The Space Between Thought – William M. Dean

The Space Between Thought

“A novel of love, life, death, tea and time travel.”

I should warn you…

Whist I was reading The Space Between Thought by William M. Dean I was bombarded with thoughts which needed to be noted. A lot of them. Actually, probably too many of them, but in my defense it’s an extremely thought provoking novel! This is going to be a long post!

"The Space Between Thought" by William M. Dean book covers
“The Space Between Thought” (William M. Dean) book covers

(If you’d like the standard review then here’s what you need to know: it’s excellent, I thoroughly recommend it => 5 stars. Buy it!)

The Thoughts in the Spaces

Every now and then I get a book that if I lend it to someone I’m not too bothered if I’ll never get it back. Indeed, some books I’d prefer not to have returned! Other books I don’t want to take the chance of not getting them back. This is one those books – though at the same time, The Space Between Thought deserves to be read by as many people as possible! (And I’m not even on commission!)

What’s in a Title?

Self circular title
Amazing Hands – M. C. Escher

The Space Between Thought – surely a book title can’t be any more vague or nebulous than this?! We’re not to judge a book by its cover (but we do) and I think the same can be said about their titles too.

My judgement of it actually came well into the novel when I found out that this is the title of a book that one of the characters wrote. I think there may well be a hint of ontology here!

Story line

It’s simple – main character Simon Sykes loses his wife, Celeste, and tries to go back in time to save her.

But this is no time travel romance. Love’s main role is one of (initial) motivation for time travel.

Love is one of the most noble reasons to do anything, especially for something as risky as time travel. Indeed, Simon has a smoldering desperation which in some ways reminds me of Richard Collier in Somewhere in Time.

But the motivation for time travel morphs from love into a self-induced persistence and becomes at times quite introspective. I suspect that this due to the nature of the time travel methodology itself.

Characters

Characters can make or break a story line. The children’s Mr Men series by Roger Hargreaves is a supreme example – dull story lines (for adults), but the characters are so mind bendingly weird that we can’t help but agree to read these books to our children when they ask!

Likewise, the characters in The Space Between Thought add colour to a relatively simple plot line. They are very different from each other so it’s all the more amazing that their individual lives mesh together well in this novel.

Simon

Simon is the main character, and I hate him. (I mean this on a personal level, not in the sense of how he’s been written).

He’s good looking, rich and successful. I’m not jealous – he’s a cheat and a liar; a womanizer who sleeps around. Is there anything deep in him? Is he religious? “In his own way”. Apparently, if I met him, I’d probably like him – but I don’t see how.

What makes him interesting is that he’s completely different from his assistant, Paula, who often calls him out on his behaviour. The conversations they have not only reveal more of their characters, but also help to explain why Simon carries out certain actions which would otherwise seem strange.

Celeste

Celeste doesn’t feature much in the novel, but we do get to see more than one side of her; one as Simon’s wife before she passed away, and another side of her when she’s not married to him.

Given that her husband is a cheating cretin, our hearts naturally go out to Celeste. This is made all the easier because she very much lives in the present and has a zest for life. She lives for the moment, flying, for example, to San Francisco on whim, being a creative artist and having a circle of wacky friends.

In many ways Celeste and Simon reminded me of the sitcom characters Dharma and Greg; a coupling between a flaky girl and an anal-retentive rich kid (who happen to live in San Francisco!). I’d dare to say that despite Hollywood polishing, Dharma and Greg and have much more healthy relationship than Simon and Celeste!

Kat

Dharma and Greg's "cat"
Dharma, Greg and “Cat”

Dharma and Greg have a friend called Cat. Cat is an idiot because he thinks he’s a cat.

In The Space Between Thought Celeste has a friend called Kat (with a “K”) – who is an interesting chap and who has mind bending thoughts of black holes, time and multi-dimensions.

Admittedly, Kat says things which are juicy in sci fi novels (“I can see in time forwards, backwards and sideways”) but in real life must be hugely annoying to listen to!

Indeed, Simon reacts as you’d expect, even though he inflicts Kat upon himself; he prefers to endure “nonsensical conversations” instead of suffering awkward silences. I must confess that I took some pleasure in having Simon getting frustrated to the bone with Kat! (I suppose like Greg and Cat.)

Kat reminded me of a chap at uni. we called Mad Ian. His arguments for Christianity seemed self-circular and annoying to listen to, but yet they were solid and self-consistent arguments (which as it happened, I later took to). Same here with Kat. From his perspective it all makes sense if you’re in the circle.

I think it would be really interesting to meet Kat! (After all, he’s the guy who wrote “The Space Between Thought”! 😉 )

Writing Style

William M. Dean (also!) writes brilliantly – smooth, leading and with a variety of characters covering a multitude of subjects. A business man, a flaky girl, the loss of a loved one, how it feels to be involved in a crime. A bloodcurdling description of a crash. Talking lawyers. The list goes on.

What stands out to me though is how William M. Dean is able to give his characters depth and originality. For example, Celeste’s vivid imagination and artistic flair are shown by giving examples of her work. An ex-colleague comes up with this line:

“You may peel an onion all the way to the core, but you will never find the seed and may never realize that the onion is the seed.”

And of course to Kat, William endows a truly awesome concept of time and dimensions!

Time Travel Component

The need for time travel comes about half way through the novel. Officially, Simon’s motivation for time travel is his love for Celeste, but I wasn’t convinced. Still, that’s his problem, but the late appearance of time travel tells us two things.

First, this is not a purely time travel book. We already know this; “time travel” is the last adjective used to describe the novel in its tagline. Secondly – and this is kudos to the writing – there’s a realistic timely process involved in trying to get it cracked where Simon’s attempts are interrupted by real life events.

Offline time

Our first encounter with time is when Simon experiences it slowing down. This is the complete opposite experience of time seen in W. Lawrence’s Syncing Forward where time is experienced as passing very quickly. Simon’s experience is more like X-Men’s Quicksilver.

Quicksilver in the X-Men
Quicksilver in the X-Men (image credit: Geektyrant.com).

The phenomenon is first described as time being offline, and later, when time returns to it’s normal speed, Simon is “thrust back into the time stream” – suggesting that the event is Simon’s removal from the time stream in the first place.

Effectively, the world is at a near stand still where Simon is able to roam through it at ‘normal’ speed.

I love the description of how his interaction with the world is limited when time is at a standstill, or at least, heavily slowed down. If you touch an object it moves, so it has a velocity and therefore a relationship with time (speed divided by time). So it makes sense where you can’t divide by zero (or infinity) there can’t be speed, hence no movement.

The lack of movement is also explained by an object’s inertia in still time.

The above considerations mean that textures feel different; hair feels like bristles, skin feels like plastic, for example. It’s been really well thought out – a much more scientifically accurate and more realistic process than X-Men’s Quicksilver!

The downside of the phenomenon is that Simon has “Access to an instant without the power to alter it”. This is an interesting change from the not-being-able-to change-history-as-it’s-already-happened thing. This time there’s a more physical limitation.

The second time that time slowed, something else hit me. Simon could move within the world as he seemed to be independent of this phenomenon. And – although this is not specifically expressed – I assume he’s wearing clothes, and these must be moving normally so that he can move, for example, by bending his leg. However, his digital watch behaves differently by displaying the time of the world in its slowed state.

The question is then how can it remain in contact with Simon and therefore be separate from the time slowing phenomenon (like his clothes) but still be connected with the ‘true’ passage of time of the world? This apparent paradox shows that attachment or some other physical connection is not the reason why these objects function should outside time.

The River of Time

Author William M. Dean gradually builds the theory of time which begins with the river of time. Here, shortcuts like canals across meanders can bring us into the future (this is time dilation). Standing on the shore means that we’re out of the time system so nothing can be affected (as in Simon’s case).

Here’s the thing. Paradoxes occur when we talk about time because we’re talking about a single dimension in a multi-dimensional universe. A river is effectively a line – a single dimension. The solution then is to incorporate more lines to increase dimensionality. Multiple time streams. And to account for all possibilities (such as in the grandfather paradox) we can jump between them. (Though would the twin paradox kick in here?)

Given hydrodynamics, I can understand bifurcation in a river. And I like the term “time stream” as opposed to the more traditionally used “time line”.

But I’m not sure where the extra ‘water’ would come from with a separate time stream. I assume the ‘water’ is the mass and energy in this universe, meaning that the official ‘answer’ is that quantum possibility makes it feasible.

Given there are synchronous multiple streams it makes sense that everything happens at once – it’s just that we perceive it in series. Hence the time model here accounts for eternalism too!

William further builds on eternalism with possibilities

Now is the memory of everything up to now; the past doesn’t exist. And there’s a finite possibility that molecules and energy could combine by chance to form an exact moment. And if that moment is not the present, we have time travel. Or the memory of time travel. What an idea!

I can’t help wondering whether in this case we’re creeping into the argument of original self or a copy of a self with the same memory. The discussion rages on with the teleporters in Star Trek…

Time Travel Methodology

The time travel methodology is effectively mental, but it’s grounded in the theory above. That said, and to quote Kat, “…even a chimp can wind a music box without knowing the mechanics.”

This isn’t a cop out clause by the author to shy away from giving any details in the time travel. Far from it!

Tea (special brew!) helps its drinker to find the right mental state in terms of seeing the multiple streams and possibilities. I don’t say this just because I was raised in England (note I read in the excerpt at the back of the book that William is raising his kids to be prepared for tea with the queen of England! 🙂 )

Limitations of time travel

Tea can solve a lot of problems, but in the realms of William M. Dean’s time travel there’s a severe limitation; there’s a hard limit in how far back in time one can travel. Interestingly this is defined by pre-perception meaning that some travelers can go back further in time than others (a little similar to X-Men: Days of Future Past).

However, mathematics is still applicable within this limitation – when one hour passes in the present then the limit also moves forwards by an hour in the past. This means that there’s effectively a time limit imposed if you want to get back to a specific time in the past.

Similar as in the Inception movie with Leonardo De Caprio, I wondered if time travel could be done in layers too; go back in time to the limit, and then go back again by the same amount of time. Admittedly this would only work if the limit is relative and not absolute. (Think of the speed of light – we can’t accelerate to it, then accelerate again with a similar difference in speed.)

Additionally, objects have more time inertia the further back in time one goes. This means that there’s more resistance to movement, it’s harder to breathe, etc.. This shouldn’t be an issue in eternalism (as Simon noticed) but as Kat noted, Simon’s a novice!

Extras

The Space Between Thought is packed full of ideas! (Actually I’m coming to realise that it’s difficult to separate stand alone ideas and extras because they’ve been carefully woven into the plot and the time travel theory of the novel.)

That said, one I particularly liked is the explanation of how some events in history don’t affect the future. This is often put down to time’s inertia, or the dissipation of ripples / turbulence in the river of time.

Now I foolishly can’t read my own notes, but I’ve written something about a resonant(?) effect so killing a mosquito (note – not a butterfly!) may have a huge significant effect, whereas a bus load of school kids crashing may mean nothing. I need to go back and reread it – but I can’t find it! Argh!

Closing Thoughts

One might argue that in reading The Space Between Thought that you’ll be bombarded with too many thoughts for any space to be had! This argument is more cheesy than an apron of a cheese maker’s daughter from Gouda, but like the cheese in question, the point has been made.

Galaxy Star Book Rating

This is my first try at a newly defined Galaxy Star book rating. Here it is for William M. Dean’s The Space Between Thought:

Time travel content
Time travel component
Science content
Humour content
Writing style / quality
Plot line

Overall rating * * * * *

(Will I recommend this?)

Obviously!

Paul

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