my favourite time-travel paradox

James Tiptree Jr, 10,000 Light Years from Home

My blogging record this last month has been grim, because of school holidays, poorly children and poorly me, so I threw a question out on twitter asking for a topic and the lovely Elin Gregory came back with the subject of this post.

I love time-travel when it’s done properly. It’s like magic though, in my opinion, and there always has to be a price to pay for it. I think that the best known paradox story in time-travel fiction is All You Zombies by Robert Heinlein. He crams it all in there… being your own mother, your own father and your own recruiter to the Time-Travel Bureau.  The price the protaganist pays seems to be loneliness. So it works for me in that it fits my criteria. But it leaves me with a sad, empty feeling afterwards and I’m not sure I like that.

My absolutely favorite time-travel story, in fact probably my favorite short story of all time, is The Man Who Walked Home, by James Tiptree Jr, in her short story collection Ten Thousand Light-Years from Home. There has only ever been one attempt to send someone through time and essentially it blew up the world. I come back to it again and again and I can’t really tell you why:

On this spot there appears annually the form of Major John Delgano, the first and only man to travel in time.

Major Delgano was sent into the future some hours before the holocaust of day zero. All knowledge of the means by which he was sent is lost, perhaps forever. It is believed that an accident occurred which sent him much farther than was intended. Some analysts speculate that he may have gone as far as fifty thousand years ahead. Having reached this unknown point Major Delgano apparently was recalled, or attempted to return, along the course in space and time through which he was sent. His trajectory is thought to start at the point which our solar system will occupy at a future time and is tangent to the complex helix which our earth describes around the sun.

He appears on this spot in the annual instants in which his course intersects our planet’s orbit and he is apparently able to touch the ground in those instants. Since no trace of his passage into the future has been manifested, it is believed that he is returning by a different means than he went forward. He is alive in our present. Our past is his future and our future is his past. The time of his appearances is shifting gradually in solar time to converge on the moment of 1153.6 on May 2nd 1989 old style, or Day Zero.

The explosion which accompanied his return to his own time and place may have occurred when some elements of the past instants of his course were carried with him into their own prior existence. It is certain that this explosion precipitated the worldwide holocaust which ended forever the age of Hardscience

Thank you, Elin for the question! It ties in nicely with my own time-travel shenanigans. Lew and Mira both get dragged back in time at the beginning of Lost in Time (hence the name, doh!). It’s not an easy bit of magic and although it will happen again in other books, there is always quite a big cost. For Lew and Mira it’s extremely dangerous to try to get home. It’s not a safe process and they need to make a choice.

I don’t much like time travel stories that just have people whizzing about through stone circles and whatnot like trap doors in to the past, although I know a lot of people find them great fun. I think that’s possibly because I like all my stories with a lot of angst, so easy time-travel immediately becomes a super-power rather than something to be tortured about.

Next week I’m talking to Elizabeth Noble about writing life and her re-released series, Sentries, so do pop back if you want to get to know her better.


Note: I know that for some people, the Tiptree/Sheldon narrative has become problematic because of the manner of her death (CW: Suicide/Murder) in the same way Heinlein’s politics makes some of his writing difficult to stomach for some people. Whether art should stand independent of the creator is a whole other discussion on it’s own. In their specific cases, I think their work transcends that, but I’ve included the links above for completeness .

excerpt: the flowers of time

As promised, this week I have an excerpt from The Flowers of Time for you. Set in the 1780s, in England and Northern India, the main characters are Jones, a non-binary archaeologist who has lived in the mountains for most of her life, and Edith, who is a botanical illustrator.


If Pater hadn’t made Jones promises to leave straight after the funeral, she wouldn’t have gone at all.

“You promise?” he’d asked, again and again as his strength waned in the flicker of the butter-lamps. “You promise you’ll go, Frank? You need to get away. Take the green-bound book and go.”

“Yes, Pater,” she had reiterated again and again. “I promise. I’ll go. I’ll go straight down to Bombay, to John and Richard. And I’ll take ship as soon as I can. You’ve already written to Aunt Caroline, I sent the letter myself. I’m ready.”

She had been sniveling to herself as she spoke, hoping he wouldn’t notice how distressed she was in the dim light. She didn’t want to be having this conversation at all. He looked yellow-faced and sunken-cheeked even in the daylight and in the flickering light of the dim lamps at night it was worse. He was already corpse-like.

He moved a thin, clawed hand to cover hers. “My dear, I love you so much. I have perhaps done you a disservice by not sending you home to Caro before now, when you were younger.”

“I didn’t want to go,” she said, roughly. “It’s all right, Pater. I’m all right. I’ll go, as soon as is possible.”

“I should never have kept you out here, once I realized that the book has some truth behind it,” he said. He had been rambling a little about his books in the last week or so, as he had become weaker. “You must take it back with you. And put it in the library at Stamford Hall. That’s where it came from. Put it in the library, up high, on one of the top shelves to the left of the arched window. Use the ladders. And then it will be safe.” He drew a rattling breath. “Promise me, Frank.”

She turned her hand over beneath the fragile skin of his own on the counterpane and clasped it carefully. “I promise, Pater.”

“And don’t do what I did,” he added in a harsh whisper. “Don’t search for the source. All these years,” he said, “All these years I have been following the trail, looking for the source. And now, here we are. And it’s not a source for good, my child. It’s not a source for good at all.” He was lapsing in to rambling again. “I want you away, Frank. I want you and the book safe.” Finally he slipped in to the restless sleep that was consuming more and more of his time. She bent her head over his hand as she clutched it. He was the only family she had ever known and she was terrified to lose him.

“It won’t be long now.” The soft voice of one of the older monastery healers came from behind her in the slow Bhoti they used with her. “But you know that.”

She turned slowly on her stool, not letting go of her father’s hand, and nodded. “Yes. I know. Thank you, Jamyang. I do appreciate everything you are doing for us.” Kalsang was behind him, she noticed, his apprentice and shadow. “Thank you for helping him wash earlier, Kalsang.”

“You are most welcome, Jones.” Kalsang nodded with all the formality a teenager could muster.

“He wants me to go home. To England. To my aunt.” She swallowed and looked up. “It’s all arranged. He’s written. Sonam will take me down to Bombay.” She heard Kalsang’s indrawn breath of shock. Bombay was months of travel away. She had only been once herself, about fifteen years ago, when Pater had made the trip to take some artifacts down to send home.

“Will you come back?” Jamyang’s voice was unchanged, still calm and unshocked.

She met his gaze. “Yes. Yes. He wants me to stay in England a year. So I can learn where I come from.” She disengaged her hand gently, not waking her father, and stood. “He’s right, in a way. I should know. But my home is here. And my work is here. His work. It’s so important the people at home in England learn about the wonderful things here in the mountains. There are buildings and people here that people in England never even imagine. Things so old, so precious! I want to keep documenting it all, keep exploring.”

Jamyang watched her, with a small smile and then patted her arm. “You are a good person, Jones,” he said. “You are your father’s child. Franklin has been my friend for decades now, since you first came here when you were a tiny child after your mother died.” He stepped forward and took her hand. “We will welcome you back when you come, child. You will always have a home here with us. But do as your father wishes, now. Take the book he speaks of back to England. And leave it there. He has protected you from it for this long. Now, your protection must rest on your own shoulders.”




 

 


Next week, my monthly ‘what I’ve been reading in July’ roundup!

life chaos abounds

I missed last week’s post because life got in the way, I’m sorry. Littlest has been in plaster casts on her lower legs and feet for a fortnight after a botox injection in to her ankles. This is to help prevent her feet from curling under any more than they are and hopefully enable her to do standing transfers for a little longer, rather than needing hoisting all the time. The casts have meant the moving and handling we do on a daily basis has been much more difficult because you can’t get them wet. They are very hot pink though, which has caused some glee.

In addition we have had to update something called the ‘Advanced Care Plan’ which is basically setting out our wishes should she become very ill. It’s good to have in place, but flipping heck it’s grim to fill in. And Talking Child has had all sorts of traumatic appointments as well. We’ve collectively been sat on the sofa in a heap with our respective pants* on our heads. No writing was done and we all felt awful.

Since Friday, I’ve been clawing myself back up the slope and have written a handful of words – a few hundred – every day. Plus we managed to fit in a family trip to Longleat, where we fed giraffes, held snakes, watched giant otters sleeping and generally had a brilliant time. We have more trips planned over the summer holiday, starting with a weekend at the Children’s Hospice this coming Friday. I can’t wait.

Finally, I’m signed up to the SFF Book Bonanza giveaway this week – there are more than a hundred free SFF books and stories available for download for your reading pleasure should you so desire.

Next week: An excerpt from my work in progress, The Flowers of Time, which is cracking along slowing but steadily now, thank goodness.

*British pants, for maximum comedy value

character sketch: Lew Tyler

This is the first in a series of occasional character sketches I’m going to do.

Lew Tyler is one of the main characters in both Lost In Time and Shadows On The Border, books one and two of the Lost In Time series. I think he’s probably going to pop in and out of future stories as well.

Lew was born in the UK in 1983 and when we first meet him at the beginning of Lost In Time, he has just been jettisoned back in time from 2016 to 1919.

One of the things I wanted to do with the story is contrast the experience of someone age thirty-three in 2016 with the experience of someone of a similar age in 1919, and I was quite happy with how that worked out.

Lew is a rather reluctant magician who can manipulate the fabric of time and space and the void between the worlds. He gets sucked back through time as part of his search for his friend Mira, who Lew assumes is missing because she over-reached her magical abilities. Lew tried to use his own magic to track her and ended up in London just after World War One. It took him a while to find his feet – he was very lucky – and he ended up with two jobs that overlap – a journalist and photographer at a small weekly London paper and as a police crime-scene photographer. This allows him to poke around London quite easily in his search for his friend and his unexpected bequest of a motorbike early on in the book helps that a lot too.

He’s not actually a very good or knowledgeable magician. He and Mira met in foster care after his parents died when he was in his early teens. Although his father was a magic user, Lew didn’t have enough time with him and neither he nor Mira have had any kind of mentoring or training. They’re flying blind and that’s why things have gone wrong.

Lew is a kind and open person. But he’s also scared of people finding out his secrets – both that he’s from the future and that he’s gay – and he feels very alone at the start of the books. As the series goes on, he settles in to himself, but I can’t say too much more about that without spoilers!

What does he look like? He’s five foot ten, with high boned cheeks, long-ish fair hair that he tries to keep slicked back from his face, but that usually falls in to his eyes. He’s sinewy rather than built. He’s got dark brown eyes that are shot through with lighter hazel and when he’s pulling power, the hazel bits take on a golden colour. He’s quite empathic, probably because of the magic, and finds it difficult to filter out other people’s emotions unless he’s concentrating hard. That can be helpful if he’s working magic, but a nuisance the rest of the time.

I really like the overall feel of the artwork JMS has done for the series. I feel that that they give a good feel for the characters and the world. In my head, Lew is the man at the back hiding under the rather large hat.

 

 

 

research rabbit-holes

One of the things I find most difficult about writing in a period or place I don’t know all that well is research. Not because I find research hard… although it can be. My issue is that I find I get sucked down rabbit-holes and dead ends in to fascinating articles on subjects I have no need to know about in depth.

Image by ardilladecolores from Pixabay

Today for example… Himalayan mountain sheep, Argali, which led me in to an article about Himalayan grass populations. Then eighteenth century shoes, which morphed in to three articles on seventeenth century Civil War uniforms. And I am still digesting this fascinating article about the eighteenth century garden flower seed trade.

My work in progress is a whole new era and location for me – the Himalayas in the 1780s – and it’s taking me ages to get to grips with the setting of the story. I was going to spend April doing Camp Nano and get the first draft sorted by the end of the month. That is not happening – life, children, chickens, all that good stuff has pretty much overwhelmed me. But I’m plodding along now, back in my thousand-word-a-day groove, or close to it and it’s just a matter of time.

I’m also working on my serialized sequel to The Gate, the continuing adventures of Matty and Rob, that will be released to newsletter subscribers as I go. (Please do sign up if you’d like to be included in this!). This doesn’t require quite so much research because I am already comfortable writing in that era after two full-length books and the short story, so fingers crossed I can keep it going.