#185: Notes on Time Travel in The Flash

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #185, on the subject of Notes on Time Travel in The Flash.

Let me first say that I do like the current television incarnation of The Flash–not as much as I enjoyed the 1990 version, but more than some superhero efforts I’ve seen.  I have small complaints, such as that this Barry Allen seems a lot younger, and a lot less capable at his day job, than the one I remember from comics in the nineteen sixties, but a lot of what is different from what I remember is good–and hey, it’s been half a century since I was reading comic books, so I have no idea what it’s like now.  It’s an entertaining show, and I look forward to more episodes appearing.


It’s the time travel elements that irk me.

I really hope that doesn’t surprise anyone.

Let me also say that the totally bogus notion of how to travel through time, by traveling fast enough, does not particularly bother me either.  Maybe it’s because I remember Superman doing it when I was in grade school, and I remember realizing that it didn’t really make sense that flying around the earth fast enough in one direction would take you to the past, and doing it in the other direction would bring you back to the present, but it made for a good story.  Peter Davison’s Doctor (Who?) once said not to trust anyone who thought he was going to go back in time by exceeding the speed of light, because it really didn’t work that way, but since no one knows how it works I usually give a pass on method.  This speed trick is popular–even Star Trek used it in the original series and in Star Trek IV:  The Voyage Home.  You can’t do it that way, but it’s only a story, and in that world apparently you can.

At this point I have seen all the episodes in what is, I think, the first two seasons, and there has been an inordinate amount of time travel.  I have elsewhere explained why I do not do detailed analyses of time travel television shows, and a lot of those reasons apply here–Barry frequently travels to the same point in the past, and so do his enemies, and thus we are faced with the fact that what happens in later episodes is going to alter what happened in earlier ones.  So I am not dealing with those kinds of details here; I am just looking at two concepts that can be abstracted from the story, and the problems I have with these.

The big one is the time remnant.

The concept here is that you can duplicate yourself by traveling to the past–and that much is certainly true.  It is a kind of a joke skill in Multiverser, that a character who can time travel to the past fights for one minute, then in the next minute uses his time travel skill to go back two minutes to the beginning of the fight so that there are two of him, and does this at the end of every minute until he manages, by sheer numbers, to win the fight in one minute.  Then, since every duplicate version of himself has to travel back to become the next duplicate version of himself, a minute later all vanish but the last, who does not make the trip to the past but continues living into the future.

The problem with the skill is that you absolutely have to survive those first two minutes without any assistance, because until you get to the point in the future where you can travel to the past, you have not yet arrived in the past.  Your arrival in the past changes history, but in order to change history there must have been an original history to change, a history in which you did not arrive.

The problem with the time remnant is that he becomes disconnected from his own linear history, and thus he cannot exist.

Let us create a hypothetical.  Barry is supposed to meet his boss to discuss a case over lattes at that coffee shop, but as he is on his way he learns that Killer Frost is robbing a jewelry store downtown.  He quickly dresses as The Flash, manages to nab her and deliver her to holding back at the collider, and then realizes that he has missed his meeting with his boss, who is going to be unhappy and does not know that his not entirely competent lab technician is secretly The Flash.  The boss has been fuming over this incompetence, pays for his latte, and heads back to the office.  Barry decides this is important, so he travels fast enough to go back in time.  Now as his one-hour-younger self is headed downtown to stop Killer Frost, he dresses as Barry and meets his boss, who has no memory of the original history and so does not know that Barry did not show.  They have their meeting while Killer Frost is being captured and taken to holding, and at this moment there are two Barry Allens in the world–one of whom just captured Killer Frost, the other of whom did that an hour ago and has since had a meeting with his boss.

However, the Barry Allen who just captured Killer Frost still has to travel to the past to become the Barry Allen who meets with his boss.  If he does not do so, that Barry Allen will never come into existence.  However, when he does so, he ceases to exist in the future–because for him, he lives through that hour twice, but there is only one of him before that hour, and there is only one of him after that hour.

If the first Barry is killed before he travels to the past, then he never makes the trip and there is no duplicate–no “time remnant”.  However, if the second Barry is killed, then it becomes inevitable that the first Barry will travel to the past and be killed–or if not, that time will become caught in an infinity loop, in which two different histories are vying for reality.

This also means you cannot create a temporal duplicate of yourself “before the fact”–that is, Barry can’t say, “I have to stop Killer Frost, but I have to meet with my boss, so I’m going to travel back in time a minute so that there are two of me, and then one of me will go stop Killer Frost while the other meets with my boss.”  He can create two of himself for that minute, but at the end of that minute either the one of him that did not just arrive from the future a minute ago has to go back and become the other, or the other will cease ever to have existed and no one will ever do anything again.

So Barry could create a temporal duplicate of himself, but it would not work the way we see it in the show.  His duplicate self would be dependent on him making that trip back at the moment in the future when he did so, at which point the “original” becomes the “duplicate” in the past, and the “duplicate” continues into the future.

Of course, the show allows that there are consequences to playing with time:  if you duplicate yourself, you become the target of time wraiths.

What the heck?

I’m afraid that D. C. Comics, or at least their television production affiliate, has now stepped into the realm of theology.

They probably want us to think that the Speed Force exists in, or as, some para-natural parallel dimension, but it does not act like a parallel dimension.  It acts like a supernatural being.  It might not be God, but it certainly has the qualities of a god.  Those Speed Wraiths are its minions, its “angels”, if you will.  Sure, they look more demonic than angelic–but it’s no accident that they recall scenes from Ghost, taking the spirits of the wicked departed wherever it is that they go.  They really have nothing to do with time travel itself, except that since they work as supernatural enforcers for a supernatural being involved with time and temporal distortion, they punish those who cause severe temporal problems by grossly violating the rules.

The part I don’t like about them is that they are a poor replacement for what really happens when you mess with time.  There’s no particular reason why such supernatural beings could not exist in the service of a temporal god connected to the power of super speed.  They are not, however, a logical consequence of breaking the rules of time.  They are a supernatural intervention.

I am sometimes asked whether I think God would intervene to prevent a temporal disaster.  I do not know, but this is not that.  Grabbing the time traveler and removing him for punishment after he has caused the damage does not undo the damage.  Of course, in theory temporal agents could, as in Minority Report, capture the time traveler before he causes the disaster–but then, he would not know for what he is being punished, and has a reasonable justice-based defense to the effect that he cannot be punished for what he was going to do but never did.  God might know that he would have done it, but he himself does not know that he would not have changed his mind.  It is certainly not impossible for God to prevent the effects of a time traveler’s stupidity, even to prevent an intentionally-created grandfather paradox–but His intervention would be unseen, because the cause of the problem would be prevented (in exactly the way fixed time theorists would expect) rather than the effect undone.

So I’ll accept time wraiths as supernatural minions of a god overseeing time and velocity, while recognizing that they have never done anything to protect time except punish those who have done the damage.  There are still major problems with time travel in the series, but they would require so much more work to address even at this point, and are likely to be altered significantly as the series continues, so we will ignore them.

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#184: Remembering Adam Keller

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #184, on the subject of Remembering Adam Keller.

Some of you know who Adam Keller is (that is a link to his Facebook profile).  Indeed, some of you know him better than I, although I have known him for over a decade, having met him at Ubercon (I do not recall which number, but I’m betting on III), gamed with him online and at conventions, and exchanged visits to each other’s homes.  Still, he was much closer to my second son Kyler and our perennial houseguest John, both of whom lived in his home for a while, probably more than once.  I knew him, but never very well.  But then, I know very few people very well.


However, I was notified of this, and ultimately found it on that Facebook profile (dated April 24th, 2017, posted by someone from Adam’s own personal account):

I regret to inform all of Adam’s friends and family that he passed away last night at 11:20 pm at home.

We are looking for any family members of Adam. If you are family or have contact information for family please call….

As we make arrangements for Adam I will post them here.

Thank you very much.

Digging through threads on that page I learned that he died of pneumonia.  Co-workers say he was sick and in some pain for most of a week, but refused to go to a doctor.  Some attributed this to his fear of the high co-pay on his (Lockheed) company employee health coverage policy, and so some blamed the Affordable Care Act.  That is more than I know.  I do know that many excellent company health care plans have been eviscerated to avoid the tax penalties of that law, and there are claims that it is discouraging people from obtaining needed medical care.  If that is the case here it makes the event the more tragic, but it’s also not the point.

Adam was a gamer, and an outstanding one.  He was a champion Hackmaster player (I understand he held a national title thrice) and ran the game at conventions, in some capacity on behalf of Kenzer & Company.  It was while he was running a Hackmaster game at Ubercon that he heard me running a Multiverser game at the next table for Kyler, and became interested enough to inquire about it and test play it.  He became an avid fan, player, and supporter, coming sometimes to company meetings, trying to advise us on our hopeless financial situation, and promoting the game to his gaming friends.  He was one of the best power players I ever ran, and he has left behind a couple of characters who genuinely earned their superhero status and abilities through game play, whom I will seriously consider how to use as non-player characters in the future.  I will not forget him.

Because I am the chaplain of the Christian Gamers Guild, I am often asked whether I believe a particular departed individual is in heaven.  I try not to speculate, but I realize that it matters to people, particularly in regard to those I have at least briefly known.  The only person besides Jesus that I am completely certain will be in heaven is me, because I have that promise from God; for everyone else, there are some that it would shock me were they not there, and probably some that it would surprise me if they were, but I am not the one who makes those decisions.  Regarding Adam, I can only say that I have insufficient information.  He never talked about spiritual matters, but he was generally quiet and with me he rarely spoke about anything other than gaming.

(Just because people will ask, and some (notably Timothy and Anne Zahn) have asked, I am reasonably certain of Gary Gygax, and very sure of Dave Arneson.)

Multiverser gamer John Cross has several times said that he believes that when I created Multiverser, God revealed to me what heaven was going to be like:  that we would leap from world to world becoming involved in adventures of all kinds forever.  I deny it on every level.  God revealed nothing to me; the concept of leaping between universes was not new with us, and most of how it worked came from Ed Jones, not me; it is not the heaven which I am eagerly anticipating.  However, somehow I think if it were so, Adam would like that.

Rest in peace, friend, and whatever adventure you find beyond the grave, may God have mercy on you.

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#183: Verser Transitions

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #183, on the subject of Verser Transitions.

With permission of Valdron Inc I have begun publishing my third novel, For Better or Verse, in serialized form on the web (that link will take you to the table of contents).  If you missed the first two, you can find the table of contents for the first at Verse Three, Chapter One:  The First Multiverser Novel, and that for the second at Old Verses New.  There was also a series of web log posts looking at the writing process, the decisions and choices that delivered the final product; those posts are indexed along with the chapters in the tables of contents pages.  Now as the third is posted I am again offering a set of “behind the writings” insights.  This “behind the writings” look definitely contains spoilers because it sometimes talks about what I was planning to do later in the book–although it sometimes raises ideas that were never pursued.  You might want to read the referenced chapters before reading this look at them.  Links below (the section headings) will take you to the specific individual chapters being discussed, and there are (or will soon be) links on those pages to bring you back hopefully to the same point here.

There is also a section of the site, Multiverser Novel Support Pages, in which I have begun to place materials related to the novels beginning with character papers for the major characters, hopefully giving them at different stages as they move through the books.

These were the previous mark Joseph “young” web log posts covering this book:

  1. #157:  Versers Restart (which provided this kind of insight into the first eleven chapters);
  2. #164:  Versers Proceed (which covered chapters 12 through 22);
  3. #170:  Versers Explore (which covered chapters 23 through 33);
  4. #174:  Versers Achieve (chapters 34 through 44);
  5. #180:  Versers Focus (chapters 45 through 55).

This picks up from there, with chapters 56 through 66.

Green Jungle Vegetation Tropical Forest
Green Jungle Vegetation Tropical Forest

History of the series, including the reason it started, the origins of character names and details, and many of the ideas, are in those earlier posts, and won’t be repeated here.

Chapter 56, Hastings 111

I slept on a lot of the issues for this material.  There was something in me that wanted to delay the next step; but already Lauren was on a slow pace, and I did not know how to slow it further.  I didn’t have anything else for her to do in this time.  The next thing was going to have to be trying to fix the rod, and I was just going to have to make it feel like it had been a long time in the process.  I also knew that the first time she tried, she was going to fail–but not botch; it just wouldn’t fix the rod.  Then I would come back and have her succeed.  These are the things I was thinking as I went to bed.  I had other things on my mind; there was a passage in Chesterton’s Secret of Flambeau which I wished to send to the Christian Gamers Guild mailing list to reconsider the matter of playing evil characters.  I needed to remember to post on the web site that people could now order Verse Three, Chapter One, which had gone to press (although the price tag worried us, at least).  But I knew when I came back to writing Lauren’s part, these things would have to happen.  As I awoke, I retrieved the Father Brown stories from the drawer where I kept them, and headed to my office to boot up the computer.  My mind returned to Lauren, and I considered a line to the effect of she had to understand that her momentary lack of success was not failure (something which I, too, had to understand), prelude to the next section in which she would succeed.  But then it occurred to me that there was another way to do this entirely.  I wasn’t certain of the bias–it would probably be very high–but rather than have her psionically repair the rod, she was in a world in which she could magically repair it.  This opened the idea of praying for it and having God fix it, the thing she could not do done by Him.  I liked the idea, and immediately jotted it down lest I forgot.

It had also passed through my head that she might fix it less than perfectly, such that it was no longer so potent a weapon as it had been but was still very powerful.  This had some appeal in terms of using it against Tubrok; but when I decided on a magical repair, that idea was abandoned.

The magnetism analogy was something I’d devised years before when working on the Multiverser rules; I knew that magnetism worked by a sort of alignment of molecules, and thought that something similar could work for psionics, making it possible for any sort of material to be psionic.

Chapter 57, Slade 67

This chapter actually covered a lot more ground than I had expected.  I’d thought of the idea of Shella watching them as I was writing the previous section.  I’d had an idea of Phasius being able to see that Slade and Shella were in love and mistaking them for married; but there wasn’t really enough time before Filp was going to die for all of that to happen unless he saw it immediately, even in the dark.  The embarrassment and shock then became the catalyst for Slade to recognize that this was what he wanted.

His question, asked first the normal way and then restated to seem more hypothetical, also seemed like him, brave and bold in anything requiring action but hesitant about his own feelings.  Her answer seemed to me the perfect response, providing exactly the same level of hypothetical as he, but making the answer perfectly clear.

By rushing this, I could now have the wedding in Cornel’s place, let Filp give away the bride and be the best man (an idea that is shadowy in my thought at this point, but fits with some old tales about what a best man was originally), let them ride to the barn, and have Filp fall in battle after that.  It was fitting together.

Chapter 58, Brown 72

I was trying to develop Derek’s abilities independently from Lauren’s; that is, not to follow the same points of growth.  But the pyrogenesis seemed obvious–it was just a matter of working out how to do it.

It also seemed that the attachment between Derek and his mother was quite strong; I’m not certain yet where that will go.

Chapter 59, Hastings 112

I had decided at this point that I wanted to bring Lauren back up; thus it would be Hastings-Slade-Hastings-Brown-Slade-Hastings-Slade-Brown.

All of this started to come together as I wrote it; but it took three tries to finish it, as I was trying to keep it all credible.

Chapter 60, Slade 68

The wedding of Slade and Shella had been long anticipated, and I needed it to look good.  I did consult my son’s girlfriend Kellie on the wedding dress; she suggested green, and boots, and a few other ideas that got altered and included.  The feeling of battle seemed appropriate to me; but whether they were to fight with or against each other was sort of floating in the air a bit throughout.

I actually wrote fragments of the next Slade section immediately, inserting placeholders for Lauren and Derek

Chapter 61, Hastings 113

It was time to move Lauren to another world.  I had decided how, by gating her through the border supernatural.  There would be an encounter with St. Peter, probably.  But this suggested that she was bound for the endgame scenario, about to land back in the vampire world in the distant future to finally face Tubrok–and I had no idea what she would do there while awaiting the others.  Derek had to go through some intervening world, partly so that he could adventure and partly so that he could start the transformation back from sprite to human (although I had by now decided that he would stop at some midpoint, from which he could shape change to sprite or to human).  I didn’t know what Lauren would do, but she was going to go.

But I didn’t want it to seem like she had fixed the rod, and now went; so I started talking about ways in which she could combine her skills.  This I knew could be amplified later when they came up in combat, and I’d decide exactly how they worked then.

Chapter 62, Brown 73

I want to credit Kyler with the sprite fire starting idea.  It wasn’t that he suggested it, exactly, but rather that he commented that he was interested in the Brown segments because he loved all things to do with sprites and pixies, so that encouraged me to make them interesting.  I decided that sprites might start fires from their own body heat, given the right materials and a bit of focus.  It stemmed naturally from that glow they had.  I hesitated, wondering whether it would be credible.  After all, at no point had I associated the light with heat (I was quite specifically dissociating it).  I did not want it to wind up being magical.  But I remembered that Multiverser recognized a technological skill of creating fire from body heat, in which it was suggested that the right materials would ignite if heated in the hand.  It also struck me that sprite metabolism, and thus body temperature, would almost certainly be higher than human, so materials that would not ignite at 98.6 Fahrenheit might well do so at whatever temperature a spritish body was maintained.

The fire starting actually came up because I wanted to introduce the ideas of weakening and softening objects.  I am thinking that Tubrok (or his assistants) will use some sort of physical object as a weapon, and Derek will cause it to break (and probably act surprised when he does).  I’ve also thought about whether Tubrok might bury one of his attackers in ice for Derek to rescue with his pyrogenesis, but that’s a lot less clear at this point.

I spent a lot of time thinking about what Derek would make from the clay.  The intention was only that he make something that he would be able to harden.  I thought of a toy soldier.  Since Derek would most likely make a human soldier, that had potential; but I couldn’t imagine he could make a believable replica of a human.  My eldest, Ryan, suggested a flute or pan pipes; these had the same problem as the trumpet I included (I chose trumpet because Derek had played it before).  Then the idea of a toy gun came to mind.  Guns and swords are things kids make; but guns only in worlds that have them.  If my human oppressors had guns, that would give a new level to the deliverer story.

Chapter 63, Slade 69

I hadn’t actually forgotten the book; what had happened was that I’d packed so much into the stay in Charton that I couldn’t include the book in that.  Thus I dropped it into this part on the road.

I’d considered having Slade give the book and horses to the unnamed peasant when he got up; but then, the last day of this venture was going to be a wild ride, with at least a couple of fights.  I was thinking that they would begin by burning down the barn in the morning, but I hadn’t thought it through yet.  Whatever I did, I couldn’t have him wandering around looking to give the book to someone then, so I disposed of it now.

I was going to call the loft the penthouse; but I knew Filp wouldn’t know that word.  The tower was the nearest equivalent, so I used that.

Chapter 64, Hastings 114

I spent a day or so thinking about what it was Lauren had attempted that had botched.  When I finally described it to Kyler, he said, “It’s a shame she didn’t succeed,” and I’d have to agree–but she wouldn’t have been very good at it for some time yet, anyway.

I had previously done the border heaven bit for Chris Jones (who is Roman Catholic), but it had a lot more detail here.

The creature was inspired in part by my recent readings in Daniel and Ezekiel, and in part by an image of a Hollyphant in one of TSR’s old Dungeons & Dragons™ books.  But I also wanted to bring through a notion I’ve had for a long time, expressed in one of my early Game Ideas Unlimited articles (but predating it by many years).  Hume had suggested that imaginary creatures always sounded like they were invented from scraps of other creatures because we were incapable of imagining something outside our experience.  I disagreed; I maintain that it is the inability of language to convey the unfamiliar, since for us to have a word describing something all who know the word must already share the image it describes or it is essentially meaningless.  Thus my creature looked like an elephant, and yet distinctly unlike an elephant.  It perhaps owed something to the Sesame Street character Snufflupagus as well.  In all, if one is attempting to describe something truly alien, one must do so in words that represent the familiar, and then modify them away from their own meaning; and that is what I attempted to do here.

The color idea was part of making the realm feel supernatural; it was, to me, a new idea, although it had precursors in my reading.  Voyage to Arcturus had suggested the idea of six primary colors due to two suns; I had recognized then (about 1974) that this was implausible, as color was a function of the eye and the brain.  But here, it made sense that color would be more than that, something whose reality went beyond eye and brain, something which existed even if it were not perceived.  I couldn’t pick a color to describe the beast that would convey something special, so I created the notion that the color existed beyond Lauren’s perception but within her ability to notice.

The spatial relationships were an attempt to express an idea I’d had related to Dungeons & Dragons™ in the mid eighties.  They had described supernatural realms which were seemingly unbounded, and yet at the same time bordered on each other as if they had edges.  As a solution to this, I created the notion of six dimensions, and the idea that the human brain would automatically resolve these to three by combining them in similar pairs.  Thus a human would not be able to distinguish going up from going out, as it were.  In this brief moment of the novel, I tried to imagine how that would appear.  It also occurred to me that with more dimensions, you could be closer to more people without being crowded.  That is, in our world, you might have someone two feet to the left, to the right, in front, in back, and theoretically above and below–six people within two feet.  By doubling the dimensions you would double the number of positions that would be within two feet of you without having them be any closer to each other.  Thus in one sense, the people would seem crowded, yet in another they would not.

I didn’t have a good reason for Peter not to be waiting for her; I decided he didn’t have one, either.  That is, I did not want Peter to be there when she arrived, because it would eliminate my creature, my view of the world, my reference to all being saints–but it made sense that he would be expecting her.

My effort to describe Peter owes much to C. S. Lewis.  He had expressed glorified humans as somehow ageless yet of every age; and he had written of the Apostle Paul.  Lewis had an uncle who once spoke of discussing theology with Paul like two elderly gentlemen at the same club; this struck Lewis as a failure to apprehend the immense glory of someone like Paul.  I wanted to combine that eternal weight of glory with the easy-going down-home sort of peasant that was still Peter.

Lewis is cited in reference to The Great Divorce; but it struck me that Peter would not cite chapter and verse (as it were), and would speak of the man in familiar terms–“Jack”, as he preferred to be called by friends.

Peter’s refusal to answer theological questions beyond the immediate experience is not merely a dodge to avoid taking sides on such things.  I believe that God wants us to do as he suggests, to work out these matters to the best of our abilities.  I’m playing in a world as I write this in which the saints on earth can at any moment ask the saints in heaven to settle a disagreement.  God doesn’t give us that option; it must be because He doesn’t want us to have it, and thus I conclude that Peter isn’t going to answer Lauren’s curiosities.

As to asking about others, again I get that from Lewis:  God doesn’t tell us what happens to people who never hear the gospel; Lewis said we cannot know with certainty what becomes of those who honestly and from good heart and motive disbelieve it.  Nor can we know who (if anyone) does this.  He deals with us as individuals, and expects us to see to our own responsibilities.  That means to tell others what we know, but not to condemn them.

“That exceeded smiling by so much as smiling is happier than….”  I had much trouble coming to a word for this.  I thought of many facial expressions.  Frowning was too trite; grimacing not opposite; crying contained the possibility of joy.  In the end, “death” was the word I chose.

At the moment that Peter handed her three things, I only knew what one of them was.  But I must take a step back.  When Chris did this, he received two things–a silver crucifix and a scroll with words of healing written on it.  I first knew that Lauren had to receive something from Peter, so the visit would make more sense.  Then I realized (perhaps with a laugh) that the first would be a perfect item, as it would give Lauren the skill she needed for a major moment in the story ahead.  The problem was that giving her that would so obviously be what it was, as the reader would then understand what it was for long before Lauren did, and would wonder that she didn’t use it sooner.  Neither the simple type nor the elegant decorative types would do, as they would immediately be seen, even by Lauren, as “X”, and so described in the text.  Fortunately I remembered a type I’d only seen one or twice in my life, a screw-driven sort, and felt I could describe that in a fashion that would obscure what it actually was from the reader.  But there was also the lesson I had applied to the coin in the first book:  one significant object cannot be given alone, or it calls attention to itself.  I decided that three was the right number.  I did not yet know what the other two were, but (as with the bag) figured I could invent something soon enough.

The free-standing door I’ve seen and used many times before.  Part of my problem at this moment was that I didn’t really know where she was going.  That is, I had the broadest outline of the idea:  she was going back to the vampire world, in or around 2300 (which seemed far enough in the future to be futuristic, but not so far that my predictions would be complete fantasy), where she would face Tubrok in their final confrontation.  What I didn’t know was what 2300 actually looked like; and that was going to take a lot of thought.  So I blacked out the gate.  Usually I don’t show things through a gate–they shimmer, or show only what is behind, or something like that.  But this time I wanted a better reason; and the idea of looking from light to darkness not only answered the question, it also made a statement.

Chapter 65, Slade 70

I had decided that they would be attacked in the barn, and that the barn would be burned down to drive them out.  I realized that they had to move fast (barns don’t take long to spread fire through them).  They didn’t have time to pack; but I couldn’t let them leave things behind.  Thus Shella packed by magic while dressing, and Slade was the last ready.

Slade has improved significantly; he’s faster with his blaster even than he was fighting the snake–one targeted shot every four seconds.  I counted all of the first volley as hits, with four fatal shots.  This was a bit on the lucky side, but not an incredible outcome for his skill.

I couldn’t decide what Shella would be able to do that wouldn’t be (at least in Multiverser terms) more powerful than the bias would allow.  Changing the shape of the ground was the best I could find, so I tried to think of ways to use it effectively.

I didn’t have to decide whether the arrows were blocked by the spell; it was sufficient that no one on Slade’s side was injured by them.

In my mind, Filp cut to the right and was going to sweep in from the end of the line; but this wasn’t something Slade would know, so I didn’t describe it.

I’d always thought Slade should get Filp’s grapple system when Filp died; I have no idea when or how it will be used.

I’m not certain when I decided that Shella had told Torence she was leaving to marry Slade; but I laughed at that myself, so I had to include it.

I recognized the inconsistency in consecrating the fire, which was allied with their enemies, to take the body; but then I decided this was the logical way, and perhaps death itself overcomes such problems.

Chapter 66, Brown 74

Having brought Lauren to the final world, I needed Derek to grow up faster.  I also needed his story to pick up pace.  Thus I focused on building up Derek’s body skills, and used the clairvoyance to introduce the fact that humans were the conquerors.

The size of the man was difficult, and I’m not certain the description is credible.  I figure that a tall sprite is typically twelve inches, one foot tall; Derek will be fifteen inches, because I need him to be very tall for a sprite, but Lelach is probably only ten inches.  If I make my man five feet tall, that’s five times as big as a typical sprite, and if we then take that as the baseline for a normal human, we have by comparison a twenty-five foot tall giant.  That’s bigger than any giant in the original Advanced Dungeons & Dragons™ Monster Manual.  The man would seem huge.

The other side of the problem, though, is whether Derek would have a sprite’s perspective on the size when viewing it clairvoyantly.  He is not in the frame, as it were, and he is seeing it as if he were flying so he’s not looking up at it from the ground.  It was not so long ago that he was himself a human (albeit shorter, still an adolescent), and so the size of the man relative to the trees would perhaps not be so shocking.  I was aware of this, but felt that I needed to convey the impression that the human was monstrously big, and so I ignored the perception problem.  I can suppose that there were sprites within Derek’s view, but I did not say so, and I did not want to have him see the man shoot a sprite.

I had the experience of shooting flintlock and cap-and-ball guns, both rifles and pistols, in the late 1970s.  My uncle had a pair of each, and we were invited to his cabin in the mountains where target and skeet shooting was the primary form of entertainment (there were also shotguns, a very nice crossbow on which I modeled Joe Kondor’s, and a few other weapons that do not come back to my mind presently).  The experience is known to me personally.

This has been the sixth behind the writings look at For Better or Verse.  Assuming that there is interest, I will continue preparing and posting them every eleven chapters, that is, every three weeks.

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#182: Emotionalism and Science

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #182, on the subject of Emotionalism and Science.

This recounts a true story told me decades ago which it occurs to me has relevance to our present situation.


It occurs to me that at least one of my readers might remember Mr. Ernest “Ernie” Larrat, whose lifetime of involvement with the Boy Scouts of America has impacted many lives of which mine is perhaps a drop in the bucket.  You will be pleased to hear that I saw him last year, at my mother’s ninetieth birthday party, and he looked well, not much different than I remembered from the two hundred mile canoe trip for which he and I were leaders forty years previously (although I doubt either of us could make that Bicentenial Delaware River trek today), and was still involved in the Ramapo Council.  He also had a day job, somewhere in the chemical industry, from which he recounted this story.

It takes place in the late nineteen-sixties.  An issue had been raised concerning children’s pajamas.  Someone had realized that clothing made of natural fibers such as cotton and wool burned, and so did clothing made of modern synthetics such as polyester.  Infants and toddlers dressed in such clothing who were caught in house fires were frequently burned alive when their clothing caught fire, and sometimes fires started when such clothing came in contact with high heat sources such as candle flames.  Somehow the concern reached the ears of our elected officials, and they held a Congressional hearing on the matter.

The first presenters at this hearing were connected to Ralph Nader’s group of consumer advocates.  I do not intend to denigrate them; they have done much good over the decades.  They presented the problem, with graphic images and details of children burned alive by pajamas catching fire.  It was a horrid thought, a very moving and emotionally gripping presentation.  By the time the presentation was completed, our lawmakers were ready to take action–so ready, in fact, that they ended the hearings immediately and drafted and passed legislation requiring that all child and infant sleepwear be treated with flame-retardant chemicals so as not to ignite when exposed to flame.

They never heard any presentations from the chemical industry or the garment manufacturers.  After all, what could they possibly have to say, other than suggesting that the costs of such treatment would reduce their profits?  It was clear that something had to be done, and Congress was going to do it.

What the chemical industry was prepared to explain, had anyone cared to listen, was that there was only one known chemical that could be used to make such cloth permanently flame retardant.  It was known as Tris(2,3-dibromopropyl) phosphate, or just Tris for short.  (There is another chemical, Tris(2-chloroethyl) phosphate, more recently used as a flame retardant, more commonly known as TCEP.)  It had not been used in children’s garments, though, because of other properties.  It was known that when exposed to elevated temperatures not high enough to cause ignition of common fabrics, Tris would begin to break down and release a noxious gas rapidly and painfully fatal if inhaled.  I don’t know, but I suspect that this is at least part of why it was flame retardant:  as it heated, it robbed the fire of oxygen, preventing ignition.

However, its use was at the time the only way to comply with the law, so the chemical industry began providing large quantities of Tris to be used by the garment industry in the manufacture of children’s clothing.  Now fewer children were burned alive, because many more were killed by the gas released by treated clothing heated by the fire long before the clothing itself would have ignited without such treatment.

Over a very brief period of years, it was also determined that the chemical was a carcinogen when absorbed through the skin.  In 1977 the Consumer Product Safety Commission banned its use in children’s clothing, and clothes went back to being untreated cloth for lack of an alternative.

The lesson to be learned is that it is important in addressing a problem to research the potential consequences of any proposed solution.  Congressmen who voted in favor of flame-retardant treatment of children’s clothing knew they were addressing a serious problem.  They did not know that they were creating a more serious problem.  Within the narrow confines of the problem, indeed mandating flame-retardant chemicals in children’s clothing seems the ideal solution–but it is magical thinking, it is believing that direct solutions to problems do not have effects that might cause other problems.

And that is what is happening in the climate change hysteria today.

No one doubts that there are environmental problems that must continue to be addressed.  No one wants to undo the progress that has been made since the nineteen sixties.  Those of us who have lived so long can attest that conditions are better now than then, and that much more is being done to protect the environment now than then.  However, environmental extremists are drawing pictures of burned babies to provoke an emotional reaction and induce us to take extreme measures to protect the environment before this happens–and in this case, they are theoretical pictures, descriptions of what might happen if current trends go unchecked.  We have no burned babies, no real cases of environmental disaster causing or caused by climate change.  We have educated guesses–educated guesses on which many scientists disagreed until they were pressured by threats of funding cuts or ostracization or banishment from publication venues, to bring them into the fold.  We are supposed to react to these images by taking immediate action to protect the metaphoric babies, passing the legislation that metaphorically protects them by treating their clothing with a carcinogenic poisonous chemical that prevents ignition.

We should not move so quickly on this.  We should attend to the fact that every action has consequences, and extreme and hasty actions usually have severe consequences.  There are many problems that have nothing to do with the environment, and indeed even our supposed efforts to repair the environment may have unanticipated environmental consequences.

This has all been said before.  It was not so long ago that I wrote #175:  Climage Change Skepticism, and only about a year ago that I wrote #80:  Environmental Blackmail.  Before that, though, I gave you #10:  The Unimportance of Facts, suggesting that to many in the political world the truth does not matter, only the victory.  Let’s try to get back to learning the truth, instead of trying to use scare tactics to get our preferred outcomes.

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#181: Anatomy of a Songwriting Collaboration

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #181, on the subject of Anatomy of a Songwriting Collaboration.

I have long been of the opinion that the best way to learn to write songs, initially, is to find someone who already does and work with him, in essence apprenticing as a songwriter.  That’s how I learned, although it occurs to me that I never really wondered how my mentor learned.  Still, I had learned quite a bit of music theory and had attempted quite unsuccessfully to write songs before I met him, and very quickly learned the secrets once I started working with him.  I have since worked with quite a few people who had never written a song before, and taught them the basics of how to do so.  So there might be other ways to get started, but working with someone who already knows what he is doing is a tried and true approach.


Because of this, I’m not claiming that anything I write could ever teach you how to write a song.  I can teach you quite a bit of music theory (I did some of that in Mr. Young’s Music Theory Class on Facebook), but to learn to write a song I think you would have to go through the process with me.  On the other hand, this past weekend I persuaded my youngest son to collaborate on a song, and it came out fairly well, and so I am going to attempt to explain the process that brought about the song here.

I am going to state the caveat I have often stated in other contexts:  all songs are different, and there are many different ways in which they come into being.  When people ask whether the words or the music come first, I always say no, because it does not work that way.  There have been times when I have begun with words that had no music, and other times when I had a melody but no lyric, or even a chord progression or background that was worth forming into a song.  How it happened this time is one example, but it shows aspects of process.

It began while I was driving in the car.  I should credit the Reverend Jack Haberer, because if I recall correctly when we were together at Ramsey High School he put under his yearbook picture, “Secretly desires to be born again again,” and the line has stuck with me over the decades.  It was nagging at me as I was driving, so I pulled a digital recorder from my pocket (I have one on my cell phone and another that is just that) and dictated something roughly poetic.  I do this sometimes with ideas for articles, stories, songs, and tasks I should complete, because I know I will forget quite soon if I don’t, and even with the convenience of recorders that I don’t always think to use too many ideas escape me.

Upon arriving home, I played back the recording and cleaned it up a bit, typing up a document that read

If deep in your heart you remember when–
Did you want to be born again again?
The good news is the news is true:
Jesus comes to make all things new,
Even you.
Even you.

So I had the beginning of a song idea, but I had no melody, no music for it at all.

What I did have was a desire to help my youngest son Adam with his own music.  He happens to be a natural–like me, he picks up instruments and figures out how to get music out of them.  He plays the piano for hours, but has very little notion of the names of the chords or key signatures.  He is learning; he questions me frequently, about what he’s doing on the piano or the guitar or the recently-added cello or other instruments.  He is very creative, but he doesn’t often write what we call “songs”–he does improvisational music, and then tries to remember fragments of it, or he records himself jamming at the piano and uploads it to the Internet but can’t otherwise reproduce it.  I wanted to give him something of an understanding of how I write a song, and so I wanted to collaborate with him on something.  I printed those words and kept them on my desk for a couple hours.

He is notoriously difficult to catch, but while I was rushing about getting his mother ready for work I saw him standing in the living room, grabbed the lyrics, and said something on the order of, “I thought you might like to collaborate on a song.  Here are some lyrics to get it started.”  He took them over to the piano and started playing something and singing something.  I was only half listening as I was otherwise occupied, and by the time I joined him he had worked some of the bugs out of it and I tried to pick up his melody.

Honestly, I was a bit disappointed with the rather stock chord progression he had adopted, even with the unusual stray notes, and the melody was nothing terribly original–but the song had vitality and drive, and that fit it extremely well, so I quickly tried to learn his melody, which probably changed a bit in the process.  He had also doubled the end words, so that Even you was sung four times rather than two.

He then grabbed the paper and ran looking for a pencil or pen.  People who know me will wonder that I didn’t just reach into my shirt pocket and hand him one, but around the house I don’t wear the shirt with the pencils, only the pocket T-shirt, so I only sometimes have a pen available.  He grabbed one from the kitchen, and scrawled words on the page as the pen died in his hands.  Still, there was enough there that we had a second verse, and I got one of my pens and filled it in, with a few tweaks, thus:

There in your mind when you feel abused,
Don’t you get tired of being used and used?
Darkness falls, then the light breaks through.
Jesus comes to make all things new,
Even you.  Even you.
Even you.  Even you.

After that, we were talking about a bridge.

That progression I mentioned was A minor, G major (with a suspended 4 frill), F major, E major (with a suspended minor second frill)–yes, quite common, quite boring from a musical theory perspective, and it repeated, playing through three times for each verse.  I wanted to exit into a bridge with an unusual transition, and he had played something I liked (he was on the piano, I was on the guitar).  I started talking about where the chord would be “expected” to go, and before I’d gotten very far he told me what chord to play.  Well, he didn’t exactly tell me, “Play an F major 7 with an added augmented four,” but he told me where to put my fingers and that’s the chord he wanted.  As root progressions go, it was not terribly interesting (from the V of VI to the IV), but the dissonance inherent in the chord was interesting, and he wanted to slow it down so I shifted to a light picking (I tend to avoid tempo changes in my songs, preferring meter changes that achieve the same effect but are more precise).  He sang the next words, You want what you want, creating the shape of the melody for the bridge, and then started spitting out words that he liked as individual lines.  I told him to write them down, because it was obvious we were going to lose some potentially good material if we didn’t do something.  He wrote you got the joy, Jesus got the pain, then crossed out Jesus got and replaced it with He took, and added away to the end.  He next wrote your sin is a stain–redemption sustains, but it was all disjointed.  I said I wanted to invert that line, strike the away, and make pain rhyme with stain, but we needed a line between to make it fit.  He suggested you get what you get, and with a bit of scribbling arrows on the page we wound up with

You want what you want.
You got the joy, He took the pain.
You get what you get.
Redemption sustains, sin is a stain.

I still wanted a second bridge, something that would break out of the ordinariness of the progressions so far, because the other chord in this bridge was a G six nine, and we played it in essence F to G to F to G, returning to the original progression–and the melody was only slightly different from that of the verses, although slowed.

My vision at this point was that we were going to write a third verse related to that idea of sin, do a different second bridge, and resolve it in a fourth and final verse.  The tempo being what it is, the song was moving fast and I thought felt short.  I put forward an opening line for the third verse, Asking yourself why you want to sin, and we started talking about what to say next.  The contrast between losing and winning came to the fore, and I wanted to say something about choosing to lose, but couldn’t fit it comfortably and still get to the word win for the rhyme scheme.  Between us we hammered out the second line, and along the way Adam said that the words to win should flow into the next line, the object won opening that line.  I observed that the second line in previous verses always had the double ending–again again, used and used, and that we should maintain the pattern, to win to win–and then that this would achieve what he wanted, if we made it to win.  To win victory in the opening of the next line.  The rest of that flowed quickly, and we had a third verse,

Ask yourself why you want to sin,
Why you lose, you were made to win.  To win
Victory, and to make it through
Jesus comes to make all things new,
Even you.  Even you.
Even you.  Even you.

And now we came to the point where I wanted the second bridge, and I pushed for the resolution from the E major to go to something at least a bit unanticipated, the C major.  I also agreed again to reduce the drive.

At this point we needed a progression, and Adam said that he wanted me to go from the C up half a step, so I slid it into the D-flat major.  That certainly satisfied me for unusual progressions, and he liked it as well–but he said we needed to resolve that, and since I was the expert on that point he left it to me.  I decided I could go from the D-flat to the A-flat to the E-flat, and from there I could get back to the C easily enough (all major) and repeat the progression.  I also recognized that the last note of the melody of the verse was the E, and I could hold it into the beginning of the bridge and start this melody on the same note.  The melodic line at the first chord change was tricky, but I managed to bring it down to be on the G by the time we reached the E-flat chord, which was the common note going back to the C chord, and a leap back up to repeat the line worked.  I wrote the words with the melody at this point, and Adam put them on paper.  I also after the second descent held the G with my voice and changed the chord from the E-flat to the G major, thinking that it would give me the leading tones to get back to the A minor for my final verse.


That fourth verse was supposed to resolve the message of the song.  There were probably a lot of things we could have said, but I had none of them in my mind yet and I realized that the unexpected shift to the G major chord provided a musical resolution to the song, and that the words of what was supposed to be the second bridge resolved the message rather well.  I presented the alternatives to Adam–write a closing verse, or end the song here–and he agreed that this was a decent ending for the song.  Thus our fourth verse never materialized, and our second bridge became instead our coda:

Thank God for what He’s done
To set us free
He gave His only Son
For you and me.

And you should be able to hear the song here on SoundCloud.

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