Time and the conventions of fiction.

In my last post I commented on the difficulty of representing relativity within the compass of fiction writing – which requires a strong linear connection. This linearity is so normal as to be almost invisible, until one tries to alter it. Most writers seem soon to give up.

Science Fiction epics … the huge space operas so much out of fashion these days, have always ignored Einsteinian relativity. The hero flits from one end of the galaxy to the other and always arrives to find the planet of arrival is on the same day of the calendar as aboard his spaceship. Some writers pay lip service to this anomaly by instituting a galactic time, a UGT, that must keep astronomers and clockmakers busy for eons. Time signals within our universe are transmitted at the speed of light – no more. When calling Space HQ from the end of your ‘hyperdrive’ journey of a thousand light years, the people you need to speak to have been dead for more than nine centuries. That’s in the real universe, not the ‘magic’ one, of course.

That’s the Buck Rogers fiction dealt with. What about non-linear time on Earth? Magic journeys into the past have been grist for many fictional mills. Somehow the protagonist of this fiction has passed through a portal and found himself in the past. The mechanism of the portal is never discussed – a convenient stratagem that saves reams of pages and an unwinnable fight with disbelief. The reader has to accept portals before picking up the book. I don’t take issue with this, but almost all stories end with the victorious time traveller going back home to his own world – and finding himself miraculously re-connected with his thread of life before the portal experience. He was a time travelling for a month – right, he goes back home to find a month’s worth of newspapers in his mailbox. Some writers have him arriving home just an eye-blink from the moment when he slipped into the portal.

This latter is actually the most logical. His time through the portal didn’t exist in his normal world, so although he might come back as aged as Rip Van Winkle, he hasn’t been gone for any time at all.

Then there are the writers who choose to muck about with linear time in a fiction that stays firmly embedded in Earth reality. They don’t actually do anything to the novel time, they just juggle the chapter order when putting the plot together – to keep the reader from observing the specific incident that holds the whole edifice together within its proper place in the plot. You might want to cry, “fraud” here, but in literary circles it’s considered the epitome of first class writing.

However – none of these issues are the ones I have problems with in “Mindstream”. Readers have asked, “If there is no connection between the time in the Mindstream and the time in the four dimensional ‘real’ world – how is it that the protagonist always comes back to the linear time at the point where the story needs him?” Yes, good question. Next?

I plead necessity. Not of time, but of fiction. Who would read a story where no logical thread connects the events within the plot? It becomes ‘not a story’ if the linear connectivity is lost. Whatever is done to time within the novel – it doesn’t effect the linear time of the person reading it. So … the consciousness of the Mindstream traveller is connected linearly with that of his inactive body within the real universe. He always returns to the point where his mind’s synapses have developed in storing the memories – otherwise he’d never remember what he’d been doing. QED. If it doesn’t seem an adequate explanation to you – well, you’ve never been there.

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3 Responses to “Time and the conventions of fiction.”

  1. joylene Says:

    As humans, we’re stuck on the consciousness of our time. Some say it’s because of our huge egos. Remember when Jodie Foster’s character arrives back to find that only a few seconds had passed, and yet she thought she’d been gone several minutes during the time where she meets her dead father on another plain. The movie was CONTACT.

    I think keeping the same time in novels or movies simplifies so much. Otherwise, you could drive yourself crazy.

  2. kester2 Says:

    Hi Joylene —
    I prefer the idea that time is only a function of the present. The future (and predictions) do not exist, and the past, being filtered through everyone’s (selective) memories is only a legend. Time, and the ego that perceives it, is only a binary illusion — either ‘here’ or ‘not here’.

  3. joylene Says:

    Eckhart Tolle says all there is and will ever be is Now.

    Good post, Chris. Fascinating.

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