Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Circular Causality I

We appreciate the ingenuity of circular causality paradoxes in time travel fiction but usually forget the details. Here are some examples.

"The Chronic Argonauts" (1888) by HG Wells

The Chronic Argonaut, an earlier version of the Time Traveller, moves into an empty and shunned house, moves backwards in time while remaining in the house, is attacked as an intruder by the house's then occupants, a man and his two sons, defends himself and flees back to his present, leaving the father dead. With no evidence of an intruder, the sons are convicted of their father's murder which is why their house is later empty and shunned.

"Stitch in Time" (1961) by John Wyndham

A young man approaching a country house in order to propose to a young woman is pulled fifty years into the future by scientists who are then experimenting with time in the house. The woman, now in a wheelchair, still lives in the house and greets the young man who, after his initial shock, recognises her and, when returned to his present, does not propose to her. Not having received the expected proposal, she marries someone else and has a son whose organisation buys the house, letting her stay in it, and conducts the time experiments.

"Chronoclasm" (1953) by Wyndham

A man has an affair with a woman from his future. When she has returned to the future for the last time, he writes letters to her which will be found and will cause her to travel into her past to find him.

"By His Bootstraps" (1941) by Robert Heinlein

In 1952, Bob Wilson, now drunk, had locked himself in his apartment all day to finish his thesis. A strangely familiar man exiting a disc of nothing threw Wilson's only hat into this "Time Gate" and urged Wilson to follow because an older man would offer a deal enabling all three to run the country. A similar man exiting the Gate argued against. They were interrupted by a nuisance phone call, then by a call from a woman, Genevieve, claiming that Wilson had left his hat in her apartment that afternoon. In a three-sided fight, Wilson was punched unconscious through the Gate. Waking, he was greeted by an older, bearded man, Diktor, who gave him a drugged drink to help him sleep off fatigue, drunkenness and shock. Waking again, he received from Diktor a list of reference books and other resources to bring from 1952. Diktor, benevolent despot of a peaceful society, needed Wilson's help to maintain his position. A young woman, Arma, served food and drink.

Diktor sent Wilson to 1952 to persuade someone, his younger self, to come through the Gate. An older Wilson arrived to argue against. Wilson followed his punched self through the Gate where Diktor showed him his sleeping form. Wilson questioned Diktor's motives and went through the Gate to dissuade his younger self from going through. Having failed, he was rung again by Genevieve who thought that they had become engaged that afternoon. Later, hearing footsteps stop outside his door, he went through the Gate to see Diktor and himself receding down a corridor. Retrieving his hat and appropriating Diktor's hand-written English-future dictionary, he made a Gate appear in 1952 outside his apartment and went to buy the items on Diktor's list. Because the outside Gate disappeared in his absence, he had to use the one in his apartment after his younger selves had left. Meanwhile, he visited Genevieve and made a nuisance phone call.

Ten years before his encounter with Diktor, he impressed the tribespeople with modern music played on a mechanical recorder, then used his tabu status and sociological knowledge to control society. He occupied Diktor's apartments, grew a Diktor-style beard, named a servant Arma, copied from the old dictionary into a new one when the old one wore out and was called "Diktor" which meant "chief." Watching his apartment through a Gate, he saw a hat and an unconscious body exit the Gate. He placed the hat and dictionary where Wilson would find them, started to plan a list for Wilson, then spoke to him.

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