Tag Archives: time travel

Sea of Tranquility: My Simulation is Broken

I didn’t read the news all day. Had Roe v Wade broken to me at a pizza picnic in the park and just.

The simulation hypothesis goes like this: we are living in a computer simulation. I mean it’s more complicated than that, but also that simple. And so all the bananas things we individually and collectively experience are just the simulation playing itself out. Like today. Just a part of the program.

Emily St. John Mandel, in an interview with Ezra Klein talks about how the idea of the simulation hypothesis and the current fascination with the multiverse offered her a way to write a book – Sea of Tranquility – she already wanted to write about time travel. That if we live in a simulation it solves the problem of a recursive time loop that time travel in reality would introduce.

And those of you who read The Time Traveller’s Wife this is not that. This is… god, I don’t even know where to start with how good this book is. But that’s my job here so let me try:

Let’s start with a novel self-aware that its novelist is most famous for her pre-Covid incredible pandemic novel, Station Eleven, but that the new novel is being written during a pandemic and all of its readers will have been in a pandemic and so why not make a narrative space for that experience. And it’s so breathtakingly sharp in the section of the novel set (oh yeah, it covers 600 odd years with lots of jumping around in time) just before a pandemic is going to rip across Earth and the moon colonies (oh yeah, much of the setting is the literal moon (hence the title)). The conceit of time travel means we know already what will happen in a way we didn’t and couldn’t and still don’t with Covid, and the helplessness of watching what is about to happen, to not being able to intervene, the (what is a stronger word than desire?) desire to go back to yourself in December 2019 with a set of instructions. (and what would yours say?)

And then a novel that is guttingly beautiful writing. Just come on.

And a protagonist in each temporal section – but particularly Olive and Gaspery-Jacques – that are whole and human but also believably in their future settings. Like the particular genius of describing one of the moon colonies as having broken it’s artificial sky and so it being perpetual night (The Night City) in a way that fills a world-building function but also gets at the particular ache and beauty of feeling (or being) alone in the darkness when government just won’t or can’t spend enough to fix the sky.

And then back to the question of how do we know that there is anything approximating a ‘real.’ That even if we believe that we are not in a simulation – that the couch under you and the ground under that is just material in an ever-expanding universe of material – we are nevertheless in simulations of identity and community and politics and nation and family where we convince ourselves (as we must) that our beliefs and our choices are somehow real.

So not a book to read while high, maybe.

But a thousand times a book to read.

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Filed under Canadian Literature, Erin's Favourite Books, Fiction, Prize Winner

Kindred: The Time Travelling Slave Narrative You Hoped Wouldn’t Be So… 2016.

octaviaebutler_kindred

You read a book like Octavia Butler’s Kindred and you get to thinking some bleak thoughts. Published in the 1970s, the ‘fantasy’ novel follows Dana through a time travelling slave narrative. Opening in the 1970s the reader is immediately hooked as Dana travels back in time to the pre-civil war South and finds herself – a black woman – among slavery. The mechanics of time travel in the novel are explained by virtue of the ‘kindred’ connection between Dana and her 1800something ancestor, Rufus: Dana is called back to the past each time Rufus is in danger of dying so that she can save his life; Dana is called back to the present each time her own life is in danger. Continue reading

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Filed under American literature, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Uncategorized

Blackout: History! War! Time travel!

       

So I loved *Blackout*. Not only for the fact that its set in WW2 (is it weird to have an immediate attraction to a WW2 novel? probably.) and not only because it features historians and historical fiction and not only because it’s about time travel and the risks therein. No, I also loved *Blackout*  for its masterful use of form to play with the readers’ expectations and sympathies.

The book opens with a split chronology as the reader moves between 2060 and the Blitz. In 2060 the time traveling historians are busy planning their research trips: finding period costumes, implanting period knowledge (the dates of bombings, available technology, current cultural references) and language (American accents), determining a back story, a job and necessary papers. Throughout these sections the reader is presented with bits of information from the third person omniscient narrator that suggest all is not well with the technology of time travel; however, the historians themselves remain entirely oblivious to the potential hazards of their upcoming trips.

Meanwhile, the Blitz chapters introduce us to our three protagonists – Polly, posing as a nanny for evacuee children; Merope, posing as a shopgirl on Oxford street; and Mike, posing as an American reporter covering the evacuation at Dunkirk.

SPOILER ALERT**

As the reader becomes familiar with the general pattern of chapters – 2060, WW2, WW2, 2060, WW2, WW2, 2060, 2060, WW2 etc. –  the reader comes to expect a necessary “return” to 2060 as inherent in the structure of the book itself. So when the three characters find themselves *stuck* in their respective WW2 temporal-spatial locations and unable to access the “Drop” that is meant to return them to their own time, the reader is jarred right along with the characters as the reader too, finds herself without access to 2060. The chapters narrating this period simply stop, allowing the reader to feel the same disorientation, anxiety and bewilderment as the characters: what *has* happened to 2060? And we don’t find out! The narrative ends without letting the characters OR the reader return to 2060 and so we are all left puzzling whether the course of history has been changed such that time travel *no longer exists* or whether their colleagues in 2060 have met some unfortunate end or whether they have simply been “lost” by their 2060 protectors.

And perhaps this will be my frustration with the novel – even if it’s a necessary frustration in order for the brilliance of the book to be realized – I would have liked the book to resolve these questions. There’s a second part to this series – All Clear – where presumably the conflict is resolved or at least further climaxed, but for this reader I could have done just as well with a serious division between the two parts but the amalgamation of the two parts in one text. I suppose I’m just not a fan of the deliberate cliff hanger that requires seeking out the next book. I can easily borrow it from the library or download it, but wouldn’t it be just as easy to package it as one narrative in the first place?

Small complaint for an otherwise fascinating book that does terrific work highlighting the complexities and possibilities of formal play.

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Filed under British literature, Fiction, Mystery