Category: Writing

Not a How To Time Travel

This post sort of follows this, this, and this. I don’t many impractical suggestions of how to time travel. Let me explain.

Time travel is either easy or impossible. It is easy because essentially time is just another dimension of space-time and travel in the other three is easy and we are already all travelling in time (just in one direction and locally at the same rate). On the other hand, time travel appears to imply paradoxes. Paradoxes of causality worry me less than issues such as conservation of energy/matter.

Causality worries me less because I suspect cause and effect isn’t everything we might think it is. However, if I disappear from one time period and reappear in the next, then my new time period has more matter in it than it did before and worse, that matter will hang around going forward into the future. Perhaps time travel requires some physical exchange of matter between time periods? If so, then what in the universe is keeping track?

A different issue with time travel is the speed of light. Even approaching (but staying within) the speed of light has some weird temporal consequences. Actual time travel would provide ways of in-effect travelling faster than light and likewise FTL travel also implies a degree of time travel. If the speed of light is a hard unbreakable rule of the universe then it follows that time travel is impossible also.

One method of time travel escapes most of these issues: perception. In Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughter House 5, Billy Pilgrim becomes unstuck in time due to the allied bombing of Dresden in World War 2. However, the time travel here is how he perceives events. Billy’s body isn’t popping in and out of time periods, instead, he is experiencing his life out of sequential order. This kind of mental time travel avoids issues of causality on the grounds that everything has already happened. Events are what they are but perhaps the order in which we experience them is an illusion of the human mind.

Unfortunately for stories, there aren’t many writers who can make a narrative work where no decisions can possibly matter. Which takes me to a topic for another time: how should time travel stories work?

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Lyrics

[Scene: Felapton Towers music room. Camestros Felapton is sitting by a 18th century cherry-wood Moog synthesiser, writing notes on foolscap paper.]

Timothy the Talking Cat: Well another chapter of Jor-Dan King of the Lobster Men is finished and also my cat-nip fuelled hangover is finished.

Camestros: Can’t talk, busy.

Timothy: A new project is it? Spill the beans.

Camestros: Hermeneutic filks

Timothy: I can’t say I know that young lady. Is she a relative of yours?

Camestros: What? No. Filks are reworking of songs with new lyrics, a sub genre of music popular among fandom.

Timothy: Sounds dull but show me what you are working on.

Camestros: I’m trying for the ultimate minimalism within the sub genre and using the works of Simon & Garfunkel as a starting point.

Timothy: Let me see…

Timothy: You don’t seem to have changed any words.

Camestros: Ah ha! No look again!

Timothy: ‘The Sound of Silence’…this is just a print out from lyrics dot com but you’ve capitalised one word.

Camestros: Exactly! See, see ‘ the words of the prophet are written on the Subway walls’

Timothy: Huh?

Camestros: It’s now about a sandwich shop.

Timothy: ‘In the clearing stands a boxer…’

Camestros: …is about the breed of dog.

Timothy: ‘I am a Rock’…

Camestros: …is about Dwayne Johnson impersonators

Timothy: And the weird smell around the house?

Camestros: That’s not a song…Oh you mean the lingering vapours from having the carpet cleaned after your cat-nip frenzy?

Timothy: And you’ve been locked in here breathing those fumes for several days while I was delirious?

Camestros: Maybe…

Timothy: You are off your noggin mister…and that means…I’M IN CHARGE!

[Cue theme music]

Cattimothy House Presents…Jor-Dan, King of the Lobster Men

Timothy the Talking Cat’s Thrilling Undersea Adventure!

jordanofthelobsterpeopleRumours tell a tale of hearsay and word of mouth and of misbegotten words of unclear provenance. Tall tales of stories part-forgotten and half-remembered. Aye, aye and shiver my timbers, it is I, Timothy the Talking Cat, bringing you a story of deep-sea adventure!

Who can say what lurks in the hidden depths of the ocean? Not I! I can’t swim. But I assume there are lots of fish and what cat can resist the idea of an endless supply of fishy treats. To satisfy my proverbially fatal curiosity, some months ago I set off on a quest to learn more of what was under the ocean depths.

 

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Please Help Timothy Remake The Last Jedi

A message from the CEO of Cattimothy House, Timothy the Talking Cat

Greetings fans of Star Wars everywhere,

You’ve probably heard by now of various groups who wish to remake Star Wars: The Last Jedi. While we might call their hopes “new” we should be honest and see that their plans are both a phantom and a menace that will inevitably lead to the Disney media empire striking back. What we need is a return to the Jedi of yesteryear and not some mere revenge of the Sith or some pointless clone of past wars.

Who can deliver that? Faceless internet people? Some vague comittee? Or…a face you know and can trust. A face that has repeatedly delivered epic space opera? A face with whiskers and a little triangular nose?

I think the answer is obvious.

That’s why I give you my re-worked plot outline for “The Last Jedi: Timothy’s Cut”.

[Scene One: some rocky island place full of freaky puffin monsters]

{Rey} Oh hello Mr Skywalker. I found your lightsabre!
{Luke} Excuse me while I use my Vulcan mindmeld powers to download the plot of the last movie.
{Rey} (makes noise like a 1990’s modem as Luke download The Force Awakens into his head)
{Luke} Hmmm. It seems much has transpired while I have been hiding here.
{Rey} Yes! We need your help to defeat the Sith again!
{Luke} I’m sorry Rey but there’s things you don’t know about me – things that are almost too terrible to tell you!
{Rey} Please Luke Skywalker, you are only hope!
{Luke} No, there is another…
{Rey} Another what?
{Luke} Another problem! You see Rey, the Sith were just a distraction. The real threat to the galaxy is…(looks around all shifty like)
{Rey} What? What is the real threat? And why do you keep looking around like you think somebody is eavesdropping.
{Luke (sotto voce)} The real threat is…
{Rey} Yes?
{Luke} The real threat is…
{Rey} Yes?
{Luke} The real threat is…
{Rey} Yes?
{Luke} The real threat is…
{Rey} Seriously, what the flip is the real threat!
{Luke} SPACE VAMPIRES!
{Rey} You’ve lost it dude. You’ve been sitting on this rock drinking blue milk for wayyyy to long.
{Luke} Search your feelings, you know it to be true!
{Rey} No. No! That’s not true! That’s impossible!
{Luke} It is absolutely true! That’s why I’m hiding on this rock farming the one thing Space Vampires have no resistance against!
{Rey} Um, space garlic? Giant space ships shaped like wooden stakes? Oh! Is it space mirrors? It’s space mirrors isn’t it?
{Luke} It’s porgs Rey. Vampires can be destroyed by porgs!
{Rey} No way!
{Luke} Yes way!
{Rey} But how!
{Luke} Traditionally it required the porg to be rubbed softly against the nape of a Space Vampires neck. This was a task undertaken by the Holy Order of Fishy-Frog Nuns of Porg Rock Island.
{Rey} That seems impractical…
{Luke} Indeed! That’s why I’ve been spending the all this time through three prequels, a bunch of cartoons and The Force Awakens, developing my super-weapon!
{Rey} Oh, oh, is it a porg-based light sabre! A porg-sabre! It is isn’t it?
{Luke} Rey, I’ve flown from one side of this galaxy to the other. I’ve seen a lot of strange stuff, but I’ve never seen anything to make me believe that I can make a light sabre from a porg.
{Rey} I hope it’s not a planetoid sized space station made of porgs…
{Luke} It is a porg-bazooka or, if you will, a porgzooka.
{Rey} Can I have one?
{Luke} Yes, and also a hull mounted porgzooka for the Millenium Falcon.
{Rey} Can Finn have one too?
{Luke} Yes! I’ve made enough for everybody. There’s one for Rose,Leia, Poe, General Holdo, a crossbow one for Chewbacca, a cybernetic arm-attachement one for C3PO. I’ve got shit loads of them. You just need to load up the ship with concentrated porg essence!
{Rey} Let’s do it!

[Scene Two – Space. Rey is surrounded by Space Vampires]
{Rey} Say hello too my little friend! [hoists porgzooka onto her shoulder]
{Space Vampires – in unison to BB8} Hello, Rey’s little friend.
{BB-8} beep boop [also hoists porgzooka onto their shoulder]
{Space Vampires} Ha ha. We fear not your shiny shoulder tubes!
{Rey} EAT PORG, SPACE VAMPIRE SCUM!!!!!!
{BB-8} BEEP BOOP BOOPING BOOPIRE BEEP!!!!!
[BB-8 and Rey fire there porgzookas at the Space Vampires who explode as each porg-blast hits them. More Space Vampires turn up but then Leia and Por and Finn and Rose and that kid from the stables turns up and they all have porgzookas! But then even more space vampires turn up! But then Adam Driver turns up and says “I may be a Sith-wannabe but I hate space vampires just as much as anybody! Let’s join forces!” and Rey says “Sure, here have a porgzooka!” and then Phasma turns up and Boba-Fett and the sarlac and Lando and they all blast the space vampires. But even more space vampires turn up and then, oh guess what! Timothy the Talking Cat and Straw Puppy fly in with the Millenium Falcon and start blasting all the space vampires and I say: “You’re all clear, kid. Now let’s blow this thing and go home! ” and Rey blast the Arch-Space Vampire with the last porgzooka but he doesn’t die, so she has to stab a live porg straight into his heart! And then he explodes! And I say: “Great shot, kid! That was one in a million!” Then we all go home and get medals and milkshakes.]

The End

 

More on Potato Dreams

Following up on this post – I’m imagining changes to economic structures but without changing the basic capitalist conception of the society as a means of dreaming up different worlds as settings for stories. How does the change impact on people’s behaviour? What ripples spread out from that change?

One such change that interests me is inherited wealth. A world in which taxation was simply the state of church confiscating the goods of the recently deceased is a simple proposition with far-reaching consequences. Such a rule would lead to people trying to circumvent it. What would that entail?

  • Wealthy people shifting their wealth to their heirs before they died.
  • More property being held by corporate entities rather than individuals.
  • A greater fear among the wealthy of untimely death.
  • Tax avoidance strategies creating a perverse incentive for the state to be happy about untimely death.

I need a bit more of a setting to think how that would turn out…

I’m imagining a city-state, run as a theocracy in a steam-punkish setting. Convulted corporations designed to obscure who owns what and the church/government very keen on raising the speed limit on the roads for velocipedes and encouraging dangerous sports.

Why a theocracy? No specific reason. I just thought that people who oversee funerals would have an initially simple way of tracking who was dead and faith in an afterlife would mean people would have one less reason to keep a death secret from the authorities. As a starting point for the evolution of such a system, it makes some sense even if it is an unlikely stretch.

I guess there would be many scams and schemes for concealing the death of a person. Presumably, disreputable undertakers would offer illegal funerals as tax dodges.

If a wealthy person was murdered there would always be rumours that the government did it. However, the rich would generally have less reason to fear being murdered by the heirs. People going “missing” as a cover for an untimely death would be such a common tax-dodge that the state/church would rule people “presumed dead” after only a short period of time. This, in turn, would create an unusual form of kidnapping in the city – a powerful person is kidnapped for a week, leading to them being declared dead and thus unseating them from their position in a company (perhaps to aid a takeover). Threats of this kind of corporate deathless-murder (essentially murder of the legal entity of a person without harming their body) would be used as extortion. The crime wouldn’t be common but the fear of it would be.

The identification of bodies would be a big deal in this city. In a Victorian-age city, lots of people die each day and knowing who was who would be important. Many people who die would be poor or destitute but there would be strong financial reasons to make sure a corpse was who the corpse appeared to be. Homicides would be investigated by the tax department which would also be the census department, which would also run the morgues. Only sustained public outcry and protest stops the tax department from running the hospitals – the medical services (or perhaps medical holy orders) are bitter rivals with the tax department.

I guess as I made this a theocracy already, this tax department would itself be a kind of quasi-monastic order. It would have general oversight of collecting the wealth of the dead but local churches would traditionally have collected the property of their own parishioners (as would occur in the rural surroundings). Who gets to register a death (the Holy Order of the Census or the local parish priest) is another source of rivalry in the city. Rich neighbourhoods built around a wealthy parish like to keep that money local.

 

The Bortsworth Mysteries: The Case of the Shifting Genre

It was a dark and stormy morning and our protagonist was about a mission both dangerous and of great import.

“Wake up!” said Timothy the Talking Cat, a highly intelligent cat with a piercing intellect who was looking very dapper that bright morning in a yellow bow tie that deftly coordinated with his purple, velvety fur.

“I am awake,” said Susan.

“It is so hard to tell because you sleep standing up and also last night I painted eyes on your eyelids which was funny at the time but now I regret because when you close your eyes it looks like you are staring at me in a really angry way like you are about to stomp on me,” replied Timothy loquaciously (who was briefly surprised that of all the words the meat robot hadn’t spelt incorrectly “loquaciously” was one of them).

“That’s how my regular eyes look,” explained Susan.

“Oh,” said Timothy, backing away nervously and eyeing up possible escape routes.

“So what do you want on this dark and stormy morning,” asked Susan.

“It’s not dark or stormy,” observed Timothy cautiously turning to look outside the garage door where he could see the early sun shining on the meadows adjacent to Felapton Towers.

“I know, I was referring to the obviously incorrect opening sentence,” said Susan.

“Why do you sleep in the garage?” inquired Timothy whose keen powers of observation had settled on the salient fact that Susan, a relatively small triceratops but objectively large being was residing in one of Felapton Towers’s many garages.

“I don’t. I wasn’t asleep. I was looking for paint thinner to clean my face with because somebody painted eyes on my eyelids last night and when I catch the small mammal that did that I will indulge my desire to learn how to play Australian Rules football by using him as the ball.” said Susan.

“Before you act on that desire let me explain a couple of things. One, when I said that I painted eyes on your eyelids I meant ‘i’ in the sense of ‘Straw Puppy did it’. Two, I’ve an exciting publishing proposition for you that would be definitely impaired if I was to be unjustly used as a game piece in some antipodean excuse for anti-cat cruelty.” said Timothy speaking both in a hurry and in a voice that he felt sounded like a lawyer but which was based on that one time he watched Rumpole of the Bailey whilst simultaneous playing Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney on a Nintendo DS which he had confiscated from a student at Bortsworth High School during an unpublished chapter of his adventures when he was a substitute French teacher. I should add the episode of ‘Rumpole of the Bailey’ was in French and Timothy was showing it to a class of Year 9 French students (as in students of French, the students themselves were English because the class would have been redundant if the students were French, although the students all had a timetabled lesson called ‘English’, which is around the point when Timothy left the school because it was all too confusing and also he got sacked for playing video games in lessons.)

“I’m all ear openings,” said Susan.

“Said Susan sardonically” add Timothy who was growing increasingly aware of the relative size of the text after things he said compared to the text after things Susan said and was increasingly uncomfortable with it, not out of a misplaced sense of inequity but because it felt like a foreboding omen of sudden violence that would most likely be directed at him. Controlling his desire to inquire why Susan had said ‘ear openings’ rather than ears and deciding that it was probably a dinosaur thing and then realising for the first time that birds don’t have visible ears and getting mildly freaked out by the fact, Timothy continued: “Well, I’ve been thinking about genres and where all the money is…”

“I’m not being in a romance novel written by you or your improbably grass-based dog friend,” stated Susan.

“No, no! Not romance! Gosh, I may be a vicious beclawed predatory monster with a gun fetish and the ethics of a shark that quit eating fish and became a hedge fund manager, but even I don’t have the fortitude to survive the cutthroat world of romance publishing.” exclaimed Timothy, shaking his tiny (by fang-filled) head at the thought.  He may have faced down space vampires, zombies and monstorous squirrel hegemony but he did not have the stomach to face down the trademark wars of the battle-planet known as ‘Romance Publishing’.

“Well if you haven’t got the guts for Romance then you clearly aren’t thinking of going into the Thunderdome-like lawless zone of YA publishing either,” observed Susan.

“Exactly! No, my plan is to ditch all this SF stuff and fourth-wall breaking stuff and go into COSY MYSTERIES!” said Timothy.

“Cosy mysteries?” said Susan curiously, “Is that like when a T-rex falls out of a tree, narrowly misses a triceratops and instead lands on a pile of sleeping marsupial proto-badgers, thus cushioning his fall but nobody knows why?” Susan was intrigued by the notion of a sub-genre that she was, as yet, unfamiliar with. What new possibilities might this engender for her taxonomic project of classifying all dinosaurid literature into a single universal scheme?

“Cosy mysteries like Midsummer Miss Fisher Murder on the telly! It occurred to me only the other day! We have the perfect setting already! A stately home in a small town in rural southern England! An eccentric collection of characters! Some sinister looking people who probably would murder somebody for complicated but petty reasons – like Mrs Brigsly for example who strikes me as the murdering kind.” enthused Timothy.

“I see and, if I may speculate, you need an odd-couple pairing as the main characters. You see yourself as the sharp-witted but debonair detective and me as the apparently dull but actually astute ‘muscle’ who often provides the key insight for solving the mystery. Our contrasting characters and modes of operation providing both a source of banter and also a way of diverting the plot into many false leads and red herrings with the final conclusion resolved more by fiat than actual detection?” said Susan.

“Yes!” said Timothy.

“It is a terrible idea and after much reflection, I prefer my original plan of using you as the football in a game of Australian Rules,” said Susan.

“eep,” said Timothy running swiftly out into the morning which actually had turned both dark and stormy in the intervening time thus proving the opening sentence correct, if a little premature in its description of the prevailing weather conditions.

An Odd Dream About Potatoes

As the title implies, I had an odd dream about potatoes. In it a farmer was paid royalties on his potatoes i.e. he sold his potatoes but each time his potatoes were sold on (whether as a whole or as ingredients) some of that money was passed back to him and as a consequence, he was very rich. He was surprised other potato farmers didn’t do this.

Now this was literally my subconscious talking and it is notoriously bad at thinking through the full details of its schemes – it can barely keep major details consistent from one part of a dream to the next. As an inventor of economic schemes, I wouldn’t trust it. Clearly, the potato royalty scheme would never work and makes very little sense for products that quickly lose their identity.

However, it made me mindful how much our modern capitalist society is full of QWERTY-keyboard systems of economic arrangements, particularly in the area of intellectual property (itself a convoluted fiction) but not only there. The conventions of share ownership, company governance, limited liability, not to mention even deeper fundamentals like banking and money.

How much of the way our modern economic systems works is an inevitable outcome of the workings of the giant distributed algorithm of vague market forces and how much is convenience, historically contingent, or a self-sustaining convention whose efficiency arises out of it being the convention everybody adopted.

We know many of these conventions coalesced in 18th and 19th century Britain and were further codified in 19th and 20th century America. Other countries adopted them either for reasons of convenience or for reasons of force and colonisation. What didn’t occur was many different cultures developing quasi-free market capitalism independently of growing European/American hegemony. Put another way, a key element of the pseudo-Darwinism of survival of the profitable/economically-efficient was not in play: a variety of competing variations on “capitalism”.

This isn’t a post advocating a worldwide experiment to improve the inner workings of capitalism, aside from anything else the possibility exists that we currently have a system that is less ruthless and exploitative in its workings than it could be. I’d rather see a social and economic change that took us further away from centring so much of our activity around profit, rather than thinking too much about how we could continue to do that but differently.

No, this is a post about speculation of the non-financial kind. What other kinds of economies can we imagine? What small changes of convention would make the world very different? So much of our modern ‘free market’ relies on governments agreeing to conventions (from weights and measures to intellectual property laws, to corporate governance and liability, to laws of inheritance). What if those laws had been different?

People would still people we can assume but people are flexible and shaped by the world they are in. What if all rights to property ended on your death? Well, people would take care to divest their personal property and their wealth to their children before they died. So some might say, little would change but imagine how the ripples of such decisions would alter the lives of the wealthy in ways different to that of the poor. For better or for worse? I don’t know – probably just different. For the very wealthy sudden death would take on an extra fear – a powerful man who owned controlling interests in many commercial entities suddenly dying would become hugely disruptive. Sure, companies would invent new legal and financial instruments to reduce such risks, but that is yet another ripple outward that would change this imaginary world. And here I’ve assumed modern capitalism still managed to evolve in such a world.

What if we took an alt-history approach and looked at when certain ideas really began to coalesce? Without the printing press, there is little need for the concept of copyright. What if governments at the time had made no provision for copyright, what if anybody could print anything (a very radical ‘freedom of the press’). How differently would our literary world have progressed? How differently would modern notions of intellectual property have progressed? How would writers seek to control their own work? Serial fiction was important in the 19th century (think Dickens) perhaps it would have stayed so as it would be easier to maintain a brief temporary monopoly on the latest instalment.

A better world or a worse world or just a different world? Would the broad brush strokes of our world converge or would the world be very different? I’ll be sure to ask my subconcious the next time I see them.