Sunday, 29 July 2012

Time Travel Memoirs Fragments

Sitting in the window of the cafe, I saw her turn into the street and walk along it towards me. As she got nearer, I realised that she was looking directly into the cafe and even making eye contact. I looked away. She came in, sat opposite and addressed me by name. I looked at her but didn't know her. Simultaneously, she started speaking and stopped making sense.

"We haven't met yet so it is alright for me to talk to you. I want you to deliver a letter for me."

She put it on the table, a sealed envelope with a name, an apartment number and an address in another part of the city.

"There are only two of them here. They are both watching his building. They don't know I am here and they won't recognise you. Go inside, press his buzzer, say you have a message from..." - she told me her name. "He will let you in. They won't know which apartment you have gone into."

I thought: Alright. She's crazy but I don't mind delivering a letter. This is sufficiently intriguing. Maybe the guy will explain more.

I asked, "How did you know to find me here?"

"You will tell me."

We spoke briefly but I could not keep track of the conversation. She said we would be friends, smiled and left.

He let me in but kept me away from the window. He read the letter, nodded and said, "Congratulations. You are the only person from this period to see inside this apartment while I am here. Only her name got you in. She must have wanted you to know something."

I was beginning to notice details like a very strange wall map of Europe with a "Wiser Federation" occupying the British Isles.

I asked, "When are you from?"

He did not tell me a date but said, "I'm from Solway City, there," pointing to the North West of England on the map. "She's from the High Ones period much later. She had some difficulty getting into the twentieth century..."

Seeing that I did not know what to ask next, he continued, "Several groups are operating in your period which is a crucial turning point but every period is, of course. They can't change definitely known events but they try to influence longer term tendencies. Our friends outside..." - he nodded towards the window - "...would prefer if the Irish were less willing participants in the Federation because that could affect events later, but they won't succeed."


"...of Welsh, Irish, Scottish and English Republics. That is probably as much as I should say."

I thought he looked Irish but with something different. Neither North nor South but something else.

"If she said you will be friends, you will. Leave as you came."

I did. All I know now is that some day she and I will meet.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Historical Dramas II

(Because this post is about time travel, I have copied it from the Poul Anderson Appreciation blog.)

The child who would have grown up to be Cyrus the Great was killed as an infant. Later, a Time Patrolman, Keith Denison, was forced to play the role of the adult Cyrus returned from hiding to claim his throne. After sixteen years in this role and thirteen years before he is due to fall in battle, Denison is found by a colleague, Everard, and they discuss how to get him out of there. They are in a scenario where history can be changed, hence the need for a Patrol.

If they simply proceed to the twentieth century, then they will arrive in a timeline where Cyrus, who is necessary for post-Exilic Judaism and thus also for Christianity, instead of dying in battle in the twenty ninth year of his reign, disappeared in the sixteenth or seventeenth year of his reign. That is acceptable neither to them nor to the Patrol.

Denison comments:

"Suppose I had not showed up? Mightn't Harpagus have found a different psuedo-Cyrus? The exact identity of the King doesn't matter. Another Cyrus would have acted differently from me in a million day-to-day details...But...if he was...reasonably able and decent...then his career would have been the same as mine in all the important ways, the ways that got into the history books." (1)

Here again is the idea of a historical role that could have been played by a different actor. Everard replies that it was Denison's mysterious appearance that gave Harpagus the idea of passing him off as a returned Cyrus.

The eventual solution is for the Patrolmen to prevent the murder of the infant Cyrus who then grows up to play his historical role. To check that history is still on track, they attend a winter solstice festival where they see Cyrus ride past with his courtiers, including Harpagus.

Denison comments:

"He's younger than I was...And a little smaller...different face entirely, isn't it?...but he'll do." (2)

Like seeing a remake of the film with a different actor but these guys are doing it with real history! He'll do? He's the right one!

Now something very strange happens to a legendary story. When Everard had arrived in 542 BC, Croesus had told him that Harpagus, ordered to kill the infant Cyrus, instead:

"...exchanged the prince for the stillborn child of a herdsman..." (3)

so that:

"...our lord Cyrus grew up as a herdsman." (3)

This story, the one told by Herodotus, is "...a typical hero myth...", told of Moses, Romulus, Sigurd etc, yet is sworn to by eyewitnesses. (4) Everard senses a mystery. Of course, he learns that the infant Cyrus was indeed killed and that the story of his growing up as a herdsman was devised in order to pass off the imposter, Denison, as the returned prince.

Later, he suggests to Denison:

"...all the scientific historians in the future are convinced that the story of Cyrus' childhood as told by Herodotus and the Persians is pure fable. Well, maybe they were right all along. Maybe you experiences here have been only one of those little quirks in space-time which the Patrol tries to eliminate." (5)

So a story that was a lie in the deleted timeline becomes a legend in the revised timeline. The scientific historians do not know what underlies the events that they study.

(1) Anderson, Poul, The Guardians Of Time, New York, 1981, p. 102.
(2) ibid., p. 123.
(3) ibid., p. 83.
(4) ibid., p. 84.

Historical Dramas I

It is commonplace that an actor can play the role of a fictitious character, like Hamlet, or of a historical character, like Julius Caesar, on stage or screen and that anyone who confuses the actor with the character misunderstands the dramatic process.

The idea of time travel raises the intriguing possibility of playing a historical role on the stage of real history. In a Superman comic, a time traveller investigating the identity of a twentieth century superheroine wound up playing the role of the superheroine, using futuristic technology to generate the superpowers of flight etc. (See "Getting Superman Right" on my Comics Appreciation Blog.)

In Michael Moorcock's Behold The Man, Karl Glogauer plays the role of Jesus in first century Palestine. The stage is set but no one else comes forward to play the role so a time traveller does. He tells parables when he remembers them. The idea is not that he is completing a causal circle but that he is making Christianity as real as possible. Without him, the New Testament would have been entirely mythological but the subsequent history would not have differed. First century Palestine is a stage on which he can do what he wants but he opts to play the role.

Time travellers would be able to get away with a lot. According to Leon Trotsky's History Of The Russian Revolution, Vladimir Lenin, on the run, attended a crucial Bolshevik committee meeting in disguise, wearing a wig and with beard shaved off (what a sight)! I cannot help imagining that that disguised Lenin was really a time traveller playing a historical role: kidnap Lenin; take his place at the meeting; hypnotise him with spurious memories as of having attended the meeting; put him in his bed to wake up the following morning. Simple. A group of time travellers could do this to the entire committee.

In Last Men In London, Olaf Stapledon envisaged a different kind of time travel intervention in the life of Lenin, one that connects with our earlier reference to Jesus. The Last Men time travel mentally, not physically. One of them performs a psychological experiment by inducing a mystical experience in Lenin who, after an hour of ecstasy, whispers, "I come not to bring peace, but a sword," and continues writing...

This line of thought started with reflections on two works by Poul Anderson which I will discuss in "Historical Dramas II" on