Bootstrap

Sally SparrowThis week, The Parker Institute of Time Travel Studies (The PITTS) — in conjunction with State and Local Officials — has devised this warning for all time travelers and others involved in temporal excursions: Do not employ bootstrap time travel.

  • Bootstrap Time Travel (Encyclopedia Galactica*) — The bootstrap paradox is a paradox of time travel in which information or objects can exist without having been created. After information or an object is sent back in time, it is recovered in the present and becomes the very object/information that was initially brought back in time in the first place.

A recent examination by investigators — hired by the autonomous Fish and #TARDIS Sauce Group — indicate that there is an alarming rise of bootstrapped articles appearing throughout the timeline. The genesis of this “fad” seems to have been the airing of the Doctor Who episode, “Blink.” The PITTS, therefore, has been forced to implement emergency and draconian measures to staunch the flow of now-uncreated objects and information. Recent examples of bootstrap incursions include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • A man from Nantucket took a freeze-dried lizard back to his childhood, gave the lizard to himself, which he (the younger) then kept until he was a grown man with a chance to travel back in time … the situation was frustrated by teaching his younger self a limirick.
  • A husky Russian émigré, intent on playing football for Vince Lombardi, recently overshot his mark and took his time vehicle to 1947 New Mexico instead of 1967 Wisconsin, ruining our research and playoff hopes in one selfish move.
  • An English woman, home from the laundry mat and feeling adventuresome, took the family Wellsian for a spin to Victorian England with a basket full of extra footwear, creating an impossible temporal vortex of missing socks that will confound 20th– and 21st-century men for eternity.
  • An Alabama man took an egg (cage-free, organic, with Omega-3s) to China, circa 6000 BC, to the very day that the first chicken became domesticated and, as a result of self-indulgent selfish motives, removed the chicken-egg paradox from modern thought.
  • A Jaffa woman recently returned The Holy Grail to its shelf at The Cenacle, thereby eliminating any possibility we could determine the origin of said graal.
  • And in 2007/1969 Doctor Who told Sally Sparrow, “Blink and you’re dead. They are fast. Faster than you can believe. Don’t turn your back. Don’t look away. And don’t blink. Good luck.” The Doctor has been unavailable for comment.

These are but a few examples of what has become a worldwide epidemic. At this rate, all material objects, articles, matter, data, information, and salmon will not have a place of origin. The effects of this activity on the eco-military-industrial-climatic-god complex cannot not be overstated without embellishment. Please stay tuned to this channel for further updates.

The past is prologue; so is the future.

Years truly,

Keith

* All entries from Encyclopedia Galactica are, in fact, plagiarized liberated from Wikipedia.org (English version).

Copyright © 2013 Keith Parker

Change

Smith_2578796bThis week The Parker Institute for Time Travel Studies (The PITTS) takes a hard look at three major changes that rocked the science fiction and fantasy world this past week.  And when we say “hard look” we’d like to make sure you understand that this is serious.  And by “serious” we mean sober.  Except that it’s not really healthy to be too sober, so maybe we’ll have a cocktail to cut through the pressure.  And if we’re going to have a cocktail, then we might as well have a glass of wine with our dinner, and if we’re going to have a glass of wine with dinner then there’s really no reason we can’t have an after-dinner cognac.  And that’ll pretty much mean that we aren’t taking a “hard look” at anything at all.  Instead, these are simply post-buzz ramblings devoid of emotional or intellectual depth …

So, without further ado, what happened?  Well, primary to this blog is that Matt Smith is leaving Doctor Who, creating a vacuum in the incredibly rich story that’s developed over the past four years, with an intense, mysterious chemistry between The Doctor and Clara Oswald, and a parallel mystery about the doctor’s name and (eventual) demise.  agotAnother occurrence in speculative fiction circles was the passing (read: violent, bloody death) of certain character(s) in A Game of Thrones.

And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that we lost one of the true giants of fantasy literature recently.  One of the last of the Golden Age Science Fiction writers, Jack Vance, died on May 26th.  If you’ve never read Vance, you need to run — not walk — to your nearest e-book reader and devour his writing.  You can find his catalog here: http://www.jackvance.com/ebooks/shop/?q22_category_filter=dying

Bad things come, they say, in threes.

Is that the case here?  It seems like it.  Which makes me wonder about one of the main reasons I write this blog: time travel.  What would happen if I went back in time to May 25th?  If I were to do this, what could I possibly do to change these three events?  Nothing.  I desperately wish Matt Smith were not leaving Doctor Who, but even if I were to go back prior to his announcement, and if I cashed out my retirement and bought a plane ticket to the UK, and if I were to successfully track him down, what good would it do?  Odds are, he made his decision weeks, if not months, ago.  Or what if I went a different direction and landed my steam-punk Wellsian on the set of HBO?  Could I actually do anything about the second season finale of AGOT?  And then what about Mr. Vance?  I do not know the circumstances surrounding Mr. Vance’s death, but he was 96-years-old, and had achieved status as one of the greatest science fiction and fantasy authors of the 20th Century.  What exactly needs to be changed?

If you’re wondering who, as it were, I think the new Doctor should be, the thought that keeps circling back to me is that we need another Tom Baker; we need an actor or actress who is, in essence, the embodiment of the Doctor the way that Baker was.  More than any other Doctor, the line between the character and the actor was very fine in those days.  Beyond that, I don’t have a strong opinion on the matter.  And I’m not sure it’d matter if I did …

And that is a segue into my closing thoughts: I’ve often said time travel is a form of wish fulfillment, but in this case the wishes don’t come true, do they?  And maybe that’s a good thing, because I’ve developed a quasi-Buddhist attitude toward life in recent years and putting myself in a state of angst really does no good.  The reason we suffer is because we try to control those things that are out of our control.  I do not know if this is truly “Buddhist” but it was the best that my Western mind could come up with as I studied that beautiful philosophy.  As the author of Elephant Journal put it:

And, of course, if you’re looking for a more “Western” approach, there was a Galilean who said something similar:

  • 25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?”
    • The Gospel According to Saint Matthew, Chapter 6, Verses 25:34

happy buddhaMy goal is not to preach.  My goal is to espouse optimism, to let you know it’ll all be okay.  And to let you know that I think we all need to laugh more.  Along those lines, let me redirect you to one of the funniest authors in the blogosphere.  He goes by the pseudonym Mirkin Firkin, and writes some of the most outrageous and hilarious blog posts I’ve ever read.  You can find his blog here: http://justjigglethehandle.wordpress.com.

Until next time, “Don’t Panic!”

Years truly,

Keith Parker

Owner, Fish and #TARDIS Sauce

Copyright © 2013

Soul

Doctor-Who-final

Okay, so I finally watched the Doctor Who Christmas Special from 2011 titled “The Doctor, Widow and the Wardrobe,” and reminded myself that I need to remind myself that I need to ask the question that famous SF author Connie Willis is constantly reminding herself to ask: “Do apes have souls?”

In this case, of course, the question would be better re-worded to ask whether trees have souls, and I’ll remind myself to do that at the end of this post.  But the sentiment is the same, isn’t it?

  • Reminder: Be sure to ask this question in multiple venues, including the office, church, and the next cocktail party I go to.
  • Reminder: Note the reactions.  The last time you did this people rolled their eyes and mumbled excuses to wander away.

But do they?  Do trees have souls?  Individually?  Collectively?  Are they … Borg?   Speaking of Borg, did you know that in one of the 1960s’ Doctor Who episodes the Daleks told The Doctor “resistance was useless”?  Coincidence?  Doubtful.  Germane to this blog?  Not in the least.

It’s a touching episode — “The Doctor, Widow, and the Wardrobe” — and even though I’m not a fan of C.S. Lewis, I found the homage delightful.  It’s certainly heart-warming, with a great time-travel paradox to wrap things up in a Christmastime bow.  Those always give me that “ooh ah” sense of wonder I love so much.

But I really did start waxing idiotic about the soul again.  It’s an ages-old question that won’t be solved here, but the question still lingers like the downed tree in the forest that nobody heard fall except Walt Whitman.

The answer is another question: Do we really know?  The atheist says he knows, and the theist says that he knows, while the Buddhist simply says to the hot dog vender: make me one with everything.

But if we have souls, then are our souls unique?  Or, are we part of a greater collective soul?  A collective consciousness, one German called it.  And is that the destiny of all living things?  Is that part of evolution?  Amy Pond is certainly part of evolution.  She’s pictured to the right, even though she — like The Borg — has nothing to do with this post.  Now that my obligatory lecherousness is out of the way, I can pose a few more questions, bullet-style:amy_pond

  • Ever wonder about entities that might become alive?
    • Like a virus, or the Internet.
  • Can there be a collective RNA?
  • Will a sentient Internet have a collective consciousness?
  • What if the plants and the trees and the birds and the bees are all part of our consciousness?
  • Whither the lions and tigers and bears?

And then, … and then, … and then you have to ask, does the universe itself have a consciousness?  Here are some more bullets for your consideration:

  • Is the universe alive?
  • Is the universe’s life force the same as what we call God?
  • Did Luke use The Force?
  • Why did my team just run 3 draw-plays in a row?
  • What about parallel universes?  Do they get souls, too?

It’s an interesting question isn’t it?  There are roughly 1082 particles in the universe.  What if they all compose a single mind?  Are they (it?) the source of morality, of genius … of art?  And what do we do about that one rebel (there’s always one) among us who asks, what about particle number 1082 + 1?

Is that lonely electron on its own?

One is, as the song says, the loneliest number.

That’s all for now.  Just some simple questions to ponder over a mug of beer (or six).  Oh, and remind me to talk about Doctor Who next time I post.  That really is what this blog is all about.  Well, that, and hot dogs.

Years truly,

Keith

Copyright © 2013

Clutter

Rose and Jack“All the world’s a stage” ~ As You Like It, Act II Scene VII, by William Shakespeare, used without his permission.

It’s been a stressful couple of months for a number of reasons (long hours, stomach flu, etc.), and during this time I’ve noticed that my mind keeps circling back to the famous Doctor Who story arc in “The Empty Child” and “The Doctor Dances.”

  •   Are you my mummy?

As I daydream these two episodes get mingled with a conversation I had with a friend over the holidays.  It was one of those “tough love” kind of conversations (I was on the receiving end), which sought to knock some sense into me about the stresses in my life compared to those of others.  There is no doubt that my friend was right:  Others have it far, far worse than I.  We throw away enough food here in America to feed entire continents.  We have electricity, heat, air conditioning, and we even still have Twinkies.  And I am grateful.  I’m grateful to everyone, from farmers to HVAC mechanics, who help make us a first-world country.   So, no, I’m not living in desolation.  But even those who’re the same demographic as I am have their own burdens of stress, grief, disease, and turmoil on a daily basis.  Knowing this, however, does not comfort me.  Knowing that everyone else is going through hell just makes me wonder if I’m the victim of a gargantuan prank.  I’m not — I’m not that jaded — but it does make me wonder.

Which brings us back to

  •     Are you my mummy?

this two-part Doctor Who episode.  It’s a compelling, kitchen-sink mix of science fiction, history, humor, and horror.  We get to see a new character: The swashbuckling and handsome Jack Harkness.  We get to see Rose out of character: Freewheeling and whimsical in a delightful way that brings balance to the plot.  And we get to hear The Doctor’s name again: Not his real one, of course, but the time-worn (as it were) John Smith pseudonym once again.  And the story, like life, is a mountainous journey, with high peaks and shadowed valleys meant to

  • Are you my mmmmmmm-ummmmmmy?

scare the bejesus out of us.  But my goal is not to rehash the plot.  My goal is to say that the episode is CLUTTER!  In a good way :)

Like our lives, it is overwhelming — a city being bombed to rubble, a nano-virus on the loose, paranoia of not becoming “like them.”  Steven Moffat and his crew at the BBC took this confusion and turned it into a classic piece of entertainment.  For those of us who’ve never fought in a war or been helpless victims as bombs erupted in the sky we cannot possibly imagine the

  • Are you my mummy?

terrors of battle.  From the explosions that will blow your eardrums out, to the sights of rubble and carnage and blood, to the smells of death — the latter being the one thing that TV will never, I hope, provide us — the episode imagines destruction on a planetary scale and fright on a human scale.   But it’s all fiction.  It’s all smoke and mirrors.  It’s … all … a … play.  So, yes, for most people understanding that you’re not alone in your struggle helps to deal with an unpredictable world.   But that doesn’t help me.  What does help is story-telling, in all its forms.  Those media (books, film, TV) provide a sanctuary for my personal stress.   And they allow me to take a step back and project my life onto a stage, while I take my seat in the audience.  It helps me to know that Shakespeare was right: The world really is a stage.  It keeps me from going crazier’n a shithouse rat.  And that’s the “therapy” I need.  I don’t need tough love.  I need fantasy.

And you know what else helps, friends and neighbors?  Sneaking up on people and whispering, “Are you my mummy?” in a creepy British accent.

Years truly,

Keith

Copyright © 2013

Bad Does Not Spoil The Good

scotch“The way I see it, life is a pile of good things and bad things. The good things don’t always soften the bad things, but vice versa the bad things don’t always spoil the good things and make them unimportant.” ~ Doctor Who

As an unapologetic, unsuccessful fiction writer I’m proud to say that I often rub shoulders with the people who rub shoulders with the people who rub shoulders with the writers who write in the tradition of  Edgar Allan Poe and Ambrose Bierce.  Down through the years I’ve been drawn to the hauntingly compelling fiction of H.P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard, Ray Bradbury and Shirley Jackson, Joyce Carol Oates and Stephen King.  So when my family sat down to watch the award-winning episode “The Doctor’s Wife” — and the opening credits popped up on our barn-size television set — I yelled out like the damn food I am: “Neil Gaiman!  Neil Gaiman!  It was written by Neil Gaiman!”

My wife and kids stared at me like I was speaking Serbo-Croatian.

But then I remembered the good Doctor’s quote, that bad things don’t spoil the good.  So instead of simply leaving it at that, and enjoying a stunning piece of drama — wherein Doctor Who melds science fiction, fantasy and horror with the aplomb of a good bartender mixing a mojito — I paused TiVo to explain that Neil is one of the über-talented writers who’ve inherited the mantle of Lovecraft and Poe, who’ve become the newest generation of fantasists.  And their blank stares reminded me of Christmas dinner twenty-years-ago, when a friend of the family asked what kind of fiction I wrote.  When I allowed that I was a fantasy writer, he said he loved — just loved — a book with good, steamy sex.  So do I, for what it’s worth, but that’s not the point.

When I say fantasy, I don’t mean Fifty Shades of Gray or late-night Cinemax.  I’m not a prude; it’s just not my genre.  In fact, I am not even referring to The Lord of the Rings or A Game of Thrones.  Again, not my thing.  You see, my foot is firmly planted in that land of shadow and substance, of things and ideas, and so when people ask what I write, I simply smile and say that I write Twilight Zone stories.  At which point some teen or tween will say, “Ooh, I just love Stephenie Meyers.”

And that’s when I go to the bar and order another scotch.

Years truly,

Keith

Copyright © 2013

Don’t Blink

20130416-185929.jpg
I was chatting with a friend a few days ago, and he allowed that he’d never seen Doctor Who before, despite being a lifelong science fiction fan. His thoughts were eerily similar to my own as recently as 2011, when the show not only did not interest me, but actually intimidated me.

The advice I passed along to him was the advice I wish I’d gotten a long time ago: The first time you watch a Doctor Who episode odds are good that you’ll say, “Ewwww,” and seriously wonder about the mental state of all us fans. “How could something this campy be so popular?” “How could a series this cheesey have survived since 1963?”

Then, maybe assuming you caught a dud of an episode, you watch two or three more; and you think to yourself, “Well, there are worse ways to spend a Sunday afternoon, but this isn’t exactly The Sopranos.”

And then, … and then, … and then you catch one of those episodes, one that causes a lump to catch in your throat, makes you want to jump into the TV and help the characters; one that brings a tear to your eye.

And that’s when it hooks you. That’s when it grabs you. That’s when the series’ power ignites like a Saturn V, taking you to heights of awe and mystery that you thought you’d left back in your childhood.

And pretty soon you’ll be saying to yourself, “The smell of dust after rain. The smell of dust after rain. The smell of dust after rain.”

Or maybe you’ll simply tell yourself, “Don’t blink.”

You don’t want to look away. We all need fantasy, especially now. That’s one the things that makes us human.

Years truly,
Keith

Copyright (c) 2013

Fish and TARDIS Sauce

DW_Fathers_Day_TARDIS_door_openFish and TARDIS sauce!  Oh, man, I kill me.  It’s a good thing I came ready-made with a martini-dry sense of humor; otherwise I’d never be able to entertain myself!

But the TARDIS part of (my really bad) joke is the main reason for this brief blog post.  One of the things that originally attracted me to Doctor Who —  besides Companions like Romana, Rose, Martha, and Amy  — was the ages-old concept of the building that’s bigger on the inside than the outside.  Or, as one astute observer put it: “It’s smaller on the outside.”

Over the years I’ve noticed that a lot of writers and would-be writers will home-in on a particular trope or meme, and hyper-focus on it without realizing its history.  I think this is true of the hyper-dimensional room. Like Alice’s looking-glass, glass slippers, and time-slips, it’s one of those devices that have persisted throughout fantasy.  So if you want to use something like The Doctor’s TARDIS in one of your own stories or screenplays, I think it’s really important to do some research on the subject.  In fact, doing research is one of the reasons I love being a writer.

A quick trip around the Internet gives you a sense of what I’m talking about with when we ponder rooms that have extra dimensions.  And a quick visualization might help you realize just how WEIRD this concept really is.  Think about it: You go get in your car tomorrow pick up some pizza and beer.  You open the door, drop your car keys, and when you pick them up off the floorboard you look around and realize you’re inside UPS Delivery Truck, with enough space to play a game of football and have a few fans cheering you on from the sideline.  That’s how freaky that experience would be.

So, if you want to include extra-dimensions in your writing, be sure to understand that — like everything else in fiction — it’s been done before:

  • The Hut of Baba Yaga (yes, this was in Dungeons & Dragons, but that’s not where it originated)
  • Tents larger on the inside (yes, Rowling evoked this in Harry Potter, but so did The Beatles in one of their movies, and the concept dates back to at least to 1001 Arabian Nights)
  • The wardrobe from C.S. Lewis’ Lion, Witch, and the Wardrobe
  • The “endless forest” of Robert Holdstock’s Mythago Wood
  • The short story “And He Built a Crooked House” by Robert A. Heinlein
  • The human brain
  • A Bag of Holding (which really is from Dungeons & Dragons)
  • A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
  • “Waterfall” by M.C. Escher
  • And the almost unbearably disturbing painting Corpus Hypercubus by Salvador Dali

That’s just one small sampling.  But what a cool sampling it is.  Now, that takes care of the TARDIS part of the title, but what the hell does this have to do with fish?  Nothing, unless I’m paying tribute to Douglas Adams, the incomparable science fiction humorist.

May he rest in peas. I think the dolphins would’ve said that, too :-)

Keith

Copyright © 2013

Credit to these websites for invaluable information:

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/BiggerOnTheInside

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tesseract

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

Smith and Jones and AHHHHHH!

Smith and JonesCross-genre fiction … ever heard of it?  That’s when a writer mixes a couple of different types of story into a single piece of fiction: a novel, short story, screenplay, etc.  A good example is the science fantasy of the Star Wars movies or the science-fiction-romance of  The Time Traveler’s Wife.

But those are the exceptions.  Believe me.  The last time I tried to publish a short story that overlapped the boundaries of science fiction, fantasy, horror, mystery and humor, the publisher took one look at the manuscript and said, “Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh!”

But evidently the producers at the BBC were a tad more open-minded to this kind of story.

A great example is the Doctor Who episode “Smith and Jones” (s03e02), with David Tennant as the Doctor.

This is the episode where we’re introduced to a delightful new Companion, the staggeringly smart medical school resident Martha Jones.  And we get to meet her in a hospital.   Oh, and on the moon.  And being threatened by an extraterrestrial plasma vampire.  And among a race of humanoid-rhinos.  And … oh, that hospital?  It was on the moon.

No, this episode wasn’t a reject from Space:1999 or a 50s’ schlepp flick. This was the critically-acclaimed 3rd-season opener for a British TV drama that’s been on the air for 9713 years and 5 months.

Since a gazillion words have zigzagged over the globe describing the characters’ chemistry, which is undeniable, I wanted to give my thoughts from a different angle.  I stared with wide-eyed incredulity while a plot unfolded not unlike the story I’d written that caused the publisher to go, “Ahhhhhhhh!”

Every damn rule of fiction was broken in his one, single episode. Every last one of them. The writer, Russell T. Davies, threw the kitchen sink into this flick and … it worked.  I threw the kitchen sink into my own story and it was rejected.
Ahhhhhhh!

Here’s a brief list of things that happen in this show.  I’m going to play devil’s advocate for a second and provide snarky remarks as if I were someone who hated SF and wanted to throw rotten tomatoes at the screen.  But these snarks are not how I really feel, as you shall see.

  • Doctor Who removes his necktie, shows it to Martha, and says, “… like so!”
    • Chekov’s gun disguised as menswear.
  • Doctor Who refers to himself as John Smith, an homage to the very first Doctor Who episode (1963) and his granddaughter.
    • Quiz: Was she a Time Lord also?
  •  The first Doctor’s granddaughter was listening to a rock-n-roll group called “John Smith and the Common Men.”
    • No worse than The Quarrymen, I suppose.
  • Martha is a resident at a London hospital and witnesses rain falling up.
    • At least I didn’t expect that.
  • There’s an alien vampire in the hospital who has body guards dressed in motorcycle gear.  Their helmets make them look like Roswell aliens
    • Shouldn’t people be changing channels about now?  But they’re not.  And neither did I.
  • The Judoon are chasing the  vampire creature because she killed one of their princesses.
    • BLANK STARE
  • Laser beams
    • Ditto
  • To their credit, the characters in the hospital, which is now on the moon, ask how and why they have air.
    • Well, this is science fiction, after all.
  • The Doctor is asked if he has a brother and he says, “Not anymore.”
    • sniff, sniff
  • The hospital is inside a domed force-field
    • No.  No cliches here.
  • The vampire’s victim is a Mr. Stoker
    • BRAVO!
  • The Vampire modifies an MRI machine to destroy all life on the moon.
    • Kinda makes you pine for reverse-tachyon beams, doesn’t it?
  • The Judoon leave, but transport the hospital back to earth before the atmosphere gets too low.
    • Waste not, want not.
  • After a bad fight with her maniacally-dysfunctional family Martha spots the Doctor and the TARDIS.
    • Wonder where this is going?
  • To convince her he is indeed a time traveler the Doctor travels back in time, reappears, and tells Martha that he can’t make a time travel trip into existing timeline …
    • wait for it …
  • “Except for cheap tricks, … like so!”

So how’d they do it?   How does really good drama emerge out of that much campiness?  We all know the answer: Character.  But damn, does it really take 49-frakking-years to establish a set of characters so you can write any kind of plot you want?  Maybe so.

What I do know is that I love this episode.  On a scale of 1-to-10, I’d give it a 9.1.  For comparison sake, I’d give Doctor Who’s “Blink” a 9.8, and Star Trek’s “The City on the Edge of Forever” a 10.0.

Once again, I find myself mystified as to exactly why I like it, but if I had to guess it’d be because … oh, yeah!  It’s because Martha Jones is hot!  And I reckon the Doctor is okay, too.

:)

Pax,

Keith

Copyright © 2013