Time Travails


So I’m sort of shin-deep in meta for Station, and besides the ending (it’s… incorrect and I need a new one), I’ve also been wrestling with the time travel aspect. Time travel is very tricky in novels, because it’s very easy to do it wrong. Not wrong in that the theory is wrong (though it often is), but that it’s used wrong. Often, there will be a fatal flaw or a plot hole regarding it, a reason why it the time travel element didn’t work. I think it ends up that often, any piece of media that grapples with time travel starts to come with not just the suspension of disbelief that the method of time travel actually works, but also that the theory of the time travel is also solid.

And, friends, there are a lot of theories. Just take a look at the Time Travel page on TVTropes, for starters.

Side note: I’m linking TVTropes for the simple reason that, while scifi is rooted in scientific advances, time travel is one of the topics where writing fiction about it is more about perception of time and interrogating the meta-narratives and tropes permeate our media than, uh, science. A lot of writing about time travel deals with the concept of an immutable history, or how cause-and-effect can be unpredictable (ala the butterfly effect), etc. It talks about what would happen if we had time travel and handwaves the how.

I’m, personally, very interested in the conceptual underpinnings of how to represent time travel. Not necessarily delving into strictly how, because prevalent scientific theory involves a lot of quantum theory and is very hard to actually explain to people reading your adventure scifi novel, but into how time is viewed by the characters. Again, the ‘how it’s viewed’ throws back to fate, and just how static is time, really, and how do we as people finally learning to manipulate the 4th dimension even deal with that ability.

What struck me as interesting, is that very many time travel stories treat time as a static series of cause and effect. If you’ll look at the tropes, you’ve got ‘Stable Time Loop’ and ‘Can’t Change The Past’ as two very prominent ones. That, and there is also this idea posited in the more scientific areas of time travel study that if you change time, then it will have always been that way and all memories will be modified to match.

Fun sidenote: this memory modification is a little like the whole Berenstein Bears vs. Berenstain Bears thing. I distinctly remember BerenstEin bears growing up, but it’s always been BerenstAin. It’s a neat little phenomena that happens more than in just this sort of thing, but it’s a useful idea to steal if you want to play with this idea of ‘change one thing, change all things’ of time. I am certain I simply read it wrong when I was kid (I did that a lot, like I have a hard time spelling binary and partition because I very much read them wrong.), but the possible beliefs of how and why this phenomena occurs is absolutely something you can play with as a writer. Why do some of us remember these sorts of things objectively wrong? You can play the what-if game all day with that kind of question. What if it’s a simple memory fallacy, but it’s indicative of a broader human stubbornness against being wrong and to what lengths can that be taken? What if some of us are some of us more immune to timeline changes than others? What if the ones who remember it ‘wrong’ were part of a different AU that was spliced with ours somehow? What if this Mandela Effect is part of the Many Interacting Worlds (MIW) theory? The possibilities are endless.

Right! Ahem! Back on track. We were at static time and the idea that any ‘change’ to spacetime will propagate, and that those living within the spacetime frame will have no idea there was a change. I would like to further explore the idea that spacetime is a static ‘object’, which means research. A lot of prior media treats history and future as static. See TV Tropes above.

But most (not all, but most) media stops there.

To that end, I’ve been investigating the mapping of four-dimensional objects upon three-dimensional space, like I’ve found here. I’ve also taken a peek at the book Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions, which is remembered (thanks to Einstein) more for describing how 3d objects look to those living within 2d space than for it’s social satire, but both sources describe how a more-dimensional object can be viewed in a less-dimensioned space by utilizing time.

I’m only at the start of my investigations, but the idea is that to static 2d space, time is the 3rd dimension, and to static 3d space, time is the fourth dimension. Which leads me to ask: if 4d space is ‘static’ and time is the 5th dimension, what does that look like and how can I use it? And if I decide that static 4d space is actually spacetime like I mentioned above (in a way that uses an entirely different set of assumptions) then what does that look like and how can I use it?

In ‘how do I use it’, I am basically exploring how I represent a narrative sense of “five dimensions” (very much quote-unquote here, this is an adventure novel at heart) while only have the words to project four of them to the reader. I don’t even get pictures to help.

And – as a crucial follow-up question: can I get away with using ‘time’ twice?

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