Time Waves and a Sound of Thunder

The movie of Ray Bradbury’s “The Sound of Thunder” uses time waves or ripples to perpetuate changes from the past into the present. But is it accurate? Should we wave goodbye to them?

People often ask whether we’re subject to changes in time that someone else has initiated but where we’re none the wiser. The idea of time ripples which propagate changes from the past into the future is one attempt which attempts to dispel this idea because when those ripples reach the present we notice the change.

I recently watched “The Sound of Thunder” – the movie version of Ray Bradbury’s short story of the same name. The long and short of it is that someone steps on and kills a butterfly in prehistoric times and comes back to the present to find that it’s been dramatically altered.

Sound of Thunder movie (2005)

An idea is presented in the movie where a change in the past causes ripples in time into the future – these are readjustments to climate, nature, evolution etc. and which of course cause a few problems for our beloved main characters.

Time behaving as a fluid, whether it be as the famous River of Time, or something more like a vast lake isn’t a new idea, but I thought that the idea of ramifications extending from past to present not as an instantaneous change but as a time varying progression to be an interesting one!

In the movie there isn’t just one time ripple, but a series of ripples. Each ripple lasts a few moments, and where in true Hollywood style we see a wall of blurry skyline hurtling (through space) towards the camera and bringing with it various changes. There’s a pause, and then the next ripple hits.

Of course in the movie, the final ripple is the one which will knock out the humans and is the clinch point of the movie – the nail-biter and the source of tension.

An interesting idea…but there’s a flaw.

Wave dispersion

Here’s the thing about the ripples. The first is fairly obvious and I’ve already mentioned it: the ripples are seen to move over space and not time. We see the wave moving (i.e. it has a speed – distance divided by time) so it’s moving within time, and not across it. But I’ll give over to this and put it down to Hollywood dumbing down and dramatics.

For me the main issue is the wave dispersion principle. Stand on the shore of a river and listen to the waves lapping the shore after a boat passes. At first the waves are large and slow, and as time goes on the waves become smaller, but quicker. The wave dispersion principle: that waves with smaller wavelengths and wave heights travel slower than larger waves.

Exactly the opposite happens with the time waves in this movie which get bigger and further apart…

Water waves and time waves

Is it fair to assume a direct similarity between time waves and water waves?

Time behaving as a river or some other mass collection of some sort of fluid is only a model or souped up ( ๐Ÿ˜‰ ) analogy. It may seem to hold true in some areas more than in others (as is the case with many models) – but it does afford us the chance to explore some “what if” scenarios.

Peaks and troughs

Waves are most noticeable by their peaks – a fact given over even to the measurement of waves – the “significant wave height” for example, which is defined as the mean wave height of the highest third of the waves. We use the highest third because the human eye is predisposed to preferentially see these – just as it’s easier to see the peak of a wave than its trough. A fact attested to by the fact that we see the peaks of the time waves in the movie, and nothing else.

(Actually, there are energetic arguments too; that small changes in increasing wave height give large amount of additional energy – but the above point still holds!)

Time waves

The time wave, if really a wave, would consist of a peak (as seen in the movie) and a trough (which isn’t seen in the movie).

This got me thinking about another possible scenarios which could have played through – that readjustment might also happen in the troughs.

What would this mean?

Different parts of a wave move its medium in different directions. The peak moves forwards (e.g. a surfer on or just in front of the peak is pushed forwards by the water underneath his board). With the trough the reverse is true – there is movement backwards.

So in other words, if a temporal readjustment were to happen in the troughs, we’d regress into…actually, I don’t know what! (And given wave asymmetry, it’s also likely that we’d spend a longer period of time in readjustment in the trough…especially given the Hollywood induced longer wavelength!)

Wave orbital motion

Additionally, if we look more closely at the motion under a wave, fluid dynamics dictates that there is no net movement (aside from a little “Stoke’s Drift”); the forward motion at the peak is countered by the reverse motion in the trough. Actually there’s also equal and opposing vertical motion on the leading and trailing sides of the wave too.

time wave orbital motion
Image credit: http://wavestides.weebly.com/wave-motion.html

This makes sense – throw a pebble into a pond and the waves emanate from the epicenter – but all the water doesn’t move away from the location where the pebble landed; there’s no gaping hole left in the middle of the pond. (Although if you drop a meteorite in the middle of the Jurassic Period wiping out the dinosaurs, then certainly a crater is left…! ๐Ÿ˜‰ )

time ripple
The idea of time ripples probably doesn’t work…

So no net motion means no net change – no readjustment. Time ripples used as a chronic temporal readjustment can’t work…


The idea then, that we’re made aware of changes in the past through some sort of chronic time ripple doesn’t seem to hold much weight. Or is there just nothing? No waves, ‘just’ the creation of a new time line? Or to extend the analogy, the creation of a new pond?

Who’s to know? This is always been the argument.

The time ripple idea often seems to assume a rapid change, but by the arguments given above it is also likely that we might be in a prolonged readjustment period. One which happens so slowly that it’s imperceptible. Maybe it happens so slowly that it actually happens in real time – in other words – we create our own future.

Now how awesome is that!


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The worst day of my life. Again please!

It’s probably one of the most commonly asked questions in time travel – to what time and place would you like to travel?

It’s probably one of the most commonly asked questions in time travel – to what time and place would you like to travel?

I always thought I’d like to travel to the future. Things have already happened in the past, and I think (I’m still open to the idea) that the past cannot be changed. The dogs are sleeping – let them lie. So let’s get over whatever happened (or didn’t happen) and move on. Let’s take a peek at the future instead and see what’s in store! Surely that’s more exciting!

But then the question was asked again over on the Goodreads time travel group, but this time posed with a slight difference; the trip is limited to travelling to the past – but you can travel there 3 times.

Now that puts a different spin on things! Although I’ve already posted my answer on the forum, I wanted to (re)post it here because maybe it might give you a little insight into who I am.

So here it is:

When I’d like to go 3 times…and why

I’d relive the worst day of my life 3 times over – the day when my youngest daughter fell off a climbing frame, hit her stomach on the way down and stopped breathing.

Time both froze and zoomed by all too quickly.

My worst day
My worst day

I was holding her, and watching all of her 3 years of life rush before my eyes as her little body went stiff and arched backwards, eyes rolling upwards and going white.

My smart phone took too long to unfreeze, for me to find the phone symbol on my smart phone, to key in 999 and get connected, and to answer the preliminary questions before an ambulance was dispatched. Time crawled.

At the same time, time was passing all too quickly – every second she wasn’t breathing was a second’s worth of oxygen that her brain wasn’t getting. A second closer to… I didn’t want to think about it, but I was.

Thank God she miraculously started breathing again. (Apparently children “often” – the ambulance man told me – stop breathing as a panic reflex to trauma.) Onlookers said she drew breath again quickly, but for me it was an eternity. And thank God she came through fine and healthy.

Could I have done anything differently? Avoided the accident, helped her more and more quickly? What did I learn during this ordeal that should it happen again I can help her more effectively?

3 more trips back to those terrible moments would help. They’d get my hands shaking again as they did the first time around. My throat will go dry again as I panic, and my heart will beat like the clappers leaving me in near paralysis as I hyperventilate. An ironic p*ss take when my little girl is taking in no air.

But I’ll learn, and I’ll do better. I’ll learn.

I’ll learn.

Maybe I can’t change what’s already happened in the past, but I’ll be able to change the future.


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Church Bells – a link with history?

Can we accept that church bells chiming โ€œnowโ€ aren’t for โ€˜justโ€™ 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 ๐Ÿ™

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 ๐Ÿ™

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 ๐Ÿ™

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?


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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?


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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! ๐Ÿ˜‰ ) 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!


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!


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Review: Return to Sender by Fred H. Holmes

Return to Sender by Fred H. Holmes is a time travel novel with a solid method of time travel and a plot which is firmly rooted in historical accuracy. Carleton goes back in time to change key moments in the American Civil War to set America back on track. But there are problems…

Return to Sender by Fred H. Holmes

I recently read an interesting discussion on the Goodreads time travel forum about the Do’s and Don’t’s of time travel novels. There seemed to be two overriding concerns: (well researched) historical accuracy and an interesting time travel component (i.e. the method of time travel, time loops, paradoxes etc.).

Return to Sender by Fred H. Holmes has the lot! ๐Ÿ™‚

Book cover for Return to Sender by Fred H. Holmes

Brief synopsis

Carleton Venable is recruited by Rumfeld Dixon of Dyna-Tyme Genetics to go back to the American Civil War and carry out two tasks to change the course of history; to lose Special Order 191, and to save Stonewall Jackson. As you’d expect, getting thrust into a civil war is clearly not without danger, but returning to the present sees unexpected events unfold with unforeseen hazards.

General thoughts

The first paragraph of Return to Sender mentions RNA. Whereas most people have heard of DNA (and so come across it in sci-fi) RNA (RiboNucleic Acid) is often overlooked despite it being involved in a multitude of important biological processes. I’m no biologist, but when I read the first paragraph I realised that Fred has done his ground-work.

And quite literally that’s a good start!

I’d describe Return to Sender as a novel with three parts – time travel, historical detail and character interaction. The first and second components are strong and mighty elements…though I should say upfront that I didn’t understand the history; but that’s my failing.

Time travel

Time travel is introduced right in the first chapter. How it works, how it’s achieved and the experimentation carried out to test it are described in delicate but complete and logical layers which build upon previously introduced foundations, culminating in a first class method of time travel.

Junk DNA contains both temporal and spatial mapping information which can be reprogrammed to initiate time travel. Reprogramming is done so via injection of a fluid which is able to completely permeate the host body within 20 seconds. There is a question of how all of the DNA within the body is reprogrammed simultaneously to prevent different parts of the body zooming off in time at different moments but I assume that this is take care of in the intricate cell programming.

No machines, mechanics, trinketry or black box stuff; just pure biology. Brilliant!

To return to the present the time traveler undergoes the same procedure, although with no medical staff to administer the reprogram fluid, capsules containing the compound are inserted into the body. As these capsules are made from bone tissue they incorporate the DNA of the bearer so are able to travel in time. I’d guess that this would effectively make them non-transferable as they are configured to individual host bodies but it turns out that this is not the case, I guess because the DNA is being reprogrammed it can be made to ‘look like’ the new bearer.

A really neat thing about how this method of time travel works is that time travel occurs in ‘real time’, that is to say, when Carleton goes back in history for 1 day, 1 day will have passed in the present. I like this idea because it accounts for the body ageing at a consistent rate…time travellers will display an age in their ‘own’ time commensurate with the duration of their life experience. Increased wisdom and experience comes with age! ๐Ÿ˜‰

It also provides a nice way for those remaining in the present to ‘see’ whether changes in the past were having any effect.

Actually this is an important point. When Carleton comes back to a changed present he remembers the original history (and present) whereas those around him don’t because they’ve experienced a different version of history. Carleton’s memories remain intact; I don’t know how memory is ‘stored’ in the brain, but it’s certainly at the cellular level which is consistent with the method of time travel.

In this sense I don’t know how the present is played out in real time when history changes. The usual explanation is a divergence of a (or multiple) time line(s), but here the case is different because of the real time element. Then again, I don’t like the time line model (more specifically the creation of multiple time lines) so having something to think about on the back burner makes for some interesting reading!

The plot revolves around making changes in the past and seeing their effects in the future. It’s explicitly stated that some changes are small enough that they don’t affect the future at all. This reminds me of the river of time as presented in The Anubis Gates (Tim Powers). It’s only when a number of small changes accumulate that things can go chaotic and we get the well-known butterfly effect.

I think the time travel paradox is clear – a less violent version of the grandfather paradox. Present day is seen to be bad enough that the past needs to be changed (parallel: grandson goes back in time). History is changed (grandfather is killed) thus leading to a new future (no more grandson in present). The need to alter history no longer exists so no there’s no requirement to back to the past (grandson can’t / doesn’t go back as he doesn’t exist), so there’s no time travel…which means that history wasn’t changed for a better future (grandfather wasn’t killed).

Historical aspect

Return to Sender is heavy on the history.

Carleton has 2 missions to complete back in the time of the American Civil War, namely to lose a letter containing “Special Order 191” and to save Stonewall Jackson. The latter mission had a nice unexpected approach (though with a hint of embarrassment I must admit that I thought at first that Stonewall Jackson was a place and not a person, but yeah. That’s his photo on the front cover of the book, and I now know that he died 152 years and 9 days ago…)

OK, so clearly I’m not a history buff and I admit that understanding how and why intricate changes in the American civil war would affect present day America is well beyond me. That aside I did at first question why the CEO of Dyna-Tyme Genetics felt he was able or qualified to make decisions about the course of present day America, but this became clear towards the end of the novel. Besides, if you think something needs changing and you are able to change it…why not?

I have the feeling that I missed a lot and this aspect of the novel was wasted on me; the novel contains a map and Fred mentioned to me that it is important to the plot…which again I must admit was completely lost on me. It is more than likely I looked at the map in the same way that my ageing and stubborn mother-in-law clutches a mouse in her hand and stares gormlessly at the computer monitor and wonders what it’s all about.

In this sense I’m sad. Not because my mother-in-law is lost in an ethereal cyber space but because I’m missing out. A phenomenal amount of research has gone into not only setting the historical scene, but also in thinking about possible outcomes of alterable events. Whilst I can’t vouch for historical accuracy I can however tell you that the phases of the moon as described in the text tally with online resources. Yes, I checked. (Just as I had to check who Stonewall Jackson was… ๐Ÿ˜‰ )

Character interaction

The underlying plot and the characters within it are essentially the glue which binds the novel together. A book about just time travel is either a (wishful) reference book, and likewise, so too is a book about history. It’s what people do with time travel (and how and why) and what they do once they’re in a new temporal setting that make a story.

Return to Sender has a number of minor characters and sub-plots which help to fill out an otherwise fairly simple mission. I say “simple” because the time travel method for the most part takes care of the when and where, so there’s little else for Carleton to do unless he’s been tasked with some additional activities and gets to interact with local folk.

The strength of this novel lies in the time travel and history, so these areas tend to overshadow the plot’s twists and character interactions. For example, as a parent I found Bertha’s behaviour difficult to buy into; perhaps more description into her thought processes may have helped me. Likewise, I was surprised at Dyna-Tyme Genetics’ limited medical capabilities towards the end of the novel when they were able to achieve so much at the beginning. Like with Bertha I’m sure that a little more description over this aspect will have nullified my observation.

These are minor observations though, and generally speaking the writing style is strong enough to carry it through.

Writing style

A few final thoughts about the writing style.

The writing is fast paced and weaves between the areas of time travel, history and moving the plot forwards. For example, Carleton requires training so that he not only blends in with the locals of the time but also in cultural and military training so that he has a chance of survival in the midst of a war.

Whereas the training / aclimatisation in Finney’s Time and Again was a stagnant and festering quagmire of viscous lethargic non-eventful mind numbingly sluggish words on a page (I hope that gets the point across…) Fred H. Holmes takes on a different approach in Return to Sender. By describing the strategy of winning the war Fred covers the historical aspect (what had happened previously), the time travel element (what the hoped outcome will be) and the character interaction (Carleton and his trainers). It’s really well done and moves the plot forwards nicely.

Whilst I’m throwing compliments around I’m also going to give a thumbs up to a final section towards the end of the novel which describes a history by using newspaper cuttings. Although I found it quite long, it was a refreshing alternative to the more traditional dry epilogue-style narrative.

Rating * * * *

I’m rating this 4 stars – ‘losing’ a star only due to my own lack of historical knowledge which meant that I didn’t glean as much from this novel as most others would.

Return to Sender: A time travel novel with a solid method of time travel and a plot which is firmly rooted in historical accuracy.

Return to Sender by Fred H. Holmes is published by Kamel Press, LLC and is available from Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.


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Disclaimer: A copy of “Return to Sender” was sent to me free of charge so that I could read and write my honest thoughts and opinions. These are they!

Star ratings:

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

Tea with a dinosaur

Perhaps we don’t understand or know about history as much as we think we do!

Perhaps we don’t understand or know about history – or at least dinosaurs – as much as we think we do! ๐Ÿ™‚

More tea (with a dinosaur)?


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A decision back in time

Do we have a free will when we make a decision with time travel? Is the past fixed, and the future a set fate or destiny? The linear model of time doesn’t account that knowledge of the future affects the past, when even logic would suggest that is so. Alternative (multidimensional) models, such as those given by quantum mechanics would perform better. The future is yours. So is your history!

A thermodynamic solution

Lightning follows the simplest route through the sky; the path of least (electrical) resistance. A river flows from inland to the coastline in a similar fashion, flowing where hydrodynamic friction is minimal. It costs less energy.

Maybe linear time flows in a similar fashion, following the easiest route, costing the least energy.

Time for lightning!
Does time flow like lightning?

There is an argument that the arrow of time can only move in one direction due to the second law of thermodynamics which says that entropy must always increase or stay the same. Entropy is the degree of disorder; a measure of chaos.

This is to say, that given any process it’s always easier to attain a disordered state than an ordered one. For example, it’s easier to sprinkle sugar into a cup of tea and let it dissolve, than it is to crystallise the sugar back out of the tea and collect the sugar crystals and put them back into the sugar bowl.

What this means in relation to time travel is that time is uni-directional; it can only move in the forwards direction because moving backwards would mean a decrease in entropy and that’s thermodynamically speaking, illegal.

An alternate history

I recently read a discussion on a forum which centered on a couple of members who expressed a wish to go back to their past and change it so that they could relive a new life. I made a comment that changing our past may cause the creation of a new timeline, or a new multiverse where an alternative version of ourself would indeed live a new life…but that the original version of us would still exist and not experience that ‘new’ life.

My comment was followed up with an insightful view on human nature, that “…we have a tendency to “make the same mistakes” over and over”.

When I read that, I wondered whether this is because of the “the past is the past and cannot be changed” nut which cannot be cracked, or whether it’s simply the easiest route to follow.

“An easy route…”?

It’s easier to fall with gravity than it is to climb against it. It takes less energy; it’s the easiest path, or ‘decision’.

Why do we make a certain decision? We take factors into consideration, weigh them up and make a decision based on the information at hand.

Even though the decision itself may be difficult (or following through with it), the answer is essentially the ‘easiest’ path to follow because it’s the outcome after the factors have been weighed and measured. By definition, it’s the correct solution, simply because it’s the outcome of the decision making process, whether it’s been made with our head or with our heart.

The easiest route for one person may not be easy for someone else.

Here’s an example. What shape fits into a round hole? Circle, square or triangle?

There’s an expression that “you can’t fit a square peg into a round hole”. So we’d say a circle.

And this is what we teach our children. At the same time, they might find it easiest to hold the sides of a triangle or a star rather than a smooth circle, and wedge that into the hole. They choose the easiest solution for themselves.

A case for free will?

Dr Cox said that time travel is like finding a teapot in orbit around Venus. There’s nothing in the laws of physics to prevent it, it’s just extremely unlikely.

This is sounding statistical!

On a statistical footing, Stephen Hawkins in his book The Grand Design puts forward the idea that on a physical and chemical basis, there is a pre-known outcome in every decision. Momentum, energy, pathways, velocities and reactions etc. of the atoms, molecules and neurons in our brain all follow a prescribed – and therefore predictable – course. Thus, every choice we make has an inevitable outcome. It’s already been made.

In reality, there are so many billions of factors and environments (i.e. variables in the ‘decision equation’) as well as the sheer multitude of combinations and permutations, that effectively a decision cannot be reasonably predicted – and so we lump them all up and call it “free will”.

But free will can be dealt with on a semi-statistical / empirical basis. For example, it’s more likely that a vegetarian will choose to eat a salad for dinner tonight than a roast chicken. The vegetarian has a free will, but we can predict his answer reasonably well.

But let’s say that the lettuce is teeming with disease-ridden caterpillars. The vegetarian wants to go back and inform his younger self to stay clear of the lettuce.

Would his going back in time, armed with this new information gleaned from hindsight (or foresight, in this case) alter the original decision and allow for a new history (and self) to be created?

How likely is it the vegetarian would choose the chicken? Or would he still go for the salad but try to pick out the caterpillars? After all, he is a vegetarian. (And please note, I’m not saying here that vegetarianism is a wrong decision).

In these posts about the importance of history (Part 1 | Part 2) I pointed out how knowledge of the past can significantly affect how we might choose to behave in the present.

decision making with time travel
Do we have a free will when making a decision with time travel?

Knowledge of the history can and does affect the present and the future. These states in time are not wholly independent from each other, they’re cross related…which can be difficult to describe in a linear model of time.

Likewise, the idea that knowledge of the future affects the past wouldn’t fit into the linear model well either. This misfit is the ontological paradox, yet it wouldn’t exist in a multidimensional model of time, such as could be afforded through a quantum description.

Quantum mechanics turns the linear model on its head. The set laws of classical physics don’t apply when it comes to quantum scales so it might not be the case that every particle is predictable. A quantum particle can exist simultaneously in two states, in two places and at two times, for example. It gives Schrodinger’s cat a fighting chance.

The ‘easiest’ solution, then, now operates on more dimensions than the linear time line. Predictability is thrown out of the window and into orbit around Venus with its friend, the teapot.

Free will triumphs. And time travel? It’s looking like it will open up the opportunity for alternate histories and futures which may well have already played out. The past need not be set, and the future need not be predefined as our destiny or fate.

The future is yours…so is your history! Go grab them!


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The Importance of History: An Unexpected Part 2!

Yesterday (or was it last week? ๐Ÿ˜‰ ) I posted a timely thought which explained why history is important. I used an example of flipping an unbiased coin which repeatedly turned up tails, and stated that even though historical performance would suggest another tails on the next flip, the chances of heads showing on the next flip was still 50%.

I think a 50% chance of a heads showing is incorrect. It should be higher!

This is because that there are 2 possible outcomes of a flipped coin, so 50% chance of getting either one of them. The implication then is that with 2 coin flips, we’d expect 1 head and 1 tail. With 4 flips we’d expect 2 heads and 2 tails.

With 100 flips, we’d expect 50 heads and 50 tails.

But who’s to decide the order in which those heads and tails come? Alternate? Or all one and then the other?

So take the example in my original post where 50 flips had given tails. I’d stated a 50% probability of the next flip being heads. But if the probability is 50% for 100 flips, then the probability of the 51st flip being heads is now…100% !!!

So it seems that history is even more important than I had previously thought…although I wonder whether this is because we know something about the future i.e. there will be 100 coin flips and then no more.

But let’s add in a parallel consideration…we’ve considered this particular coin, but shouldn’t we be taking in all coins, and all of their flips, ad infinitum? That would mean we’re back at a 50% chance of a head.

So boundary limits impact the probability; events at all places at all times impact the importance of history and what that history means for the future.

Interesting that although I’m now a little wiser in the future…a little hindsight about foresight would have helped when I first wrote!


Is History Important?

I’m not one for history. It relates to things in the past. Not necessarily forgotten about, but it’s been, it’s gone, and it’s over. Done and dusted.

But however dusty those history books might be, I do concede that history is important. I hold no sympathy for the “You don’t know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve been” line, but history can effect the present and the future.

Here’s an example.

An unbiased coin is flipped, and tails comes up.

It’s flipped again, and again it’s tails.

And it’s tails again and again and again, and so on…at 50 flips the coin is still coming up tails.

The probability of heads coming up for the 51st flip, mathematically speaking, is still 50% i.e. there is an equal chance of getting either heads or getting tails.

But given the history, what would you bet on…heads or tails?

See how history is important?! ๐Ÿ˜‰