In the not too distant future (or, in our case, the recent past but whatever…), Earth faces an environmental crisis. Scientists seek to send messages back to the past in the hopes of averting a seemingly inevitable world-wide catastrophe.
To be honest, I knew little about Gregory Benford’s Timescape going in (besides the fact that it was a multiple-award winner), but the short synopsis I read did give me pause. A novel written in the early 1980’s, and set in the late 1990’s! I was fully prepared for a dated SF tale that, while commendable as a product of its era, would, unfortunately, not stand the test of time. As it turns out, however, I was pleasantly surprised. While certain elements of the novel do feel a little passé (specifically those dealing with the sources of the mounting ecological disaster), Timescape holds together surprisingly well almost thirty years after it was first published. This is, in no small part, due to Benford’s background as an astrophysicist and his ability to present a theoretically plausible premise of time travel – in this case, the notion that scientists of the present may be able to send messages back to the past via subatomic particles called tachyons.
While I suppose one could argue this is a work of hard SF, I found most of the science presented, if not exactly easy to follow, then at the very least easy to accept within the framework of the story. Benford does a great job of not only presenting us with the science of the story, but paints a very realistic picture of the lives of the scientists as well, immersing the reader in their struggles with everything from their complex work to their equally complex private lives. Although I found the focus on the domestic aspects of their lives did slow the narrative down at times, particularly in the novel’s back half, I really did enjoy the attempts to humanize our protagonists – a bunch of physicists who, let‘s face it, are a far cry from the fearless heroes of most scifi.
As far as time-travel stories go, Timescape offers one of the most believable treatments of the subject. That said, I still had trouble accepting the notion that the simple act of fragmenting messages to the past would help the scientists of the present avoid a grandfather paradox (I travel in time and kill my grandfather, thus ensuring I’m never born. But because I’m never born, I can’t go back in time to kill my grandfather. As a result, my grandfather lives and I am born, allowing me to go back in time to kill my grandfather. But…). If the scientists of the future are able to send a message back to the past, allowing scientists of the past to avoid the mistakes they are seemingly destined to make and avoid a future ecological disaster, then that means the future ecological disaster will not occur. And if it doesn’t occur, then there would be no reason for scientists from the future to send a message back to the past. As a result, the message would never be sent and the scientists of the past would never be warned, resulting in the future playing out as feared. And yet by novel’s end, the past is changed – and we are offered a glimpse of the last few days of our future protagonists, suggesting that an alternate timeline has been created, thus avoiding the paradox and allowing us a neat segue into the various theories of time travel:
Theory #1: The future is unalterable and any attempt to change it will ultimately prove futile. You could go back to the past and attempt to kill your grandfather, but you could never succeed.
Theory #2: The Infinity Loop best exemplified by the movie 12 Monkeys. The past can be changed but only because the agent of change was always fated to take said action.
Theory #3: In influencing the past, you create an alternate timeline. Thus, in your timeline, your grandfather lived and you were born but, in the alternate timeline you created, your grandfather died and you were never born.
Theory #1 avoids the paradox but, generally, doesn’t make for a very interesting story.
Theory #2, doesn’t really avoid the paradox and, more often than not, ends up adopting Theory #1’s view of the immutable timeline.
Theory #3, avoids the paradox but can in many cases prove unsatisfying in that YOUR timeline isn’t the one being influenced. Honestly, while I’m happy Alternate Timeline Joe was able to avoid breaking his arm in fourth grade gym class thanks to my timely intercession but, really, I’d be a hell of a lot happier if it was the Joe of this timeline.
But who am I to argue with the wonderful world of physics.
What were we discussing? Oh, right!
Timescape was an enjoyable book that, interestingly enough all things considered, read more like an alternate history than a glimpse at our possible future. Of course, this had everything to do with the fact that the events of the novel’s future were taking place in 1998 than any shortcomings in the narrative. Nevertheless, Timescape is an effective cautionary tale that proves itself, at times, chillingly prescient.
Charles Schneider writes: “Do you think that with the movies, you’ll be doing two separate panels again?”
Answer: We will definitely being doing two separate panels at this year’s San Diego Comic Con – one for Continuum, the other for Atlantis.
Majorsal writes: “If there’s a season 6 of atlantis (hopes), would sam make a visit or two?”
Answer: I don’t see why not.
Eva K writes: “Any firm idea about when the dvd is going to released in the US?”
Answer: I’ve heard it’ll be a mid-Summer release.
David writes: “I was wondering, do you have a Facebook? ’cause it would be cool to have you on my friends list!!”
Answer: I did, until this day – http://josephmallozzi.com/2008/03/07/march-7-2008-frustration-and-despair-want-to-be-your-friends-confirm-or-ignore/
Paloosa writes: “But if this ends up being Atlantis’ last season, and there are no more movies, what happens to you?”
Answer: Hard to say at this point. If season 5 turns out to be our final season, I imagine there would be a movie or two in Atlantis’s future. Paul and I also have a number of pilot scripts we’ve been sitting on…
Shirt ‘n Tie writes: “Off to Vij’s tomorrow night!”
Answer: How did you enjoy Vij’s? And, more importantly, how long did you have to wait for a table?
Moms2398 writes: “I’ve read your blogs regarding college ball, but would you care to weigh in on who should be NBA MVP?”
Answer: Love college basketball, college football, and the NFL. Am indifferent toward the NBA, NHL, and MLB.
Blaine Nielsen writes: “when you are down with your script and you submit it to the other writers to read through and add notes, do they each get a copy or if there one copy of the script shared among them?”
Answer: Everybody gets a copy, reads the script, and makes notes on their copy. Later, we’ll gather and everyone will consult the notes on their respective copies to help refresh their minds (although, in my case, this is easier said than done because half the time I can’t even read my own writing). The writer will get the notes, mark them down on his script, and then head off to work on the next draft.
Mackenzie’s Momma writes: “ just wanted to check and make sure that Baron Destructo, received the E-mail I sent him? I’ll be back in Vancouver on Tuesday visiting the wonderful Trish and Allie, any sight seeing suggestions?”
Answers: Thanks for the pics. They are being enjoyed by The League of Aliens and Mutants for Evil as we speak. As for sightseeing suggestions – hmmmmm. Hate to say it, but you’re asking the wrong guy.
Daniel’s Shadow writes: “Just want to say it is not L-Jade in the picture with you but it actually Daniel’s Shadow.”
Answer: Oops. Sorry. It’s been fixed.
Claimial writes: “Why would MGM or SciFi or whoever is responsible for making these kinds of decisions cancel a show that is doing so great?”
Answer: It all comes down to economics. The longer a show runs, the more expensive it is to produce. When it reaches the point that the costs outweigh the financial benefits, then the plug is pulled. But that’s not to say we’ve reached that point however.
Evie writes: “I said I did and that I read the blog each morning. There was another pause before she pointed out how much she disliked you! […] Any chance I could get some horrific super-fan type autographed picture of you to hang lovingly in my new hostile work environment?”
Answer: All too often, one hates and fears that which one does not understand – or maybe dated years back. Her name wouldn’t happen to be Bonnie, Lisa or Theresa by any chance?
Airelle writes: “How is Lulu doing?”
Answer: Great. She’s on the mend and as scrappy as ever.