Tag Archives: time travel

Through the wormhole 9/13/09

Linky time again.

Sci Fi Wire has a map of 68 must-see sci-fi sites around the U.S. (with a few in Canada as well). Museums, buildings and locations used in movies, that sort of thing. Some of them are pretty lame; and hey, what’s The Texas Chainsaw Massaacre doing in there? The Midwest seems under-represented, with only James T. Kirk’s birthplace in Riverside, Iowa. They forgot about the Superman statue in Metropolis, IL — not far from where I grew up.

Here’s a list of reality shows and mainstream dramas that could be improved with the addition of sci-fi elements. I like the Dirty Jobs in Space idea.

Star Trek aftershaves. “Smell like the future, because tomorrow may never come.”

Here’s a graph at io9 showing science fiction television trends over the last 40 years.

Physicist Michio Kaku is a really cool guy; I see him on a lot of science shows and documentaries (the History Channel’s series The Universe for instance). Here he discusses how many science fictional technologies — like invisibility, teleportation, and time travel — are actually closer to reality than to fantasy. I recently watched a few episodes of another History Channel program, That’s Impossible (narrated by Number One himself, Jonathan Frakes), which explores the same ideas — the growing reality of laser weapons, force fields, and other sci-fi staples. Interesting stuff.

Domed cities on Mars or other planets have long been a common image in science fiction. Could they actually be coming to Earth?

Ben Bova talks about science fiction and why politicians should read more of it.

Isaac Asimov’s phycohistory may have more of a basis in reality than you thought.

Time travel done with elegance and intelligence

The place you stand is always the present and that’s all you ever really have — I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

Title: A Bridge of Years
Author: Robert Charles Wilson
Year: 1991
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

bridgeofyearsI plan to eventually read every novel Robert Charles Wilson has written, and I’m slowly working my way toward that goal. This time I’ve gone back a little in time (yes, that is a pun) to one of his earlier ones, A Bridge of Years. The title is to be taken literally — this is a time travel novel. However, it’s not what you might think of as a typical time travel novel. The book is less concerned with the time traveling phenomenon itself (explanations of the technology, changes to the past, time paradoxes and all that), and more focused on a small group of characters and the way this time bridge affects their lives. When some of them see this discovery as a means of escaping an intolerable existence, they set themselves up for a lesson about past, present, and future; they learn that your life follows you wherever you go, and you can’t escape it so easily.

The novel starts off in the year 1989. After a painful divorce and a period of alcoholism, Tom Winter moves back to the small town on the northwest American coast where he spent his childhood. Looking for some quiet and solitude in which to rebuild his shattered life, he buys a house in the semi-rural area outside of town. The previous owner of the house mysteriously disappeared ten years ago, and as Tom settles in he discovers other mysteries about his new home — such as the fact that it seems to be self-cleaning and self-repairing. Not to mention the tunnel leading out of the basement, a tunnel that ends, incredibly, in New York City and, just as incredibly, in the year 1962.

The house is one of a series of terminals stretching back in time from the far future, each set of stations bridging a gap of several decades or so. The question of who built them, and why, is only addressed in a peripheral way. The story is not about those enigmatic far-future beings, although there are tantalizing hints here and there. No, this is a story about two men who make the mistake of seeing this time tunnel as their salvation, as a way to transform their lives, as a way to leave behind all the negative baggage of their past. Tom sees the Sixties as a simpler, more innocent time in which to live, a place to start over and find new love. But this simplistic dream is destroyed when he finds out he’s not the only person to follow the same escape route. Sharing this earlier New York with him is Billy, a super-soldier from the late 21st century trying to escape the twin horrors of war and ecological disaster. Unfortunately, Billy has been altered by the military technology of his time; he was fitted with special armor that is a part of him, that regulates and controls his hormones, and that he can’t live without. And his armor tells him Tom Winter is a threat, come to punish him for deserting the army….. uh oh.

The book works extremely well on the character level, and the plot is tense and well-constructed. And throughout the book are some interesting perspectives on the nature of time. For instance, Tom wonders about whether or not the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s will play out the same way they did “before,” and eventually is persuaded to this view:

I think the future is something like a big building in the fog — you know it’s there, and you can grope your way toward it, but you can’t be sure about it until it’s close enough to touch.

Tom also comes to realize that the past is not simply a set piece or prop, not some idealized fantasy, but a place with its own gritty reality, both good and bad:

[...] the only way you can own the past is by respecting it — by not turning it into something quaint or laughable or pastel or bittersweet. It’s a real place where real people live. And the future is real because we’re building it out of real hours and real days. No world out of the world, Tom thought. No Eden, no Utopia, only what you can touch and the touching of it.

This is a fine novel, and a unique and mature take on the time travel theme. I’d expect nothing less of Wilson.

Brunner gets philosophical in Tides

I’m getting quite comfortable with reading John Brunner’s novels. I’ve read five of them within the last year and each one has been a worthwhile experience (although I can always find some things to nitpick, that’s just the kind of person I am). This time around it was The Tides of Time, published in 1984, and it’s one of the more interesting Brunner novels I’ve come across so far.

At the beginning it’s really hard to say what’s going on. You’re introduced to two characters, Gene and Stacy, who have come by boat to a small island in the Mediterranean and who seem to be running away from something or someone — although it’s a long time before you find out the reasons for this. In each succeeding chapter, there is a strange shift as the same two characters are presented, on the very same island, but further back in time by perhaps a few centuries. Each time, they are the same people, on the same island, living in generally the same circumstances, but with strange differences as well. And to add an even greater sense of strangeness, you’re never quite sure if Gene and Stacy know they are moving through time, even though there are moments when they seem aware that something odd is happening.

The book has a nice structure. In each era, the two characters interact with the people of that time, and overcome various challenges to their survival. Also in each chapter either Gene or Stacy tells a story, what sounds like a fable or myth. All the stories are broadly similar, involving someone who is seeking something and travels to distant, exotic, and downright bizarre lands in order to find it. The seekers’ individual motives vary, and this is how the stories come to be told; Gene or Stacy will observe how some recent event in their lives reminds them of a certain story, and why that mythological character did what he or she did.

This pattern carries on through most of the book, getting just a wee bit repetitive actually, but at the end things really come together when you finally find out what’s been happening. You see, Gene and Stacy were members of a scientific experiment, an amazing physics experiment of great importance to humanity. I won’t tell you what it is, exactly, except to say it’s NOT about time travel. Let’s just say it involves travel to a distant, exotic, and bizarre place beyond anything we could call reality, and the shock of it was more than Gene and Stacy could bear. And this is the basic point of the novel. Brunner asks what happens to the mind, the self, the ego, when one is confronted by something completely outside of all experience and conception of reality:

“Well — what becomes of ‘I’ when it’s doing something deemed to be impossible?”

It’s a brilliant question, and Brunner’s answer is that the mind can’t handle it, the “I” cracks and either must find some way to cope, or go insane, or die. In the case of Gene and Stacy, their shocked, broken minds run away and seek refuge in the past, or at least some mental projection of the past, where they instinctively try to reconnect to reality by delving into humanity’s roots. And — this is ingenious — all the stories told by Gene and Stacy turn out to be reflections on themselves and their situation, a sort of therapy in which they try to come to terms with their experience. Over and over they ask why the people in the stories leave their homes and seek the unknown. What they are really asking is why they themselves did so, trying to find some reason that would justify what they went through and help them to accept it.

The Tides of Time presents a fascinating philosophical question, and a poetic and imaginative exploration of it. In other words, I liked it quite a lot.