! It has a gripping plot which incorporates a fully thought out phenomenon of seeing into the future, as well as addressing the philosophical question of what to do with that knowledge.

Sherrie Cronin’s “46.Ascending” series consists of 6 novels each of which focusses on a member of the Zeitman family who have a special power. In d4 the main character is Ariel who is able to see the future.

Book cover for d4 by Sherrie Cronin

Admittedly d4 is not strictly time travel, but there’s a knowledge of the future which I suppose in another novel a time traveller might learn. So call it pseudo time travel. Besides I recently read, loved and reviewed z2 where Alex was able to warp time and manipulate the speed of its passage and I wanted to read more from Sherrie!

Brief synopsis

Ariel works for an investment company which specialises in “high frequency trading” – buying and selling stocks and shares and things based on short term fluctuations in the market. She has 3 clients, one of whom is intent on amassing the world’s wealth with help from his own ability to see the short term future. When he finds out that Ariel has a similar ability to see the future he tries to coerce her into assisting him.

Against this backdrop is the knowledge of a long term future where humankind is threatened. How Ariel deals with her clients, and the relationships she makes with them, seemingly affect the likelihood and the outcome of the future of mankind.

Wrting style

Sherrie really hits the spot when it comes to beautiful writing! Characters have depth and background and these attributes come into play in their conversation with each other as well as how they react to certain given situations. Like in z2 they’re introduced early on and the connections between them become evident fairly quickly.

There is also realism in that the line between the good and the bad guys is either fuzzy, or moves completely. I suppose that in the end, motivations and feelings of people define whether they are good or bad.

The main plot line within d4 is clearly defined, and the pace is steady. A lot happens – not necessarily through direct action like in z2 but through movement of knowledge from one character to another. Consequences of holding that information are key in what happens in d4! Let’s call this an intellectual property -action novel!

d4 is set in Ireland, Greenland and Iceland. A map is included at the front of the novel so that we know where some of the towns in these countries are – which highlights the following point: the assumption is that most readers are probably not familiar with these locations, possibly because not many other novels are set here. Sherrie gives us a breath of fresh (and probably very cold) air!

I should add that thankfully accents are described and not spelled out phonetically (which is a pet peeve of mine). Actually there’s a special case with one word, but this is added for a slightly humourous angle!

A special note needs to be made about tension in the novel. You’d think that with several of the characters having knowledge of the future there would be little space for intrigue and mystery. I don’t know how she does it (and I hope it’s not my stupidity!) but Sherrie masterfully maintains suspense throughout the novel. Ariel knows what’s going to happen next – but we don’t!

Several small details help to ‘pad out’ d4 with more elements of realism. For example, Ariel’s ongoing confusion between Fergus and Ronan shows her vulnerability as well as providing a touch of humour.

“d4” – What’s in a name?

Talking of names…

I’m giving this a little section of its own partly in response to an entertaining – but nonsensical – review I read on Goodreads which is so inaccurate it’s almost comical. The reviewer starts off with an insane comment opinion different to my own that the name “d4” comes up out of nowhere.

Interested in knowing what’s behind the name? Me too! Personally, I think the name stands out. Most time travel novels have “time” in the title. It’s getting old and stale. Names like “d4”, “z2” and “46.Ascending” are different and call attention!

The Goodreads reviewer had trouble in understanding where the name “d4” came from. “d4” is the name of Baldur’s organisation. Not difficult to pick up (from page 38 or thereabouts), and hardly scientific stuff – although if you want that, it comes on p 138 where “d4” is explained in glorious mathematical detail (although I must admit that I find it unlikely that Ariel would have followed the path she took to discover this).

Personally, I love the naming of the book (and of z2 which equally has a brilliant basis)!

Links with other novels

Like z2, d4 is a novel which is loosely connected with others in the 46.Ascending series – but only loosely; it can be read independently from the others and still make sense.

Since Ariel is a member of the Zeitman family, each of whom are the main characters in the other novels (x0, y1, z2 and c3), there are clearly come cross references. Having read z2 I was aware of the links back to that novel, but there were also others which I must admit whetted my appetite. For example, Ariels’ brother Zane is able to morph into other shapes, and there’s a comment that one of his friends, Toby, owes him a debt which can’t be repaid.

I’m guessing that’s covered in y1 and I’d love to read it, though I should specifically point out here that the cross-references don’t come over as a cheesy way of begging the reader to rush out and purchase all of the other novels in the series. In fact, you’d probably hardly notice that they’re there at all if you didn’t know about the other novels in the 46.Ascending series.

Thanks for the premory

Now for the real juice of the novel!

Ariel ‘remembers’ the future, or to use her word – she has “premories” of the future. I think it’s a really nice touch to give Ariel’s capability a word, and I’m embarrassed to admit like much like a test rat in some psychological experiment of some ilk, I found that having a word to call it kind of made her experience more understandable to me!

Much like memories, Ariel’s ideas about the future are fuzzy. They can consist of sounds, smells and meanings – and she is also able to assign a level of likelihood of occurrence. Her premories arise mostly through physical contact with an object or a person.

It turns out that Ariel is not the only one in the novel with this ability. But where Ariel can see a few weeks ahead, other characters can see only a few seconds into the future; others a few hundred years.

Mikkel describes Ariel’s range into the future as being in the Goldilocks zone – not too close and not too far. Indeed, Ariel and other characters were described as being like a telescope, binoculars, magnifying glass or a microscope depending on the extent of their view. Very nice! πŸ™‚

Another really nice explanation of the range of views was given by Siarnaq who likened the phenomenon to being tuned in to different frequencies. I couldn’t help wondering if there was a connection between this and Ariel’s name! πŸ˜‰

Just as touch can trigger a premory, it can also trigger a contagion of sorts between those with the ability; each gains a view of what the other can see. When Ariel has prolonged physical contact with another who can see short term, she suffers after-shocks – little flickers of the short term future.

Again, this shows the command that Sherrie wields in her novel by adding in these extra details to make a fully comprehensive phenomenon.

On a personal note, I didn’t like the terms “psychic” or “clairvoyant” to describe Ariel’s ability to see into the future. For me, these words conjure up images of dodgy spiritualism, gypsy caravans, josticks and cheap gaudy bling. What Ariel (and the others) have is much more tangible.

Actually on that note, d4 is a good example of why you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. The book cover shows a girl (presumably Ariel) doing a pose (presumably yoga, because Ariel practises yoga) by a lake. Maybe you can make out a “D” form in the sky, and the legs make a “4”, but it’s a bit ‘soft’ for the solid novel content. It looks like I’m reading a book about relaxing techniques whereas reading d4 is an exciting read!

A philosophical approach to the future

Underneath the main thrust of the story line lies a gentle question – what do we do with knowledge of the future? This is expressed most clearly towards the end of the novel, but prior to that there are several conversations and inner thoughts where this is brought to the fore.

One aspect I enjoyed was a hint of multiple time lines, though perhaps this would more accurately be described as several branches of possible futures. Knowing the future means that an action can be taken to avoid a particular outcome sometimes. In d4 the point is that the final long term outcome may be the same no matter what actions are taken, but in the short term things can be made better for that particular time line.

This is a philosophical point in itself – if we know the future can we take actions to avoid it?

One often meets his destiny on the road he takes to avoid it.
Quote from Kung Fu Panda movie. Image credit: www.buzzle.com

Closing

Like in z2, d4 closes with a section describing the outcome of several actions of several characters, and extrapolating this into the future. The section stands out from others as the writing style differs slightly. It closes and wraps up; it’s to the point – but not rushed.

At first I was a little disappointed with the end which was a bit of an anticlimax given the suspense which had so far been building up. It seemed a bit of an easy way out, but reading further I think this was the only realistic conclusion to that particular thread. And here lies the power of the ending…it keeps going!

I love how the plot keeps moving onwards into the future and doesn’t stop where I think most other novels would have (OK –z2 didn’t either! πŸ˜‰ )

Rating * * * * *

Another 5 stars for another brilliant novel in the 46.Ascending series by Sherrie Cronin!

d4 possesses the wonderful writing style that Sherrie has already shown in z2. It has a steady and gripping plot which incorporates a fully thought out phenomenon of seeing into the future, as well as addressing the philosophical question of what to do with that knowledge.

You can read more about d4 on Sherrie’s d4 blog, and about the 46.Ascending series here.

Read my interview with Sherrie over on Time Travel Nexus where she reveals some amazing insights and behind the scenes information!

Paul

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Disclaimer: Sherrie kindly sent me a free copy of “d4” to read in exchange for honest review. This is it!

Star ratings:

| 5* Excellent! | 4* Good | 3* OK | 2* Not good | 1* Crud |

Should you change the past?

“What would you change in your past” is a common question, but often not much thought is given over to the morals of changing the past. This article explores whether we should change our past at all.

“A change in my past?”

I recently posted this link on the time2timetravel Facebook page. In that video the question is asked: What would you change in your past?

It’s an interesting question. Though I think I probably have a different angle on it – Do I want to change my past? or even, should I change my past?

I have two concerns. The first is fairly obvious (I think); if I change my past then my current no longer exists – a current which for the most part I’m pretty happy with. I had to go through some messy relationships, for example, so that I could become the person I am today who my wife loves. And have my children.

Evolutionary caution

Admittedly this the same argument that pro-evolutionists provide in response to the idea that life as we know it exists in a very small Goldilocks zone: we can live only within a very narrow window of environmental conditions – exactly the right temperature, atmospheric composition, gravity strength, etc..

The reason, they say, is that life evolved to fit into this environment, the same way that the shape of a puddle, for example, fits exactly with the ground on which it lies. Change the shape of the ground, and the shape of the puddle will adapt and change.

In a similar way then, it can be argued that my own evolution in time – how I changed and reacted to events in my history (read “temporal environment”) means that I’ve simply adapted to it and end up ‘placed’ in my present.

I met my wife because she’s the one who was at the same place at the same time that I was. If my history was different, I’d have been at another place at another time and met a different lady and I might have fallen in love with her instead.

My marital status, and with whom, has adapted in the same way as the puddle that’s sitting comfortably on the ground.

Changing my past then, means I’ll evolve into someone else who either won’t be loved by my wife (from now), or even won’t love her. Or simply that I wouldn’t have even met her. So no loss with a changed history as I’ll have some other woman (or let’s be conceited – let some other woman have me).

Even though my no wife may not mind (as the same applies to her temporal environment too) I find this an egocentric point of view, and unacceptable…which brings me onto my second issue – changing my history changes other people’s histories too – and I don’t think I have the right to do that.

Morality or mortality?

The movie “About Time” and a time travel novel I recently reviewed (Buckyball by Fabien Roy) both cover issues where children no longer exist thanks to a historical change. Not just different children, but actually not there. If I’ve removed their presence, isn’t that akin to murder?

The get-out clause is that these children never get to exist so who have I murdered? But…they already have existed (see why why time travel grammar gets tricky?!) so I still maintain that such a change in history would be unethical.

Am I being too strict here? If I change history then people die (or at least, never get to exist). It’s true that the other side of the coin is that other people get to exist who wouldn’t otherwise exist – but I think it’s pretty obvious that creating babies to justify murdering others has a very dodgy moral foundation.

Are we really in control?

Perhaps my issue is made clearer if we put the shoe on the other foot and rephrase the original question. Lets change it from “What would you (or we) change” to “How would you feel if the Government was able to change history?”

Or the military. Or your idiot next door neighbour?

Feel safe? I don’t. It’s a loss of control.

Whilst Buckyball is more to do with reliving history than changing or rewriting it, it does touch on the idea that your present can be taken away if someone else is in control. It’s a worrying thought.

So changing your past? Yeah, you can do that, but then a second later someone else might change theirs and that might affect yours. Better to go last then, I think. Better to wait and let all the chips fall and see where they lie before making any decisions.

Or maybe we should just wait indefinitely…

Of course, the above arguments assume that whoever is in control of the time travel technology is also in control of the changes and the effects of those changes. It’s easy to imagine a version of the present which we’re not happy with, whether it’s instigated by ourselves or by a third party. That’s been the subject of countless Hollywood time travel movies. We’ve been warned.

Personally, I think that generally we should take responsibility for our actions in the past, and leave the past well alone.

Living with the consequences…

But I also acknowledge that it’s true that sometimes we need to deal with the consequences that others have caused and I guess that this is where the grey area makes itself known. If some idiot politician orders an army to raid a town or village then why should the families of those innocent victims have to live with it? Then I think messing about with the past to harmlessly fix other people’s mistakes might be justified.

But that’s the time travel version of a first aid bandage. I like the Alex’s philosophy in Sherrie Cronin’s z2. Alex maintains that from now we have the capability of creating and shaping the future which lies ahead of us – and ahead of others. That makes now really important because it’s effects can ripple forwards in time indefinitely.

…or creating new ones?

I’ll finish with a quote from Churchill who saw history from a futuristic viewpoint:

“History will be kind to me, for I intend to write it”

Or to paraphrase: “I’ll write my present so that my future will be good to me.”

Shouldn’t we all just agree to leave the past alone, and concentrate on creating a new and better future?

What do you think? Are there morals involved when it comes to changing the past?

Paul

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Review: The Whatever Society by Steve Richer

A rushed short story or a drawn out advert for following books by the Steve Richer? The Whatever Society has some nice ideas at the beginning of the book, but it disintegrates pretty rapidly. Well. It was free. ..

This review of The Whatever Society by Steve Richer is a reblog from my original review over at Goodreads.com. Note that my star rating system here on time2timetravel differs from that of Goodreads (the latter is biased towards favourable ratings).

Book cover for The Whatever Society by Steve Richer

I picked up a copy of The Whatever Society in ebook format from Amazon because it was short and it was free. I thought I couldn’t go wrong – perhaps I did, because it turns out that whilst it might be a free lunch, we’re strongly recommended to make a purchase from the desert menu.

Writing style and plot

The beginning of the story starts off well; the pacing is good and it’s engaging. Sadly it disintegrates into a “tell-not-show piece” towards the end where the Steve Richer’s idea of the future is spurted out by an unlikely group with whom the main character finds himself. It comes over as very rushed.

I like the idea of how the future is going to pan out – it’s certainly interesting and gives food for thought, but the way it actually comes about is pretty lame, using specific and timely examples which draw far-fetched conclusions from mundane occurrences.

The solution to the demise of the new future had an interesting and original new angle. However, it was wildly unrealistic – not on a scientific level, but on a character basis – given the main character’s personality, he would never have been able to pull it off.

Finally, the closing sentence suggests that there was a romantic element but this had not been developed earlier in the story so it simply comes over as a cheesy ending.

A short story or a long advert?

“Ending”?

In the version of the e-book I downloaded, there was a huge (about 30%) preview section for another of his novels. Ironic really, because The Whatever Society puts me off reading anything further from Steve Richer rather than developing any further interest in his writing.

Ultimately I can’t help wondering if The Whatever Society by Steve Richer a short story or a long advert to lead the reader into getting hold of another one. Either way I guess it fails – the story comes over as rushed tell-not-show, and it’s put me off reading more from Steve Richer.

Whatever.

Overall…3 stars for blandidty and some good ideas, but it loses anything more positive for the poor delivery towards the end.

Paul

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Star ratings:

| 5* Excellent! | 4* Good | 3* OK | 2* Not good | 1* Crud |

Review: Time Bangers by Ivery Kirk and Luna Teague

Time Bangers (by Luna Teague and Ivery Kirk) is a light-hearted romp into the court of King Henry VIII. It handles time travel well, though it comes well into the second part of the novel.

Time Bangers. One does not simply walk into Tudor.

Time Bangers is not your average time travel novel – it’s an engaging and barmy mix of scifi, historical fiction, erotica and comedy!

Timebangers book cover showing main characters Tawny and Beth

How well these different aspects mix together varies through the novel – the focus changes and attention is given more to one angle than another at times, but ultimately I believe it’s the light-hearted approach which everything hangs on.

The Premise

For those of you who have read more than a couple or so of my reviews, you’ll know that I neither have a burning passion for history or know anything about it. I’ll lay blame partly on my history teacher because (and I paraphrase Tawny here) she made it sound like boring facts and not like real people.

But that’s only part of it. It seems that many of those historical people – real or otherwise – were cretins, though to be fair, maybe these were the ones that my teacher focused on.

So I like the general premise of the story line: to go back in history and get your wicked way with King Henry VIII. It’s effectively taking the mickey out of history (and admittedly probably not the right reason to like a book, but what the hell! πŸ˜‰ )

I mean, it’s just ludicrously brilliant! One of the two main characters, Tawny, is a commercially successful scientist who has conquered time travel and built her own time machine (in a shower) – and then uses it to go back in time and conduct research on sexual ability and prowess! Her friend Beth ends up following close behind and whilst trying to sort out the mess gets into troubles of her own.

It’s wonderfully and totally insane!

Historical accuracy

I’d day that Time Bangers is historically well-researched, but in truth I’ve no idea. Yep – this is a short section which will mention the following: that Beth seems to know history. As well as educating Tawny, if what Beth says is true then she educated me too.

A book of two parts

Like some famous football game or other, this is a book of two halves. The first part is character building – at least for Beth – and then finally we get to the time travel in Part 2 where the trip into history is made and its repercussions wrought.

Part 1

There’s not much to say about Part 1 in time travel terms so I’m only going to skim over it here.

The first chapters really struck a chord with me. Beth is introduced as one of the main characters. She suffers crappy child carers and general parenting difficulties. She’s frustrated because she has a brain and wants to use it. Later we meet Tawny, one of Beth’s friends from university. Tawny is a commercially successful scientist, but very socially awkward.

The writing style is witty and humourous in a subtle way and not slapstick as you might first expect.

I enjoyed Part 1, but there’s not really much else I can think of to say about it…

Part 2

Part 2 is really where the novel starts – not just because this is where time travel kicks in, but because this is where everything else kicks in too. Actually, after reading a few pages into this section I couldn’t help wondering whether Part 1 was overly drawn out; the pace really picks up in Part 2!

Time travel

I was expecting the time travel side of things to be fairly minimal but I was pleasantly surprised – Time Bangers handles time travel well and hasn’t just slipped it in as a convenient way to get modern day characters back into history.

There are continual but gentle reminders to the reader that time travel is responsible for putting Beth and Tawny where and when they are. This is done with links from the past to the present, for example, by observing that Anne Boleyn wears the same necklace in the past as she was last seen painted in (in the present).

We don’t know much about the time travel method itself other than it involves walking through a shower (“…there’s a funny thing about water and the human body”) and that the time machine is not built on wormhole technology.

The trigger for return is inserted in the time traveller’s thumb and forefinger beneath the skin; tapping activates the device and the traveller is returned to the present 5 minutes later than their time of departure.

This has always been a point of interest for me – how do the present and the past co-exist? Is there a relationship between the passage of time in each of these eras? I think the 5 minutes later thing was a device feature more than anything else, and indeed, when Beth expresses her concern in the past about leaving her daughter back in the present, Tawny explains that they’ll be returning 5 minutes later so it’s no big deal and nothing to get worried about. In other words, real time is either not concurrent – or more likely with a time machine, that time is no big deal!

One of the common ‘troubles’ with time travel is how to transport either organic matter or inanimate objects. For example, lab tests might be able to move a pen back into the past but not a mouse in the first instance. Or in the second, how does a time traveler get to keep their clothes when they travel in time?

Time Bangers deals with the latter instance through touch – anything that is in contact with the time traveller, such as clothes or even other people, will also travel in time. Or at least, so it’s initially thought.

This last point provides a bonus time travel sub plot which comes together really nicely towards the end, and also partly explains why a time traveller-touching socks-touching shoes-touching ground-touching other objects, doesn’t seem to mean anything.

I also thought it was a good call that despite being a time travel erotica novel, the authors didn’t take the potential opportunity of ‘non organic time travelling’ as an excuse for Beth and Tawny to be prematurely parted from their clothes.

Every now and then there were a few lines which hinted at much a much deeper understanding of time and time travel that Tawny at first was letting on.

For example, describing the past as being stretchy enough to accommodate some changes to it – a really nice alternative to the usual stuff about the river of time washing away small ripples in the past and historical actions having no long term effect.

Time Bangers isn’t an out and out scifi novel and only lightly touches on the mechanics of time travel – that’s its style. So it’s really extra points earned for leaving no questions open, and indeed, introducing more elements of time travel and loops and problems when such problems weren’t expected.

Erotica

I came down a little harshly in my review of D.L. Orton’s Crossing in Time because of the erotica. Not because of the content itself, but because I thought it took up a lot of the novel and took me away from the brilliant scifi which I had so far been bowled over by.

With Time Bangers the situation is almost reversed. There was a lot less erotica than I was expecting, and this kind of threw me in terms of plot angle because I thought that ultimately this was the main reason to go back in time. If this is the case, I was expecting more (numerous) steamy encounters.

But there weren’t that many, which kind of made the few that were present seem out of place, or at least, too graphic.

Then again. The light-hearted nature of Time Bangers means that just about anything goes – including erotica. And on that basis I think that grants erotica its place in the novel.

Criticism

To be wholly honest, my main negative comment about Time Bangers doesn’t really fit within the light-hearted comedy context of the novel. It would be like complaining that Superman shouldn’t be able to fly because he isn’t aerodynamic. But for the sake of completeness, here it is in two swift paragraphs so you can fly right on past it. Aerodynamically, if you wish.

It’s Tawny. Whilst Beth is well developed, and historical characters seem to be believable, Tawny is simply too unrealistic.

Like many scientists she’s socially awkward, but there are inconsistencies within her character:

She can’t say hello to a small group of people but she can get herself laid by saying (and doing) the right things. As a scientist she has time to kill whilst her computer model runs (there’s always stuff for a scientist to do in these moments) and she’s embarrassed about her work (again, unlikely for a scientist – especially one who’s made millions billions. Yes, she’s socially awkward (so she sometimes thinks out social situations in code Note: a dollar sign as used in her computer code style thinking is a special symbol on the unix command line.) but I don’t think that it can fully account for her self contradictory behaviour.

But I repeat (or at least, encourage you to briefly revisit a few seconds’ reading time ago) – I’m aware that this nerdy scientist’s eye view of Tawny shouldn’t really hold much weight for this novel.

Ending

I was relieved that Time Bangers avoids the predictable happily ever after bit and instead goes for the clear opening for the sequel (“The Golden Whored”).

I must admit that I found the last chapter overtly long with an incredible amount of inane chatter. It just went on too long for print, though I could see this part working well in a movie where the background music gets louder and the camera pulls away from the conversation, leaving Beth and Tawny to continue their mindless gassing and giggling in privacy. Cue the credits.

Perhaps it was trying to make up for their (weird) strained friendship a few pages earlier, but it was tedious and frustrating to read – the latter because it’s at the end of the novel and I felt compelled to finish it.

Rating * * * *

Time Bangers is an easy going and light-hearted novel with time travel and earns 4 stars on a time travel blog.

I’ve ‘docked’ a star for Part 1 – only because there’s no time travel in that lengthy section – but I did enjoy that part so will give the full 5 stars over on the more general Amazon and Goodreads sites.

Paul

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Disclaimer: I received a free copy of “Time Bangers” to read and provide an honest review. This is it!

Star ratings:

| 5* Excellent! | 4* Good | 3* OK | 2* Not good | 1* Crud |

Site announcement: Thank you for your patience!

You’ve probably noticed that things have been quiet on the time2timetravel front recently. This hiatus will soon be over!

Hi fellow time travel fans!

You’ve probably noticed that things have been quiet on the time2timetravel front recently. This hiatus will soon be over!

My time’s been spent on fixing some back-end site issues, but I think all is now solved – along with a new site layout which I hope will keep those of of you on mobile devices even happier!

I really appreciate your patience over the past days, especially given some odd site behaviour but hopefully now everything is back on track (though that said…if you notice anything strange please let me know!)

So now I can finally get back to writing and posting! πŸ™‚

Next up will be a review of Time Bangers (by Luna Teague and Ivery Kirk) which was a very different – but welcome! – read from usual! And I’m about half way through my current read, d4 – another instalment from Sherrie Cronin’s “46.Ascending” series which includes the excellent z2. So that’ll be the following book review!

In between reading and reviewing, I’ve got some more ideas on time travel (or why or even if we should time travel) which I’m planning on writing up and posting.

So stay tuned – exciting stuff is on its way! πŸ™‚

Paul


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A tale of two Dutch cities and fractal time

Dutch cities Zwolle and Deventer are similar in appearance but only because being removed from an age dims the fine detail. Time isn’t fractal – the pattern isn’t visible and identical at all scales.

Take two Dutch cities…

The Dutch cities of Zwolle and Deventer are fairly similar in appearance, having more or less the same kind of layout with the same kind of buildings and the same kind of houses. At least, they seem to be pretty much the same from this moment in time, and this is arguably down to their similar age and in part down to their shared history.

Dutch cities 1: Deventer
Map of Deventer by Willem and Joan Blaeu, 1652

(Image credit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deventer#History)

Dutch cities 2: Zwolle
Map of Zwolle by Joan Blaeu in Blaeu’s “Toonneel der Steden”, 1652

(Image credit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zwolle#History)

A lesson from history?

But when all is said and done, who gives a monkey’s about their history? Is it fair to say that history has had it’s time and that now it belongs in the past? Surely the present is what’s important, it’s now. Now is when we see the detail. Now is when we shape the future. Right?

Time heals. Or smears, or covers subtle differences. Back in those historical days, those cities are likely to have been perceived as very different from each other. If you lived there back in the 9th century you’d have probably been able to tell the differences apart far more easily.

But get closer – really get into those Dutch cities, walk the streets and meet the people, the differences – internal and external – become clearer; you can probably tell by the way someone speaks, dresses or behaves which city they come from, for example, or even from which side of it.

The important differences I see from the viewpoint of today are practical – which Dutch city can I drive to and find a parking place most easily? And how much is the town council going to charge me to park there?

Using the knowledge that Zwolle has a history of being tight with money (See the “Blauwefingers” section on Wikipedia), for example, would be insanely prejudiced. But on the other hand, knowing that Deventer takes pride in its history to the extent that it’s often used as a filming location (reference Wikipedia) might make it a place well worth a visit.

Ultimately the fact remains that history is, in some ways and to varying degrees of relevance, important.

A comparison with age

When I was 17 I had a part time job in a petrol station. It was easy for me to tell who was over or under 16 and to whom to serve cigarettes. My older colleagues found it difficult – as too so would I now, being much older.

Middle age

When we were young children, old people pretty much looked the same. You know, where ‘old’ is above 5 years old. As we got older that threshold increased. Anyone above their teens, where boys had stubbles and girls had breasts, were ‘old’. Then there were grown up adults who had jobs who were ‘old’, and so on till pension age and beyond.

Then before we knew it, an additional threshold had formed – one where younger people look and behave the same. All babies “look like Winston Churchill”. All toddlers “scream and wet themselves”. All teenagers (including 15 and 16 year olds trying to buy cigarettes) “find everything unfair, hate their parents” – and so on.

Within our own age group there’s more distinction. I’m growing up. A young adult. Middle aged. Nearing retirement. There’s more resolution from the moment of now – which differs from the case of the two Dutch cities where “now” needs to be in the past.

Being removed from an age dims the fine detail; being in it increases that resolution. Time isn’t fractal – the pattern isn’t visible and identical at all scales.

Do differences matter?

This is the paradox – that whereas understanding history and seeing the similarities and differences between cities is interesting, the lack of resolution between (or within) age groups is disturbing.

I overheard a sad conversation on the train a few mornings ago. Now admittedly my Dutch may not be completely up to par but this is what I (think I ) overheard. A couple were talking about their grandmothers. Apparently one had died at 60-something whereas another had just celebrated her 94th birthday. In true Dutch style of directness this difference was summed up as “Ja, dat kan.” (“Yes, this can happen.”).

The underlying but unspoken thought was that after a certain age people are old and can be expected to pop their clogs at any given moment. Yes. It can happen.

In relative terms the difference between a 60 year old and a 94 year old is moot; but in absolute terms we’re talking here of 34 years! Can we really be so quick to dismiss 34 years of life? That’s about the age of the lady who said this (as far as I can tell…)

Both the young and the old (quantify those adjectives for yourself! πŸ˜‰ ) seem to agree that those differences don’t matter – indeed, the young and the old seem to share the same fascination with age. I’m four and a half!. (Said with pride). “I’m eighty eight and still going”! (Proudly). Maybe it’s to do with position on the Gaussian hill of age distribution. I dare you to ask the 39 year old how old she is. (I suspect a pursed lip and “…under forty”.)

At the same time, being young or old means being in the age groups where there is most temporal blurring for other age groups!

Conclusion

My feeling is this: Now is important, even when it was in the past. Just as now shapes tomorrow, the past shaped today – and today’s (usually) our starting point!

After all – wouldn’t you want your actions today to have some meaning for the future? I’m sure the historical folk of the Dutch cities of Deventer and Zwolle would feel / have felt the same way!

Paul

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