The Difficulties of Writing About Time Travel
These is no tougher logical problem for a speculative fiction writer than to send characters forward, or backward through time.
I recently featured author Richard Hacker and his fantasy thriller Vengeance of Grimbald on one of my other blogs and I asked him to share his thoughts about the difficulties of writing about time travel. Here is his response:
VENGEANCE OF GRIMBALD, the second book in the Alchimeia series is a fantasy sci-fi novel with a unique take on time travel and alternate time continuums. Some writers have used the supernatural to transport characters through time, like Scrooge’s encounters with the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future, in A CHRISTMAS CAROL. Another method allowing for time travel, especially in science fiction, involves space and time warps–usually a ship passing through a warp in the space time continuum or characters passing through portals from one time to the next. Stephen King employs the portal in 11.22.63. But the most common method to move characters through time requires a mechanism or machine. From H.G. Wells, THE TIME MACHINE to the much-loved DOCTOR WHO, these stories use some kind of machine to transport from one time to the next.
The Alchimeia series uses alchemy, a precursor to empirical chemistry, as the mechanism for movement through time. Combining an ink and an alloy in the nib, a fountain pen becomes the catalyst as inkers write themselves into past lives, leaving their bodies in the present. Unlike conventional time travel scenarios, the characters leave their bodies in the present—only their consciousness moves through time to inhabit a host. However, once an Inker is in a host’s body, time is not on their side. They are in danger of losing themselves to the mind of their host, becoming psychotic and then melding completely with the host, lost in time forever. In order to avoid such a fate, upon completion of the mission, they must die in order to break the link and return home.
Die Back allows me to blend genres of fantasy, science fiction, historical, and speculative fiction to tell a fast-paced, action filled story of characters struggling to save the time continuum and reality itself. As you might imagine, this mechanism for moving back through time also has its challenges. In a conventional time travel story, a character travels back in time. It’s fairly straight-forward keeping the character distinct from others in the scene. In the Alchimeia series, since the characters leave their bodies in the present and only their conscious minds go into the past, the most significant challenge is having a physical character, such as Franciso Pissaro but with the conscious mind of Addison Shaw. Rather than visiting the past as a foreign entity, the character becomes the past. You’ll notice the inking scenes shift to first person which I’ve done to make a distinction with the present and to create an immediacy. The reader experiences the inking scenes within the perspective of the inker.
I think technically one of the more difficult scenes involved a German soldier in a fox hole at the Battle of the Bulge. There were essentially two characters inside the mind of a third character. The German soldier, Grimbald, and Addision’s mother, Rebecca, who has been held captive by Grimbald. The dialogue needed to distinguish between the internal voices of Grimbald and Rebecca in the German soldiers head, as well as dialogue with the American soldier external to them. Here’s a little excerpt to give you a sense of what I’m talking about. We begin in Rebecca’s perspective.
I look to the boy soldier and our guard, but of course, they cannot hear our thoughts. “How could you force me to act against my son, Grimbald?” His real name is Cuthbert Grimbald, using the alias Kairos to keep him clear of League Inkers. “You promised if I helped you–”
I promised I wouldn’t take his consciousness. For all the good it did me.
“I could have killed him. My own son. Please, I’ll do anything you want, but please don’t ask me to hurt Addison.”
You sabotage me at every turn, Rebecca. If I didn’t need your knowledge of the League I would scatter your consciousness across time. By God, I’ll do it anyway!
“No! Please. I’m sorry. It’s just that when I saw him…it’s been so long. I–”
Think about it, Rebecca. Didn’t you see his eyes when he squeezed the trigger? The boy, knowing you were in Maya, blew out your brains! Trust me, you no longer hold a place in his heart.
“No! He still loves me, uh…. “
My mind…compresses…a fist closing around me to darkness.
You continue to defy me?
I cannot breathe, I cannot think.
My mind goes to some dark corner. A desolate loneliness enfolds me. All senses closed off, no space, no time, no sensation. Nothing. Nothing. Noth…
He releases me. The world expands from a small, black hole, back to the Ardenne Forest. The boy still sits beside me in an almost fetal position. The icy cold air smells of pine and death.
For the full post, which was part of a blog tour sponsored by Goddess Fish, check out Vengeance of Grimbald.