#499: Temporal Anomalies in Dean Koontz’ Lightning

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #499, on the subject of Temporal Anomalies in Dean Koontz’ Lightning.

A time travel fan wrote to me praising a book and asking me to review it.  The book is by thriller author Dean Koontz, and it is a compelling and exciting story–however, I was less enthused about the time travel elements.  You can read my book review at Goodreads, if you wish.

I was suspicious from the start.  We have in essence two central characters, Laura and Stephan.  Stephan is a time traveler.  I’m not certain that this is obvious from the beginning, because of course I was told up front that it was a time travel story, so I was anticipating that.  However, we begin with Laura’s birth.  Her mother’s obstetrician had become an alcoholic, but had kept that secret, and apparently in the original history the delivery of Laura went very badly–we ultimately learn that she was born paralyzed from the waist down, and her mother died.  In the version of the story we see, Stephan arrives at the doctor’s home and forces him to call the hospital and report that he cannot come perform the delivery because he is drunk, and the doctor on call would have to do it.  Although her mother still dies, Laura is born healthy.

The complication I have is that somehow Stephan knows that the doctor is going to botch the delivery, and so travels to this time and place to prevent it.  That means he is relying on information from the future to change the past, and in so doing is erasing the events in the future which are the basis of his knowledge.

Koontz attempts to get around this by stating that a time traveler cannot change his own past and indeed cannot travel to his own past, he can only travel to points in his future and return to his own time, but he can always change his future.  Stephan is part of a World War II German experiment in time travel in 1944, and all of his visits to Laura are in his future, in that sense.  However, if he travels to 1964 and discovers that Laura was murdered in 1963, how is that not his past, and if he then travels to 1963 and prevents that murder, has he not changed his past–and how is it that his visit to 1964 can reveal a murder that never happened because he traveled to 1963 to prevent it?

The book is full of such complications.  It also has a few more difficult ones.  It is an interesting twist that when the German secret service is trying to find Laura they travel to the future and search police reports and newspaper archives looking for a time and place at which she will appear.  However, ultimately they learn that she was pulled over by a patrol car on highway 111 at a certain date and time, so they launch a team to meet her there and kill her, and on the way they kill the patrolman who was going to file that report.  How, then, did they read the report?

There were two other quirks, both based on the notion that nature or fate is self-preserving.

Stating that nature prevents paradox, Stephan explains that it is not possible for a time traveler to travel to a time and place he has already been.  However, in the critical scene he arrives at the critical location, realizes he is too late, returns to his own time, and reprograms the machine to deliver him five minutes sooner–but it won’t, which is explained that if he arrives five minutes sooner he might still be there in five minutes when his other self arrives, which would create a paradox.  How, though, would the machine, or nature, recognize that although he is not present at the desired coordinates, he will be there in a few minutes?

The other quirk is that it is often repeated that fate tries to reassert itself–what was meant to happen, if prevented by a time traveler, will happen later a different way.  That occurs sometimes during the story, and sometimes it looms over the story as a threat but is somehow avoided.  I can’t help feeling, though, that this fate, or nature, or whatever it is, has elements of a divine being, someone who knows what was supposed to happen and has the power to make it happen.

Were I to name one other problem, it is evident that Stephan has seriously changed Laura’s life.  The weird thing is she is still a best-selling author, but the books of hers which he read are not the books she wrote.  Further, he fell in love with the character of the author, but I can’t help wondering whether that character would have been altered by such details as that she did not spend her life in a wheel chair, and she was not rescued from a rapist-murderer by a mysterious stranger as a young girl.  I can’t help thinking she would have been a different person, but it seems she did not change.

Overall, poor marks on the time travel elements despite being a very compelling book.

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