Category Archives: Science Fiction
I once asked a friend of mine who reads a great deal of Science Fiction and Fantasy what he saw as the essential difference between the two genres. He thought for a moment and said that Science Fiction “could happen” while Fantasy “could not.”
I think I know what he meant. In Science Fiction, the writer is cognizant of the physical laws operative within the story. If an SF writer were to describe space travel, Newton’s Laws of motion and gravity would be obeyed. Even here one enters a grey area: some writers would insist on using the speed of light as a fixed limitation while others would imagine a way around it.
In my high school years, I grew up on this genre and my love of science, in large measure, grew out of that reading. Several friends had urged me to read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, but I resisted for a long time. When I did read it, it was as if a new world had opened up for me. It recaptured for me what I had experienced as a child on first reading The Chronicles of Narnia. There was a sense of nobility, beauty, and “rightness” about those imagined worlds that I had missed in my Science Fiction reading, which instead, seemed sterile in comparison.
The longer I thought about it, it came to me that I was encountering an unspoken presupposition that was embedded in most SF literature, that of a materialistic universe where all that mattered was atoms and molecules; chemistry and physics. In addition, I found that the more modern SF also grew more cynical, growing increasingly hostile to the very things that I loved in Fantasy. As a consequence, I read very few modern SF stories (although I do try them once in a while) and spend much more time reading Fantasy.
So how has this impacted my writing? I think, in The Halcyon Cycle, I write Science Fiction that reads like Fantasy. I spend a good deal of time thinking about the physics and chemistry behind my imagined world (I think some of my readers would argue too much, in fact), but I also have many of the elements of a Fantasy story (swords, nobility, right and wrong which transcends worlds and physical laws for example).
Check out The Halcyon Cycle Books … http://bit.ly/2qzzi4P-Author
In The Halcyon Dislocation, I postulated the existence of time quantization as a means to setting up parallel, sibling worlds. Here is the description of this concept in an exerpt from the book:
Tired and hungry, Dave and Glenn returned to their room and turned on the TV to see if broadcasting had resumed. To their surprise Jennifer McCowan, the blonde talk show host of Halcyon Music, was on the air.
“Even without social media,” said McCowan in her gentle, lilting voice, “I know that everyone is asking ‘where are we?’ and ‘what’s happened to us?’ To answer those questions I’ve asked a friend of mine to the studio. Please welcome Vlad Sowetsky.”
Canned applause welcomed Vlad.
“So, Vlad,” said McCowan, “please tell our viewers what you do.”
Vlad, a tall, big boned youth in his mid-twenties, had a long, narrow face and close-set eyes, so that the overall impression vaguely reminded one of a horse. He had shoulder length hair and stubble on his face.
“To cut to the chase, I’m a graduate student with Professor Hoffstetter, and I was in the control room when the dislocation occurred.”
“So what actually happened during the accident yesterday?”
“Well,” said Vlad, “we were running the largest test on the force field to date. The plan was to—”
“Whoa,” said McCowan, “I think you are going much too fast. Tell the audience how the Hoffstetter force field works, but no jargon, please!”
Vlad screwed up his face as if he were being asked the impossible. “The force field appears as a bubble about the size of a soccer ball when we first generate it. The time inside the bubble is slightly behind our time. When we first make the bubble, the time delay—or offset—is very, very small so that the field is thin. That is to say, anything can cross it. We expand the bubble to the desired size and then thicken it. By ‘thicken’ I mean that we increase the time offset so the field begins to have an effect. First it stops large objects. If we increase the time offset even more, we could theoretically stop air molecules or light from crossing the force field boundary.”
“Field boundary,” said McCowan. “Now you’re lapsing into jargon again and losing me.”
“By field boundary I mean the edge of the force field bubble. Shooting a missile through this barrier is, as Hoffstetter would say, ‘like trying to shoot into last week.’” Vlad was beginning to get exasperated.
“Okay,” said McCowan, “please go on. Even if I don’t understand all of the physics, I’m sure there are many listeners who will.”
“Well, we had intended to expand the force field so that it enclosed the central building in the experimental area. However, while we were expanding the bubble, the first lightning strike overloaded the equipment and the expansion continued unabated.”
This was followed by a momentary pause and a baffled look on McCowan’s face. “How big did the bubble get?” she finally asked.
“I think it expanded to a sphere about four miles in diameter,” said Vlad.
“Then a second series of lightning strikes overloaded the offset controls, and the time offset increased enormously,” said Vlad. Beads of perspiration had appeared on his forehead.
McCowan uncrossed her legs and leaned forward. “Tell the audience what you think happened next,” she prompted.
Vlad took a deep breath. “I only have a half-baked theory. Do you know about quantization of energy?”
“Vaguely,” said McCowan, a blank look on her face.
“Let me see if I can make it as simple as possible. Macroscopically, that is, in the world of meter lengths and kilogram masses, energy seems to be continuous. It flows like a stream or a river. So if I ask how much energy it takes to lift this book,” he lifted a book from the table, “you can calculate the energy in joules to as many decimal places as you like. I can lift the book to any height and calculate the lift energy for each height. But when you go down in size, ten orders of magnitude to angstroms, the world changes. When lifting electrons away from the atomic nucleus, all the rules change, and one can only ‘lift’ the electron to discrete ‘heights,’ or energy levels. It’s like being able to lift this book in little jumps.” He demonstrated by rapidly lifting and stopping the book at various heights.
“Yeah, I know what you’re talking about. You’re bringing back unpleasant memories of first year chemistry. But what has that got to do with the Hoffstetter field generators and the accident?”
“Everything!” said Vlad. “I think time is also quantized.”
“You’ve lost me again. How can time be quantized?” asked McCowan. “And if it is, what difference does it make?”
“Well, think about it in relation to the quantization of energy that you learned about in first year chemistry. We think of time flowing past us like a stream moving at a constant rate. That may appear true in our macroscopic world, but what happens if, at very short time intervals, one reaches a minimum time (I call it a mintival for minimum time interval)? What if our existence at the time interval of a mintival consists of little jumps, like a jump second hand rather than a sweep second hand? Or putting it another way, what if instead of a flowing stream, time consisted of a series of pools,” and here he paused to let his words sink in, “and our existence is a discontinuous series of jumps from one pool to the next?”
“Your theory is fascinating, Vlad, but what has that got to do with the Hoffstetter field generators?”
“I just told you that the Hoffstetter field generators cause the matter inside the field to lag normal time by a very small amount, say ten to the minus thirty-second of a second—that’s a decimal point with thirty-one zeros after and then a one. Now let’s suppose…” Sowetsky turned and kneeled on the sofa and drew three contiguous rectangles on a white board behind his seat “…that these three rectangles represent three sequential mintivals in our world, or universe, if you like. Another world can coexist with ours, as long as the mintivals of that world are offset from those of our time.” He drew three more rectangles adjacent but offset to the first three, like bricks on the side of a building. “It would be like a single reel of film containing two movies, with the odd numbered frames representing our world and the even numbered frames representing another world. If two projectors played this interlaced film with one displaying the odd numbered frames and the other the even numbered frames, one film could give rise to two motion pictures. Similarly, although two solid objects cannot occupy the same space at the same time, they can occupy that space at different times, so to speak.”
“Keep going,” ventured McCowan doubtfully. “I hope our viewers are following you through all this.”
“Well, normally, when the Hoffstetter field generators shut down, they collapse back to the nearest quantized mintival. When the field generators overloaded, I believe we kicked over into the trailing mintival—hence the new world!”
“Well, I’ll be!” said McCowan, genuinely shocked. “Can we get back?”
“I don’t know,” said Sowetsky, frowning. “We only know how to make the Hoffstetter field lag time, not precede time. If we tried it again, we might jump into yet another world that lags this one!”
“You can’t be serious!” said McCowan.
“I’m deadly serious,” said Sowetsky evenly.
“We’re never going to get back, are we?” asked McCowan, her voice fading to a whisper as tears began to fill her eyes. She turned away from the camera for a moment. “I have one final question, Vlad,” she said, regaining her composure with obvious effort. “Did you tell Professor Hoffstetter about this possibility?”
“Of course! I told him not once but several times!” said Sowetsky. “That’s what burns me up so much.”
“What did he say when you told him?”
“At first he told me ‘science requires us to take risks,’ and finally he told me to stop raising the matter.”
Is this even possible? Normally in quantum mechanics, quantization comes about because of boundary conditions. Think of a guitar string. A loose guitar string doesn’t produce a pure tone. Only when it is stretched between two points (think boundary conditions) does one obtain a pure fundamental frequency along with the overtones. These frequencies represent quantization of the sound (the fundamental and overtones are related mathematically). It’s not easy to see why time should have boundary conditions and so quantization seems unlikely at first glance.
However, in 1899, the great physicist, Max Planck, proposed a natural unit of time based only on universal constants such as the gravitational constant, Planck’s constant, and the speed of light. Planck’s time (ca. 5.39 x 10^-44 seconds) is a small number indeed and is considered by many physicists as the shortest time interval possible. Similarly, the inverse quantity, 1/tp, is a frequency and may represent the maximum frequency possible. Perhaps there are boundary conditions for time and the idea of time quantization are not as far fetched as it seemed at first glance.
Relationship to Time Paradox
In any case, Planck Time, or the Mintival described by the character Vlad Sowetsky in The Halcyon Dislocation are very short time intervals indeed. They are much shorter than the time of one vibration of a hydrogen molecule or the shortest time observed experimentally (8.5 x 10^-19 seconds (2010)).
This provides a trivial solution to the time paradox. In the time paradox, one short circuits a chain of cause and effect events. That is to say, travelling back in time means the traveler invariably makes changes or initiates new causes that change the future. Or does he? There are usually two solutions. In one possible solution, each change initiates a new multiverse or parallel world strand.
A second solution (illustrated in C. S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce (he references getting the idea from a science fiction novel) centers on the idea that the traveler cannot affect the past at all. It’s like adamant. Not even a blade of grass could be bent by the visitor.
With very short time intervals, traveling backward in time does not generate a violation of the time paradox because over these time intervals nothing happens so nothing changes. So you see time travel should be possible as long as the trip backwards is very short!
Yesterday, I was browsing my Twitter feed when I came across a link to an article by Mallory Millett (I believe Peterson meant “Millett” rather than “Miller”) from September 1, 2014 describing her life in the feminist movement, particularly under the influence of her sister, Kate.
I had never heard of Kate Millett, nor read any of her writings (were I better read, I suppose I should have); what struck me as I read Mallory Mallett’s account of her personal experience, was the uncanny resemblance to imagined dialogue I had written in my 2009 science fiction novel, The Halcyon Dislocation.
It is the work of every science fiction writer to ask the “What if?” question. Generally, one takes present-day observations on technology, sociology and political developments and extrapolates them to imagine what present trends would look like in the future.
In my specific case, I had spent many years, first as a student, then as a researcher and Adjunct Professor to formulate a guess as to what present trends I saw in the university might look like in the future. What would happen if, say’ sociologists saw their university dislocated to a parallel world and they had an unique and unprecedented opportunity to implement their ideas of sociological “progress” in an environment over which they had complete control? Where would they take their students with their teaching, their laws, and their behind-the-scenes machinations?
Then a tweet led me to an article by Mallory Millett and I was startled to find her experience could have come directly from dialogue in my book. I had expected to see the effects of my predictions, but not their articulation. The fact that promiscuity was spoken of openly as a way of destroying the family (patriarchy) as early 1969 in the small women’s groups was sobering.
Here is a quote from Mallory Millett about her experience in a “consciousness raising group:”
We gathered at a large table as the chairperson opened the meeting with a back-and-forth recitation, like a Litany, a type of prayer done in Catholic Church. But now it was Marxism, the Church of the Left, mimicking religious practice:
“Why are we here today?” she asked.
“To make revolution,” they answered.
“What kind of revolution?” she replied.
“The Cultural Revolution,” they chanted.
“And how do we make Cultural Revolution?” she demanded.
“By destroying the American family!” they answered.
“How do we destroy the family?” she came back.
“By destroying the American Patriarch,” they cried exuberantly.
“And how do we destroy the American Patriarch?” she replied.
“By taking away his power!”
“How do we do that?”
“By destroying monogamy!” they shouted.
“How can we destroy monogamy?”
Their answer left me dumbstruck, breathless, disbelieving my ears. Was I on planet earth? Who were these people?
This is a new experience for me, hearing my fictional extrapolations come to life in a personal memoir only a few years after I wrote them in dialogue. It is a strange feeling, reading about people openly speaking about destructive social change with intention, and conviction as if it were the most desirable thing in the world. Gone is the idea of freely chosen outcomes. There is no thought for making room for others with different aspirations and convictions. The prospect of living in an environment that adopts the tyrannical manipulations of the fictional University of Halcyon is deeply dismaying. It was a prediction and observation on university life about which I had fervently hoped to be wrong!