CTTO

KateThis week, The Parker Institute for Time Travel Studies (The PITTS) has asked our Chief Time Travel Officer (CTTO) to look back at his favorite science fiction shows over the years, to include more than just Doctor Who. He was given the choice of time travel devices for this effort, including a TARDIS, a Delorean, a stopwatch, and a hot tub.  Being a button-down preppie type, Parker asked for a BMZ Z4, as we expected. He was dismayed that we had not tailored the Z4 with a flux capacitor, and the weather hasn’t been stormy anyway, so he chose the stopwatch, thinking it looked good with his summer wool trousers (it doesn’t). So, without further ado, our CTTO’s list:

The Twilight Zone:

My favorite episodes are two of the show’s creepiest, “The Hitchhiker” and “Long Distance Call.” I don’t know why I keep one foot in the horror camp, considering how horrible it is there, but since it’s in my tagline (“science fiction, fantasy, horror, history, mystery, whiskey”) I figure I best get with the program, as it were.

Star Trek: The Original Series

This one’s easy. There are three episodes I could watch anytime, anywhere. The original pilot (“The Cage”) with its mysterious cast that wasn’t; Harlan Ellison’s incomparable “City on the Edge of Forever”, which is one of the best romances ever put on the broadcast TV; and the truly testosterone-driven guy episode (“The Doomsday Machine”). “They say there’s no devil, Jim …”

The Outer Limits

“Demon with a Glass Hand” because anything written by Harlan Ellison is superb, and “It Came Out of the Woodwork” because of that one foot in the horror camp thingie (yep, I said thingie … comfortable in my own skin).

Space: 1999

Keeping with the foot-in-horror one more time, this absurdly stupid TV series produced one of the scariest hours of programming ever with “Dragon’s Domain.” It’s the kind of thing that’d keep me up at night if it weren’t for the whole whiskey thing (see tagline, above).  Tentacles. Lots of slimy tentacles.

The X-Files

Gotta go with “Paper Clip” here for its incredible kitchen-sink mix of conspiracies and contemporary mythologies. I need to visit the grassy knoll one day.

The NEW Battlestar Galactica

Did you notice I said new? I’m referring, of course, to the re-imagined series that began in 2003, and not the commode-ringed insult to our intelligence and eyes that came out in the late 70s. Anyway, fave episode? The one titled “33”, hands-down. The whole concept could be made into a novel (note to self).  An attack coming every 33 minutes?  No time to sleep.  No way to even think.  Oh, hell, yes.  Great show!  The original Battlestar Galaxative?  Makes me wanna pour bleach in my eyes.

LOST

There are almost too many to list here, considering it’s one of my favorite shows EVER, but I think I’ll give the nod to “The Constant” when Desmond is jumping back-and-forth between his Army service and modern day, including finding Penny. Another gem is “Through the Looking Glass,” and it’s damn hard to discount the Pilot. There’s something about pilots (which means Jules Winfield and I are on the same page).  There’s a picture of Kate in her underwear above; the purpose of that is eye candy (#shameless #lech).

Firefly

All. Of. Them.  Every damn episode.  “Well, my time of not taking you seriously is coming to a middle.”

Classic Doctor Who

I haven’t seen as many as I’d like, but for now “City of Death”, penned by the best science fiction humorist ever, Douglas Adams, is never going to be far from the top in my book. Have I ever mentioned just how CUTE Romana is? Oh, yeah, I did. But it’s worth repeating. Also, since she’s not so terribly much older than I perhaps my crush on her is a good bit more acceptable than a crush might be on, say, Jenna-Louise Coleman, who’s probably young enough to be my daughter. I really need to look into using time travel to age backwards.

New Doctor Who

“The Name of the Doctor”.  Despite my sister-in-law’s (sister’s-in-law?) insistence that there’s only one Doctor (David Tennant) the seventh series finale of Doctor Who is a masterpiece of humor, horror, sentimentality, action, adventure and mystery. If the series had never hit a homerun before (it had) they certainly did with this.

And so, back to you …

The PITTS would like to tolerate thank Parker for his insight. His essay has been logged and filed in its proper location: the circular cabinet.

Peace.

Copyright (c) 2013 Keith Parker. All Rights Reserved. All trademarks and copyrights are the property of their respective owners and are used for entertainment purposes only and as provided for by the “Fair Use” copyright clause.

Praying TARDIS

Tardis-wallpaper-tardis-6289817-800-600It’s hard to believe it’s been two months since my last post.  In that time, I’ve gone through one of those slumps that affects most writers and artists, with the result being my not writing.   A really good reason for this not writing has been this weird lack of focus on any one thing that I could, well, focus on.  And since the only consistency here has been inconsistency, I’ve decided to do a minor reboot of my blog again, honing it to that one other cultural phenom that also has no focus, namely the incomparable Doctor Who.

Now, by saying Doctor Who  has no focus I run the risk of pissing off approximately 619,253,517 Doctor Who fans, and alienating my 3 followers.  But really and truly, the show does cover so much territory — from black-and-white episodes about Aztecs to post-post-modern allegories about the meaning of mercy — that I feel I’m on pretty safe ground by saying a show that is about everything is a good foundation to continue my blog, which is about nothing at all.

Sometimes we work hard to achieve nothing.

So, really, other than to tell you that I am back, and stuck in neutral on Season 4 of the new DW, waiting for the season premiere of Mad Men, and waiting for my wife to catch up with me on Downton Abbey, and fending off the scourge of pollen that besets the wicked and righteous alike here in the Deep South, I am hoping, nah, praying that ye olde TARDIS can be the salvation of my rather disjointed blogging.

If not, then my next step will be to base it off Baba Yaga’s Dancing Hut; and if I go down that road I might as well just move back into my mother’s basement, which would be quite the challenge since 1) she’s no longer with us and, 2) doesn’t have a basement.

I’ll continue to sprinkle my blog with writing advice (don’t use exclamation points, at all, ever), but I’m going to quit pimping my fiction because I don’t want to be a salesman, regardless of the publishing climate these days.  I want to be a writer, and this is my platform, which is based on a copyrighted TV show older than I am, and a brain that is slowly withering on the vine.

As soon as I think of something sublime and ridiculous to say, though, I’ll sign off for now.

Seizures later,

Keith

P.S. The blog is now the blue of a British police box, in case you’re curious, which I doubt you are.

The Time Traveler’s Life (Part II)

Lea 2The second part of this series on writing time travel fiction is precautionary. Hopefully it will help you avoid stuff that’s just weird.  A good example of weirdness is not Lea Thompson playing Lorraine Baines.  No, a good example of weirdness is that family photograph that Marty carried around in Back to the Future.  People loved that movie, so much so that it’s become a trope (very Back-to-the-Future), and its quotes have entered daily dialogue (“You’re my density!” and “1.61 gigawatts of electricity,” and “Great Scott!”).  But as much as people loved the movie they hated that damn photograph, and the way Marty’s family faded in and out depending how he was messing up the timeline.

With that in mind, here are a few other cliches you’ll want to avoid if you’re writing about time travel:

  • If the hero’s past and future selves encounter each other it’ll destroy the universe.  This one is just plain stupid.  And who’s to decide what’s stupid and what’s not?  I am.  It’s my blog.
  • The Butterfly Effect.  This one is just too worn-out or, as Doctor Who put it, “Just don’t step on butterflies, then.”
  • Overuse of Daylight Savings Time, the International Date Line, and clocks that run backward, and any other type of artificial construct.
  • Avoid having the hero travel back in time to give the time machine to himself.  This is actually my favorite paradox, but it doesn’t make for a good story.  You know what does make for a good story?  Characters.
  • Avoid the mysterious stranger who is revealed to be the hero’s past or future self.  Readers will spot this one immediately.  It’s much better to start with this as a premise and see how it goes from there, e.g., John the Younger has just discovered that spooky ol’ John the Older, who lives right next door, is actually his future self.  Have the story, novel, screenplay, etc, start there.
  • Going back in time 65 million years to be chased by a dinosaur.  If you want to get chased by a T-Rex just fly down to Isla Nublar. It’s much closer.jurassic-park
  • Repeating the same eras as destinations: I touched on this in Part I of this blog entry.  There are certain time periods that have captured our imagination.  Among them are prehistoric times, the Middle Ages, the American Civil War, the Wild West, World War II, the (not-so) good ol’ days of the 50s, and the Kennedy Assassination.  But if you just quickly browse any good bookstore you’ll realize that history is much more than this.  In fact, it’s been around for a long time.
  • Having the main character change sex as a result of time travel.  Robert Heinlein did this in “All You Zombies.”  It worked for him, but chances are you’re not going to ooh-aah anybody with that zinger these days.
  • Don’t make the future a dystopia.  A nuclear ash-heap of post-apocalyptic, angst-ridden, one-armed assholes carrying assault rifles fighting off hords of zombies and a virtual reality “Big Brother” is … tiring as hell.  I just made all that up, by the way.  So, if I can make up a cliche in thirty seconds there’s a damn good chance it’s overused.

This is just a snapshot of the cliches.   And also remember that if you’ve seen it once in a movie (e.g., Groundhog Day) it’s been done dozens of times in fiction.

A word of encouragement before I sign off … If you want your character to travel back to the Kennedy assassination  it’s perfectly fine to do so.  But what you need to do is find a fresh angle.  I’ll give you an example as a sort of writing prompt: Instead of writing about the events in Dealey Plaza why not write about the interrogation of Lee Harvey Oswald by the Dallas Police and the FBI?  Make your time traveler one of the FBI agents.  He could’ve “just flown in” from Washington.  And not only does he have to deal with the stress of the situation he also has to deal with a culture that is hostile to Federal agents.  Food for thought.  Or, as they say in the UK, food for thought.

Pax,

Keith

Copyright © 2013

The Time Traveler’s Life (Part I)

Still-of-Lea-Thompson-in-Back-to-the-Future-24BJGVYFS3-moviereviewfeeds-comIt seemed apropos that, on Groundhog Day, I’d post a picture of the first actress I had a crush on  … oh, wait!  What I mean to say is that I’d be asked to post an article on G+ about the challenges of writing time travel fiction.  If you want to delve into this weird but amazingly fun genre (where you may indeed have a protagonist who looks like Lea Thompson) you need to know what you’re up against.  What I’ve tried to do below is compile a list of issues the time travel writer needs to be aware of.

As with everything else in fiction, of course, the way to attract readers is through character.  But this article doesn’t address character development; there are ample resources for that.  Right now, we’ll stick to time-travel obstacles.

• Paradox Lost – You’ve got to come to grips with the notion of paradox.  That means wrapping your mind around two conflicting ideas.  My favorite time travel paradox, for example, is the one where the time traveler goes back in time and gives the blueprints for the time machine to his younger self.  Thinking about cause and effect here requires some serious mental gymnastics, not to mention a tall glass of scotch.  However, you really should avoid using this particular paradox in your story; it’s an overused cliche.

• Who’s Out to Get Your Hero? – You need to realize the villain of your story may well turn out to be the hero’s younger or older self.

• Timeline – Stephen King wrote a phenomenal time travel novel in 11/22/63.  In order to do that yourself, you’re going to have to map out the timeline chronologically (ahem).  So if you had a present-day time traveler going back to witness the events in Dealey Plaza, you’d need a timeline from 1963 till now.  Otherwise things are going to be a tangled mess.  Index cards work well for storyboarding such a plot, with each card representing a major aspect of the plot.11-22-63

• Travel Agent Required – How does the hero travel?  Via H.G. Wells steampunk machine?  A spaceship?  Gateway?  Phone booth?  Sports car?  Magic? You need to decide.  And once you decide you need to stick with it.  Time travel is part of your setting.  You wouldn’t have a creek flow uphill, so why would you have a time machine that worked inconsistently?

• The Left Behind – When your hero travels he’ll abandon friends and loved-ones.  How does he feel about that?  That’s nontrivial and potentially traumatic.

• Culture Shock – When Doctor Who’s Martha Jones (a woman of African descent) arrives in Shakespearean London she’s worried about getting sold into slavery.  Think about that.  Takes some of the romance out of the “good ol’ days,” doesn’t it?

• Cause and Effect – If the hero buys a ton of Apple Computer stock in 1999 will he really get rich?  Or does his stock purchase affect Apple’s success?

• Think Out of the Box – Suppose the time machine is a simple door.  What happens if the hero steps through using his cell phone?  Does he still have coverage?  That’s not as weird as it sounds.  If he can see through the door (visible light) then cell phone signals (radio waves) can travel through it, too.

• Grandfather Paradox – Is the hero going to do something that keeps himself from being born?  Suppose it involves murder.  How does the hero cope with that?  Murder is murder, in 2013 BC and 2013 CE.

• History Mystery – The hero wants to witness the Kennedy assassination.  Great subject, but you better damn well know your subject.  As the writer, can you tell us who the Babushka Lady was?  Or what was on Dallas TV right before the news broke?  Which motorcycle cop had his two-way radio on?   What was the weather like?  What’s the distance from the Book Depository to Kennedy’s car?  What did the “Treason” leaflets say?  What did the Manhattan businessman say about JFK’s killer? Zapruder-Film-Frame-366

• Action or Reaction –  How does the hero react to witnessing a really brutal murder?  The President, after all, had his brains blown out, literally.  If you’ve ever seen the Zapruder film you know it was a grisly, ugly, and sickening sight.  Now imagine being there, with the sights, the screams, the smells …

Time travel is not for the feint of heart.

In the next installment of “The Time Traveler’s Life” I’ll explore some of the pitfalls you need to avoid.  And in a later chapter, I’ll recommend some books and movies.  Stay tuned, same Chiroptera time, same Chiroptera channel!

Pax vobiscum,

Keith

Copyright © 2013

Doctor Who What When?

“Question is: What do you make of me?” ~ The Doctor

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I love Christmas Eve, so when the DVD of the BBC’s Doctor Who Christmas Special “The Next Doctor” (s04e14) arrived in the mail I was eager to dive right in. I was not disappointed. Since there are scads of reviews of Doctor Who episodes all over the Internet, what I wanted to do instead was give you an impression of one small slice of this episode.

After our Doctor (David Tennant) arrives via TARDIS on Christmas Eve, 1851, the history geek in me was thoroughly content to sit back and enjoy.

As Act One unfolds we’re given one of those treats time travel fiction does so well: Evoking that sense of wonder that much of science fiction has lost since those heady days of Astounding and Amazing Stories. In the opening scenes of “The Next Doctor” our Doctor meets a future incarnation of himself, a version of himself suffering from amnesia.

And that notion is one of the most compelling aspects of time travel: Meeting a past or future version of yourself (without the amnesia part; that’d sorta suck). In that first act, “Amnesia Doctor” is investigating the house where the character Jackson Lake was murdered by the show’s infamous villains and “Amnesia Doctor” gets into a rather lengthy conversation about the crime with our Doctor. After revealing more about the situation than he probably should, “Amnesia Doctor” pauses with confusion, and then says he trusts our Doctor completely and implicitly, telling him things he wouldn’t tell any ordinary stranger.

I actually paused the DVD at this point, finding that whole concept fascinating. I began to wonder whether I would trust myself with vital, personal secrets. If I went back in time — to 1983 or 1993 or 2003 — could I trust the man I was then with the knowledge that I have now? Or if I were to travel into the future with the help of an old English police box could I face my older, wiser self and explain why I’m doing “this” but not “that,” why I bought instead of saved, why I chose “Thing 1” over “Thing 2”?

This is what makes science fiction and fantasy — those twins of speculation separated at birth — such a compelling genre of literature. Allegories abound, sometimes banal, sometimes sublime, but always thought-provoking.

And we need to think and reflect and ponder and wonder, or at least I do. Time can be a merciless monster as well as a beneficent angel. But my genre — when it’s at its best — focuses on the latter. It chooses optimism over bitterness, hope instead of despair, and a reminder that tomorrow can be a better day if we’ll just make the choice to let it.

So, in conclusion, I’ll offer another brief quote from the show, and then go off searching for my own time machine. Where is the damn thing? I swear that beast has legs.

Jackson Lake — “That offer of Christmas dinner is no longer a request. It’s a demand.”
The Doctor — “In honor if those we’ve lost.”

As always,
Peace, from Keith

Commentary copyright (c) 2013, Alan Keith Parker. Quotes and images are copyright (c) 2012, BBC, and used here under fair use laws.

Don’t Be a Dumpster Fire

ImageYou don’t write to get rich.  You write because writing is a fundamental part of who you are.  Your odds of becoming Stephen King or Sue Grafton are longer than your odds of winning a multi-state lottery.

The basic idea behind any form of art is to express emotions.  You’ll notice I write a lot about time travel, science fiction, horror, and love.  I write about love and romance because I have a sentimental streak.  I write about horror because of panic attacks, and people are drawn to things that scare them (counterintuitive, but true).  I write about science fiction because I grew up watching the original Star Trek, and it’s like comfort food for me.  And I love time travel for some reason I can’t really explain.  Maybe I have a lot of regrets and want to right some wrongs.  Who the hell knows?  Or maybe I’d just like swap one-liners with Groucho Marx.  “After two days in the hospital I took a turn for the nurse.”

I also dish out writing advice.  You know where I get that wisdom?  Failure … sometimes epic.  Or, as we say on Twitter, #dumpsterfire fiction.  If you try to imitate bestsellers, your novel is going to be a disaster, a dumpster fire in kids’ lingo today.  And you’ll feel like one, too, after spending all that time and effort to produce something no one wants to read.  Believe me, I’ve been there.

Caveat: This does not mean you set your sights low.  No.  Aim to be the very best writer you can  be.  Every sentence you write should be exactly what you want to read.  Anything less and you’re being dishonest.

But if you’re trying to become Dan Brown or Suzanne Collins, forget it.  We already have a Brown and a Collins and a King and a Grafton.  Mimicking them is not going make you rich and famous.

If you want to get rich you need to be flipping houses and bootlegging whiskey.

Writers are artists, and we get paid the same.  Would you like fries with that?

Peace, from Keith

Copyright © 2013

My Grand Gaffe

Yesterday, in the delirium of flu-induced fever, I made a mistake in a wireless transmittal. My Grand Gaffe, as it shall now be known, began with idle speculation about a growing fascination with the clockwork world we once knew and loved, with its airship lighthouses, telephonic fog, time levers, Maison tournante aérienne, and steam-powered bidets.

In the midst of my vaporous fugue-state, I said that Mary Russell lived in my revered 19th century. As Master Wells has informed me, a not-yet-famous American canine would have said to this, “Ruh roh!”

There you have it: The first mistake ever made in the aether known as The Twitter.

Mary Russell herself called me out on it, very politely I might add, in order to set the record straight: she was born in 1900 and first met Mister Sherlock Holmes in 1915, well after the Victorian era had concluded.

I then tried again, to no avail, to entice readers the world over to speculate whether we are pining for the clockwork engines of that bygone age.

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But my wireless dispatches, sent far and wide, from the Arctic chill of the Romanov Winter Palace, to the sultry climate of distant Siam, have gone but unanswered.

So then, all that this gentleman and scholar can do is simply wait … wait as apologies cover our shrinking globe, and wonder, not for the first time, whether a safari to distant Venus aboard Mister Verne’s projectile (via an space gun, of course) should be in order.

Should my apologies to the astute theologian (and deadly knife-thrower) fall on deaf ears I fear I shall have to take solace on one of these other worlds of our solar system; if not the aforementioned Venus, then perhaps I may find work along the canals of Mars, trading in those hideous eggs, or secluding myself in obtuse Innsmouth on our own globe, a place where no man knows his fate.

Please, Mary Russell, if you see this, forgive my arrogance in the aether.

I am, sincerely, your faithful servant.

Mister K. Parker

Copyright 2012 © Alan Keith Parker.  All Rights Reserved.

Is Time a Goldfish?

The way we think about time travel really depends on the way we think about time.  Right?  And in order to move in the dimension that H.G. Wells called duration we have to be able to have a concept of what time is, don’t we?  And how the heck do we do this?

Tavern ClockSome of the greatest thinkers of all time, as it were, have given this considerable thought, put their finger to their lips, tilted their heads, and finally said, “I dunno.”

A mind no less impressive than Saint Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, put it like this: “What, then, is time? If no one ask of me, I know; if I wish to explain to him who asks, I know not.”

BLANK STARE … thanks, dude.  That really clears it up.

Once upon a time (pun intended), I asked a good friend of mine what he thought time was.  My friend, Tim, is a practical man.  He said he always thought of time like this: He’d see himself sitting on a rock while a river of time flowed around him. Fair enough.  I asked him if he ever fell in.  He said only when he was out drinking with me.  Again, fair enough.

Does that mean time is a river?  Perhaps, although it makes me wonder why we decided to use a circle to measure time, like the tavern clock in the photograph above.

A river, though, is the most common notion.  But then, are we all sitting on rocks watching the river go by?  Or are we humans the ones who move?  What if the river is still and we’re fish swimming through it, trout on their way to their place of birth?

Most of these ideas stem out of the original idea that time is a dimension.  A kitchen table has length, width, and height.  And if you draw it you draw it using lines.  The same follows for time.  IMG_3159

In Back to the Future, Part II, Doc Brown draws time as a line on an old chalk board.  In his diagram, Marty’s plight is a series of branches with more than one version of 1985.  There are a couple of incidents in 1985 I wish I had a choice about.

But why all this thought about a line?  Does time have to be imagined like this?  Sometime in the early 1970s I saw my first digital clock.  It looked a bit like the one on the right, like you’ll see on microwave ovens and coffeemakers everywhere.  If we changed the way we display time (as a circle), then does that mean we can change the way we perceive time?

And that leads me to my next question.  Why does time have to look like something we draw on a sheet of paper?

What if time is a giant snowstorm, and time travel the melting water during the Spring thaw?

Snow

But maybe these are not good comparisons, either.  What if time is actually a lamp, a globe, the distributor cap of a 1957 Chevy, a matryoshka doll, or the fine pen used by a Japanese calligraphy artist?  What if time were simply an oven mitt, a way to keep us from getting burned by the casserole dish of the universe?  If you wanted to write a story or come up with a movie script to rival Back to the Future, how could you use one of these ideas of time?

And then, of course, is my personal favorite: The eponymous goldfish.  This is what time is inside my mind.  Time is a goldfish.  It is a pleasant thing, all shiny, with wavy fins protruding from its scales, that gives a sense of peace and tranquility if you’ll let it.  But if you try to swallow it, like those damn fool frat boys did in the 50s, it’s going to give you heartburn!

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So what is your opinion?  Before you write about time travel, you might want to solidify your own idea of what time itself is. It’s certainly something to chew on.  Just make sure you’re not chewing on my fish.

Until next time …

Peace, from Keith

Text and photographs are Copyright © 2012, Alan Keith Parker.  All Rights Reserved.  If you steal my stuff my fanged goldfish will get medieval on you!