Tuesday 26 March 2019

It's curtains for us

We caught up with Denis Villeneuve's 'Arrival' at the weekend.  I don't want to dwell on the joy of an intelligent, ideas-driven sci-fi rather than the usual effects-heavy, superhero sugar-rush.  I don't want to make a big thing out of two teenagers who had decided in advance that they were not going to like it being engaged throughout.  And I won't mention in passing that, having an MA in linguistics, the solidity of the science was palpable.

Instead, I want to focus on something not specific to Arrival, a point outside the realm of sci fi per se, but it's a question that's troubled me for some time and Arrival has been the proverbial straw that's broken the camel's back.  It's this:

Do all Americans sleep with the curtains - sorry, drapes - open?  Or does this only happen in movies?

Most readers of this blog are American so, please, help me out on this...

Or are we (and who's the 'we' here?  I assumed everybody did this, but maybe it's a uniquely British thing) the oddities for closing our curtains to keep out the dark, and only opening them to let in the light.

Actually, put like that it does sound a bit weird...

Tuesday 19 March 2019

Why can't time travel be easy?

Perhaps it's because I've just waded into Audrey Niffenegger's 'The Time Traveler's Wife' (thoughts so far: is the grooming of a six-year old Clare okay because it's perpetrated by Clare's future husband, or because it's written by a woman?), but my mind has been turning to time travel.

It's a device that I've used before, that virtually every science fiction writer has deployed at some point.  It's also - sort of - the subject of my story The Loimaa Protocol, published in Wit & Whimsy volume 2.

It's never easy, time travel.  Have you noticed?  You either need some vehicle, or some esoteric token or knowledge.  Vehicles go wrong or are lost - how many time has the Doctor slapped the console of the TARDIS?  Spells don't always work.  Potions may need obscure ingredients that the corner shop just doesn't have.  Or, when you don't need any of those things, like in The Time Traveller's Wife, it's invariably uncontrollable, fickle, capricious.

Think of a story where the hero can just go 'Battle of Waterloo' and click his fingers without problem.  Easy as wandering down the end of the garden to pull some carrots.  No need to stoke the boilers of a time machine or incant correctly.  No, me neither.

There's a story-centric reason, of course.  Story is about somebody (singular or plural) who wants something but can't get it and has to overcome those barriers.  Story, at essence, is that simple.  But the second half is vital.  Nobody wants to read a story where the goals are easy.  That's why time travel is hard.

It's also because, in the real world, time travel is hard.  Actually, scrub that.  It's impossible.  (But, if it's impossible, then it doesn't matter where you set the dial between 'easy' and 'you must be joking' in terms of implausibility).

But - and this would be the real challenge to write - what about a story where the hero can time travel with ease, just wish himself elsewhen, with no need for a TARDIS or a book of spells?  The authorial challenge then is what challenges you present your hero, where do the barriers to be overcome move to if it's not the challenge of moving in time itself?  The very ease of your character's quest becomes the author's own problem to solve.  There's something quite meta- about that, don't you think?