#85: Time Travel Coming on Television

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #85, on the subject of Time Travel Coming on Television

I got several notices from readers alerting me to something new in time travel coming to a small screen near you, and I paid little attention to them, I’m afraid.  For one thing, I don’t do analyses of time travel media other than movies, for reasons detailed elsewhere.  For another, at present I don’t have access to “regular” or even “cable” television–I watch DVDs, Netflix via an RCA Streaming device, and sometimes manage to borrow the equipment to Chromecast something from my office computer to the living room television.  For another–well, television series about time travel rarely work.  As a boy I enjoyed Time Tunnel, and I have the series on DVD, but for anyone who has any coherent theory of time it is a temporal nightmare.  I liked Se7en Days, and even used it as the basis for an example of a way in which the past can be safely altered.  However, ever since Star Trek:  Voyager delivered three temporally disastrous episodes in its first season, I have been extremely wary of any time travel television series, and for some combinations of these three reasons I never watched The Sarah Conner Chronicles or Continuum.

I’m still interested in time travel, though, and it seems that I got all these notifications of upcoming time travel television because there’s more than one show on the horizon.

img0085History

Sometime in 2016 FOX will be bringing a made-for-TV comedy movie under the title Making History (photo above).  The trailer looks highly entertaining.  I am considerably more forgiving of absurd temporal disasters in comedies because they’re supposed to be funny, and well done absurd can be funny.  In this iteration one of our primary characters, pretty much a failure in the present, has hopped back to the past and fallen in love with Paul Revere’s daughter.  Revere expected his daughter to marry the man of his choosing, and is so upset about this he fails to make his famed ride to warn of the approach of the British, and the Colonies are overrun.  Our bumbling hero returns to the present and persuades his history professor to come back with him to fix the problem, but the fact that the professor is black adds more complications to the situation.

It is, of course, absurd on its face:  once the American Revolution has been undone, the time traveler cannot return to the world he left behind, because it has been erased.  Yet it looks like a good foundation for a very funny story, and if after it airs I can find it somewhere I can watch, I’ll probably give you a more detailed account of just how disastrous it is.

Meanwhile, NBC is also getting into the act with a drama called Timeless, which is announced as a 2016 television series.  Here the story is darker:  some group has stolen a time machine and traveled to the past to alter American history in ways that are apparently significant to someone.  In the trailer, they are attempting to prevent the Hindenburg disaster.  Our time-traveling heroes are sent back to protect history, to prevent the changes.

We have previously noted the major problems with efforts to prevent changes to the past, particularly in our analysis of TimeCop as well as repeatedly in the Terminator series.  This can only end in temporal disaster–and since it’s a television series we can probably expect repeated disasters week after week.  On the bright side, it looks like a well-made well-acted action-packed adventure.  On the dark side, it appears to mix theories of time rather randomly–the very fact that a team has been sent to the past to prevent it from changing says it can’t be fixed time, but one of the time travelers reports having a copy of a document that another member of the team has not yet written.

To confuse matters, IMDb reports not one but two current movies under the same title, one released this year and another slated for next year.  Those might see analysis eventually, if I can get copies.

Also in production for anticipated release next year on ABC is a series entitled Time After Time based perhaps loosely on the movie of that name or the book on which that movie was based.  This is the story in which H. G. Wells has invented a time machine and somehow Jack the Ripper has managed to use it to escape into time, with Wells in pursuit.  Information is at this point quite sketchy.  The movie was good, but had a lot of temporal difficulties which a series promises to compound.  Still, it has some promise, depending on how it plays.

So time travel fans will have plenty to entertain in the months ahead.

As always, if you have questions about time travel stories you have seen, write to me (you can use the e-mail comments link below), assume I have not seen whatever it is you saw and give me details, and I’ll do my best to answer based on what you describe.  Meanwhile, if you want me to see these, you’ll have to use the Patreon or PayPal.me links to increase the support of this site to a level that can pay for such luxuries, or arrange to mail me DVD copies of them.  Thank you.

#84: Man-Made Religion

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #84, on the subject of Man-Made Religion

A significant (at least to me) discussion was budding on a thread about something else on Facebook with Nikolaj Bourguignon and William Bing Ingram, and Facebook is already not a very good place for such deep discussions and the less so when they are buried in a thread about something else. So I am addressing it here, and if they’re interested perhaps we can discuss it on a new thread there or here.  (I know Nikolaj has a lot on his plate at the moment, so I’ll understand if he’s unavailable.  Everyone is welcome to join.  Initial comments here are moderated, so don’t expect that they’ll post immediately if you aren’t already an approved commenter on this web log, but I usually get to them pretty quickly.)

William suggested:

…one of the things about religion is that nobody ever discovers religion on their own; they always have to be told about it before they “suddenly” find religion.

This is unlike subjects such as math….

Religion is a completely man-made idea. I mean, consider early civilizations. They developed independent of each other and each one developed widely different religions. If there really was one true religion, each culture would have discovered the same one independently.

I take exception to that idea, and hope he will afford me the opportunity to explain why.

img0084Crucifix

It is certainly reasonable to reject religion for rational reasons.  It is entirely different to do so based on errors of fact, and that appears to be what we have here.

Certainly it is true that there are many religions all over the world, and they have often been at odds with each other concerning which is the truth.  However, it is important that we grasp those arguments.  When Missouri Synod Lutherans argue with Wisconsin Synod Lutherans, the points at issue are generally about what is appropriate in church services; they agree on much much more than that on which they disagree.  When Missouri Synod Lutherans argue with atheists about the existence of God, the Lutherans are much closer to the Baptists, the Catholics, even the Muslims, than any of these are to the atheists.  Theologians often talk about the case of the single iota of difference–from a church split that happened largely over whether the right word was homoousios (“same substance”, used in the Nicene Creed and adopted by the western Christian church) or homoiousios (“similar substance”, used by Eusebius of Caesarea and considered the better choice by the eastern Christian church).  After all, if I say that the paint color we chose was lavender and my wife says it was lilac, apart from the fact that I suspect she would be right it doesn’t really prove that we didn’t choose a paint color.  It only means that we disagree in the minutiae.

It will also certainly help if we recognize that nearly all religions can be divided into the ethical portion, the spiritual portion, and the ritual portion.  Certainly they are all different in all three portions–but it must be noted that they are not really so different as we might expect.

Looking first at the ethical portion, we find that there are universal principles underlying all religions from all over the world.  I recommend the appendix in C. S. Lewis’ wonderful book The Abolition of Man, in which he details many of these principles and demonstrates their presence in religions from every continent over many centuries.  We might suppose that the sanctity of life and the protection of property were obvious, but loyalty to family over strangers, obligation of hospitality to strangers, sanctity of marriage, protection of the weak and particularly of children, deference to elders, sacrifice of self, and quite a few other less obvious principles are well represented universally.  The specifics of how these are applied from one culture to another certainly varies, but the ethic itself seems to be universally understood, and discovered by peoples throughout the world.

The ritual aspect is certainly far more varied, but even here we have some haunting similarities.  Nearly all religions recognize some significance in sacrifice.  Nearly all include feasts but also fasts, self-deprivations of some sort and celebrations of some sort.  The rest is generally application of culture and human abilities–the inclusion of music, chanting, speech, body positions indicating deference, and many other aspects which develop.  Modern sociologists are intrigued by the concept of the creation of a “sacred space”, a collection of ritual which humans use to divide part of life from everything else, which is found universally and involves ritual.  It seems that we have all discovered the same thing, and applied it in different ways.

The spiritual portion is the most difficult, but to some degree it also has shared elements.  As noted, Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Polytheists, Jews, and many, many others all agree that there is some kind of spirit world, a God or gods; we are all much closer to each other than any of us are to atheism, despite how very different we are from each other.  The atheist would claim that our diversity comes from the fact that we are all inventing ideas to explain realities that we did not understand, but fails to account for the similarities between those ideas.  Certainly in some theologies the gods are like super-people, and in others they are so far beyond our reality as to be unlike people at all.  Some see the afterlife as a lot of individual people continuing an earth-like existence, others see it as everyone losing his selfhood and becoming part of one selfless unity, and others–religious people who believe in a spirit world–see no afterlife at all.  Yet this is the area in which we have the least information, because any of us who might have gone and returned have failed to bring back anything all of us accept as proof.

Except that this is where the Judeo-Christian concept of revealed religion becomes involved.  Unlike so many others, the scriptures of the Jews and the Christians present themselves as historic documents recounting events in the lives of real people, who reportedly interacted with representatives of God.  All those efforts to figure out what the spirit world is like were doomed to failure without information from the spirit world, but Christianity claims that it was provided.  If so, then the Christian faith has an advantage:  first-hand information.

What is the more interesting about this, to me at least, is that what the Christian faith claims as revealed religion seems to be saying that everyone had it partly right.  God is not a monolithic being, but He is a single being with a complex existence best described as three people perpetually interacting with each other.  (There are spirits who are not God nor gods, but in some sense greater than humans, who interact with God and possibly on occasion with humans, and not all of them are friendly.)  The reality of the polytheists contains some truth but not all the truth.  The opposite reality, that God is vastly incomprehensible and beyond anything we would understand as a person also contains some truth but not all the truth.  The image of the afterlife as many individuals living together is affirmed, but so is the image of everyone joined in one entity (the body of Christ).  It tells us that so much that we guessed about the spirit world is true, but not exclusively true, and gives us an image that is barely comprehensible of a place that by definition ought to be completely outside our experience or understanding.

C. S. Lewis seems to have become a Christian (he was an atheist) in large part because he saw that the Christian message provided the critical piece of reality that united everything.  I see some of that sometimes, and I see it here:  if the Christian concept of the spirit world is correct, all the other attempts to understand it are partly correct, capturing some aspects and missing some.  It also suggests that none of these religions are “made up”; they are, in fact, all glimpses of a reality–something akin to the poem about the blind men and the elephant, written to express a similar idea, but when the poem says that the blind men are describing something they have never seen, it fails to recognize that they have experienced something, and so are accurately describing part of something.  That seems to be what is happening in the diversity of religions:  We have all (generally if not individually) experienced something and attempted to understand it.  The fact that we understand it differently does not mean we did not experience the same thing–any more than the fact that Aristotle’s physics is significantly different from that of Galileo and Newton, and Einstein’s different again, does not mean they all lived in different universes.  They simply did not notice the points that others did.

I have other reasons for preferring Christianity, but they are beyond the scope of the present discussion, which is really about whether the diversity of religions proves they are all “made up”.  I think that you can’t support that conclusion on the evidence.

#83: Help! I’m a Lesbian Trapped in a Man’s Body!

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #83, on the subject of Help!  I’m a Lesbian Trapped in a Man’s Body!

The new view of sexual identity has me examining myself, and wondering if I have been misunderstood all these decades.  I have always perceived myself to be a boy (well, I grew up to be a man, I think), but perhaps that’s only because in those years everyone assumed that if you had male, er, parts, you were male.  We did not then understand that you could really be one gender inside and a different sex on the outside.  Now, apparently, we do, and that might really change things for me.  I might be a girl.  I have the attestation of most of my peers in my elementary school, who repeatedly asserted that I was a girl:  I ran like a girl, fought like a girl, threw, batted, kicked, did everything like a girl.  And I liked to sing–how girly, to like music class.  I might have had a boy’s body, but I didn’t use it like a boy; I was obviously a girl hiding in a boy’s body, pretending to be a boy.

Yet even then, I was always attracted to girls.  Starting in second grade I had a terrible crush on Christina Newcomb (I’ve always wondered what became of her).  By fourth grade I was spending a lot of time at her house down by the brook on Broad Street up near Lambert’s Mill Road.  She was particularly fond of The Beatles, and had a stack of Beatles cards between three and four inches thick.  There were other girls who caught my attention before that, and many more thereafter–moving away from Scotch Plains separated us, although our relationship had fizzled by then.  No other boys were attracted to girls–in fifth grade they used to dare me to wait for her outside the school and try to kiss her, which is what I wanted to do anyway so I usually took that dare and listened to their peals of disgust when I succeeded (although at least as often she ran away laughing).

So then the conclusion is inescapable:  if I am a girl, as all the boys thought, I must be a lesbian.

img0083Scouts

I think this understanding might have changed my youth significantly–maybe not then, when people always thought that someone in a boy’s body was a boy, and to be a girl you had to have a girl’s body.  But Society has recognized, now, that this is not always the case, and the Girl Scouts of America are doing their level best to keep up with progress:  you can be a Girl Scout if you are a girl on the inside, even if you, like me, are trapped in a boy’s body.  I can’t tell you how much different my teen years might have been had I actually been able to go camping with the Girl Scouts instead of the Boy Scouts.  Not that I don’t treasure the hundreds of miles of canoeing and hiking, the places I saw and things I learned in scouts, but really, every Boy Scout I knew wished we could go camping with the girls.  I certainly saw advantages to the idea.

So I think were I that age today I would simply explain it to them.  I’m not really a boy, I’m a girl in a boy’s body, but I’m attracted to girls, so that makes me a lesbian.  Trapped in a boy’s body.  I should be allowed to be a Girl Scout.  From what I understand of their present policies, I think they would agree and let me go camping with the girls.  I think we would have a wonderful time–and since I am, after all, a lesbian, I can’t promise that other things wouldn’t happen on those camping trips, since I would be bound to find all those girls attractive, and particularly whoever wound up as my tent-mate.  She might find that she, too, is a lesbian, attracted to another girl, at least when the girl in question is trapped in a boy’s body.  I know some girls are uncomfortable, being naked around a lesbian, but it might be different if the lesbian has the body of a boy.

I won’t say more about that, because I’m sure there are millions of Boy Scouts wishing they had already thought of this.

I expect that some of the parents would object; parents can be so old-fashioned, insisting that their children be protected from such situations.  They don’t understand that the world has changed, that what you are on the outside is meaningless, it’s the person on the inside that counts, even for such matters as which bathroom you should use, which Scouting organizations you can join, for what social services you qualify, and everything else, really.  If I say I am a lesbian inside a man’s body, how can anyone argue with that?  It could well be the real me.

And if it would have gotten me into those Girl Scout tents, I could have been very comfortable with that idea.

Shame on me?  Is that because you think I’m mocking a very serious matter, that someone could be one gender inside and a different sex outside, and ought to be treated as the kind of person he or she supposes him- or herself to be?  Or is it because you actually do think that girls and boys are different because of biological and physiological characteristics defined by their bodies, and society needs to make that distinction for the protection of its girls and its boys?

I think those peers of mine were wrong, that I was never a girl at all, as much as I was different from them.  This business about really being the other gender on the inside has nothing to do with biology or psychology; it has everything to do with gender stereotypes.  We think some man might be a woman inside because his interests go in directions more common to women–because we have created definitions of male and female “personality types” and then tried to fit people into them.  We persuade people that they are really not the gender of their body’s sex because their character does not fit our stereotypes, and they believe us.  Boys will be boys and girls will be girls, and we need to recognize that the first difference is biological.  Otherwise we lose some basic structures of human interaction, and face some serious social problems.  From there, we need to understand that a man does not have to conform to what we think are manly traits, nor a woman to womanly traits, and understand that bodies are sexually defined but people are individuals.

Without that, talk of sexuality devolves into this kind of nonsense.

#82: Novel Developments

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #82, on the subject of Novel Developments.

With permission of Valdron Inc I am publishing my second novel, Old Verses New, in serialized form on the web (that link will take you to the table of contents).  If you missed the first one, you can find the table of contents for it at Verse Three, Chapter One:  The First Multiverser Novel.  There was also a series of web log posts looking at the writing process, the decisions and choices that delivered the final product; the last of those for the first novel is #71:  Footnotes on Verse Three, Chapter One, which indexes all the others and catches a lot of material from an earlier collection of behind-the-writings reflections that had been misplaced for a decade.  Now as the second is being posted I am again offering a set of “behind the writings” insights.  This “behind the writings” look definitely contains spoilers, and perhaps in a more serious way than the previous ones, because it sometimes talks about what I was planning to do later in the book or how this book connects to events yet to come in the third (For Better or Verse).  You might want to read the referenced chapters before reading this look at them, or even put off reading these insights until the book has finished.  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.

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

  1. #74:  Another Novel (which provided this kind of insight into the first nine chapters along with some background material on the book as a whole).
  2. #78:  Novel Fears (which continued with coverage of chapters 10 through 18).

This picks up from there, and I expect to continue with additional posts after every ninth chapter in the series.

img0082Camelot

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 19, Hastings 50

The discussion of magic raises interesting theological issues.  God forbids the kind of magic that calls on spirits other than Himself to work miracles.  The “other kind” of magic, the type in which rituals control supernatural energy directly, simply does not exist.  Yet if it did, there is no argument against its use that does not also apply to technology.  Either God permits us to impact events in the world, or we are wrong to do so; means are a separate issue.  (I address these issues in several of the articles in the Faith and Gaming series at the Christian Gamers Guild website, also available in print.)

I hadn’t really thought about how Lauren would be involved in bringing Arthur to power; these things sort of developed through asking myself what I would do.

Sometime before I began writing the second novel, I knew that Horta and Jackson were both going to kill Lauren at different times–Horta in her Merlin visit, Jackson in the Bethany visit.  I’m not certain when it came to me, but it seemed the route to take.  It also gave meaning to their reluctance to trust her in 2005.


Chapter 20, Kondor 48

I don’t think I’d realized when Evan was shot that Kondor would become the doctor; but the idea worked.

It may seem odd that Joe argues against his own promotion, but ultimately he is really out of place in this world and there are still a lot of things he does not know about how to do medicine on the ship.  I wanted to have to persuade him, because he’s aware of his own shortcomings in that regard, but he really is the best man for the job.

I think that the mention of the lack of a watch that kept time on a ship reminded me, first, that Joe had that travel clock that should run adequately well on the ship, and, second, that such a clock, set to the standard time in Sardic, would be an incredible navigational aid.  I did not at this point know I was headed that direction, but the clock was going to get me there.


Chapter 21, Brown 7

The floor plan in this house owes something to that of my parents’ house in Ramsey; but it has a very different feel in several places.  It’s a bit distorted, too, but I didn’t expect the reader would sense that–or if he did, it would add to the eeriness of it all.  Derek starts upstairs in a left rear bedroom; but there are only windows in the back, so there’s probably another room beyond that.  In addition, the hall continues past that room, again suggesting at least one more.  He makes a left, putting the rear of the house on his left, and walks straight down the hall.  There is another door before he reaches the stairs, and I envision at least one on his right.  But, rather incongruously, the stairs seem to continue straight in front of him.  Yet when he falls down them, he rolls straight toward the front of the house–somewhere he’s made a right turn, yet the hall was always straight.  He lands on what I envision as a flagstone front hall, he notices a lightswitch but not a door.  He now makes effectively a right, headed back parallel to the hall but closer to the front of the house, which is now on his left.  This carries him through the living room, which is open to the hall, and then through the arch into the dining room, which is in the left rear corner of the building–but again, has no windows to the side.  My parents’ house is so designed downstairs, but that the front hall is enclosed and the door quite obvious.  Derek seems to have traveled farther upstairs than down, but he is clearly at the end of the house downstairs, when he seemingly was not when upstairs.  Again, it is the layout of the kitchen and dining room from their house:  the table is beneath the hanging light fixture, a picture window on the rear of the dining room, and a door to the kitchen more toward the living room.  Beyond that door, the kitchen area is largely to the left, much as described, with the refrigerator to the right, and a counter extending into the center of the room to separate the dinette.  At this point the model diverges, as we have reached the line of the stairs and seemingly the edge of the house.  I imagine a basement stair behind a door to the right at the far end, and perhaps another door straight ahead to something else, but in the model there’s a door in the far corner across the dinette which leads to a screen porch.  Derek never sees that far, but is driven back into the kitchen.

Breaking up the journey into pieces let me decide things as they happened and avoid bogging down with planning part of the journey that would never occur.  It also allowed for more tension, as I could consider everything that could go wrong with each bit and then make the move, and then consider again, thus giving the feeling of creeping across the set.

It was then time to do something with all that tension.  Up to now it’s possible that it’s all in Derek’s mind, and as long as it is there, it is a mood built on uncertainty.  The revelation that the ghost is real is a fright, in some ways breaking the mood by confirming our fears.


Chapter 22, Hastings 51

Tubrok came into existence entirely because I needed a reason why Merlin had not killed Horta.  A more powerful enemy seemed the best idea.  Once I had thought of him, I began to get the idea for the grand conclusion of the third book.  That is, I had already determined that Lauren, Bethany, Slade, Shella, and Derek were going to be together fighting something in the vampire world in the future, but now I knew what.

Lauren overlooks the fact that the Horta she sees here will be more than a millennium older when she fights him in the future; she is estimating his power based on her memory of a greatly strengthened future version of him.  Thus Merlin is not so worried as she is.

Tubrok’s strategy came largely from extrapolation from Gavin’s, figuring out what a vampire might try to do to further his own ends in that milieu.  I later saw something similar in the television series Being Human, but that was years after I wrote this and it wasn’t quite the same.

There is a sense in which Lauren has created a predestination paradox by mentioning the sword in the stone:  she has brought from the future an idea that she got from history.  However, we know that she is not from this universe, so it’s not really a problem—we just need to figure out how such a story came into existence in her world, and since we know the story exists we know it can come into existence without the suggestion from the future.

What Merlin teaches Lauren here is something we learned to call SEP invisibility.  It stands for “Somebody Else’s Problem”, and is a sort of psionic trick that doesn’t make you invisible but puts you beneath the level of notice—the way you walk around people on the sidewalk without really seeing them.  Lauren and Merlin do not vanish, but they pass unnoticed because they’ve persuaded the minds around them that they’re not important, not worth noticing.

I back-wrote that teaching moment after the book was finished, because I needed Lauren to have that skill when she arrived in the final world of the book.  I added her using it several times in earlier chapters to get it there, this being the first.


Chapter 23, Kondor 49

The problem about leaving Doctor Evan in Durnmist had two levels.  One was that I needed to figure out what job Kondor would do on the next route, and I didn’t really see continuing the Kondor as Doctor bit too much longer; the other was I needed a plausible reason to keep Evan on the ship if Kondor wasn’t going to be the doctor.

I hadn’t considered what would happen when Kondor got to New Haven; but I thought I’d get things pointed in the right direction for that.

Joe knows the route from having worked the other Mary Piper.  Captain John would assume he just found out from being aboard the ship.


Chapter 24, Brown 8

I had no idea how Derek was going to die in this world; but once the battle got fierce, it was just a matter of playing both sides and seeing what I could cause to happen.

The bit with the glass shards is I think a wonderful poltergeist effect.  They should be falling with him, landing around him.  Instead, they pause in the air high above him, and then target him in rapid flight as projectiles.  I don’t know whether it comes across, but I didn’t want to be too technical about it.


Chapter 25, Hastings 52

The argument about vampires led logically to one of those most difficult questions:  how can you prove that something does not exist?  I particularly like the notion that these magical creatures could exist unknown to her.  I think most people take too much on faith, and don’t realize they’re doing it.

The issue of whether Lauren can use magic to do what she thinks God wants done is a difficult one altogether, and worth bringing up again.  Merlin’s answers are useful; they make it easier to build a diversified sorceress who is yet something of a prophetess, because there’s no conflict between the magics she uses and the mission she pursues.  The answer to the problem seemed to lie in whether there was a difference in kind between doing what you think God wants done and doing it by magic, or whether that was only a difference in style.  I think this conversation, although it didn’t fully convince Lauren, fully convinced most readers.

The idea that criminal accusations had to be made in the king’s courtyard at noon was something that easily sounded right and made it impossible for vampires to make use of the legal system.  I liked it.


Chapter 26, Kondor 50

Oddly, I turned the loop around in my mind when I wrote this.  I somehow envision the ship going east through the northern latitudes at the beginning of the route and then returning west closer to the equator.  The fact is that the major currents do exactly the opposite, going west near the poles and east near the equator, and they do so precisely because of the direction of rotation of the planet.  The only way I could maintain my circle and have it fit with known laws would be to put the major settlements in the southern hemisphere–one too many things to try to explain to the reader.  Thus this passage is always jarring to me, because I expect Kondor to be going east and he claims to be going west.

I might have included the clock bit because my wife is related to the Harrison clockmakers of England, and that might include the John Harrison who solved the longitude problem by building a clock that kept time at sea.  I saw the special on A&E, but now can’t remember whether I’d come up with the idea before that (based probably on some of James Burke’s shows) or because of it.

The GSPS thing was a throwaway.  Not having Bob Slade in this book, I didn’t have the usual anachronistic comments he makes, but Joe sometimes made them as well, so I let him make one here.

I think I was using the game mechanics from the Mary Piper world again to generate events; sea monster is such an event, and dropping a sea serpent into the story here was a fun idea.


Chapter 27, Brown 9

E. R. Jones had run a world for my eldest when he was first playing in which there was a castle in the midst of a swamp, the castle inhabited by what was not so obviously a vampire and his mildly deformed idiot servant.  This world was inspired by that, but all the detail was invented.

I did a lot of camping in my teens, but by the time I was in my twenties I’d had enough of “roughing it” and have not done any tenting since, although I once went to a festival in a pop-up camper.

The mosquito was, I think, prefiguring the real villain of the world.

I mentioned the need for a larger pack, but had not yet solved it.  When I introduced the characters in the next world, I created Bill specifically to be the source of the backpack.

The block was originally a wall; but the wall bothered me.  It couldn’t really look big enough to be mistaken for a cliff and be far enough to take that long to reach.  I changed it on my read through from wall to block, hoping that would work better.


I hope these “behind the writings” posts continue to be of interest, and perhaps some value, to those of you who have been reading the novel.  If there is any positive feedback, they will continue.

#81: The Grandfather Paradox Problem

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #81, on the subject of The Grandfather Paradox Problem.

A friend who was playing Multiverser with me before we were on Facebook tagged me in a post about a time travel video, in which someone offers a scientific solution to the famous Grandfather Paradox:  what happens if I travel back in time and kill my own grandfather before he has children?  As the cartoon below shows, if you did that, you would undo your own existence, and if you undid your existence you would not be able to travel to the past and do that.

There are already quite a few links in this page, and there undoubtedly will be quite a few more before we’re done, so I recommend ignoring them all until you’ve read the page, and then deciding whether there are any you particularly want to pursue.

img0081Ducks

The video inappropriately seems to suggest that this is “the scientific” answer and therefore the true one.  That’s careless.  It even recognizes the alternate dimension solution, dismissing it as “boring” (because it just avoids the paradox)–and we agree that it’s a poor solution, because whether we are speaking of parallel dimensions (a vast, possibly infinite, set of dimensions which have always existed) or divergent dimensions (the creation of new branching universes caused by the arrival of the traveler), it is not time travel.  The video ignores other solutions, such as The Novikov Self-consistency Principle (in essence a fixed time theory solution which asserts time travel is only possible in universes in which the past is immutable).  It also ignores replacement theory; we’ll get to that.

If the video is confusing to you, don’t be embarrassed:  it’s a confusing theory.  I think it’s the theory behind Dr. Manhattan’s perception of the world in Watchmen:  it isn’t exactly that all possible worlds exist, it’s that they all co-exist within a single but complex spatio-temporal space.

One of the problems of divergent dimension theory is the question of where all the matter and energy originate to create another identical universe.  That is, if you have a matter replicator on the order of Star Trek:  The Next Generation, and you want to create a cup of tea, you need as much energy as you would obtain from the nuclear annihilation of an identical cup of tea, plus a bit more to operate the machine.  If you want to create another identical universe, you would need to consume all the matter and energy of the original universe plus probably a bit more to do the work.  Assuming you could do it, your original universe would have ceased to exist anyway.

    There are a few other problems with this.  Since you had to use some of the energy to perform the process, you wind up with a slightly smaller replacement universe; and assuming that you have a time traveler who left that other universe, either he was destroyed when that universe was (creating the paradox we are attempting to avoid) or his matter and energy are not included in the total (shorting us yet a bit more).  But those are extra quibbles.

If you maintain a divergent dimension theory idea without time travel, that is, that every choice, every possible occurrence, creates two universes, in one of which the event happened and the other it did not, you multiply this problem exponentially, since for anything I could be doing right at this moment there exists a universe in which I am doing that, and for everything you could be doing there exists a universe in which you are doing that, and as long as what we might be doing is compatible those two lists are multiplied–I do thing A while you do thing A, I do thing A while you do thing B, I do thing B while you do thing A, and by the time we get to four possible actions for two hypothetical people we have sixteen universes, and we have only gotten started.

The theory behind the solution offered by the video attempts to resolve that issue, and in a strictly theoretical way it does so rather cleverly.  There are not innumerable copies of me; there is only one.  That one individual exists as a bundle of matter and energy across all the many dimensions, and is doing all the different things he might be doing.  My consciousness only remembers those events which are sequentially chained in the history of what I am aware of doing at the moment–I have no awareness of what I am doing or what I ever did in those other dimensions, but it is still me doing it.

The idea sprang from the problem addressed by that famous feline Schrödinger’s Cat.  Because of some other theories in quantum physics the state of an unstable atom was viewed as problematic.  It might decay at any moment, and therefore it might have decayed since you last looked.  Someone (his name is not as famous as Schrödinger’s) proposed that the answer to this was that the atom existed in both a decayed and an undecayed state, and when you looked at it you determined not exactly in which state it was but rather in which universe you were observing it.  Until you looked, it was both decayed and undecayed, and the act of looking determined the state.  Schrödinger said that this was absurd, since if that were true he could set up an experiment in which a cat who would die the instant a specific atom decayed would be both alive and dead until someone checked, and since the cat cannot possibly be both alive and dead the theory is nonsense.  However, the theory was immediately defended with the assertion that what Schrödinger claimed was impossible was actually the reality, that the cat actually is both alive and dead until someone looks and discovers whether we are in a dimension in which it is alive or one in which it is dead.

I don’t know that Schrödinger was persuaded, but the idea took hold and expanded, attaching to events that were not in any obvious way connected to the uncertainties of subatomic decay:  suddenly anything that might have happened has happened, and all of us are both alive and dead, sitting in church and visiting a brothel, fabulously famous and desperately destitute, at the same time.

I have problems with that; I have addressed them on other pages.  The present video does not venture there–it only discusses the notion that two such states could exist simultaneously, one in which my grandfather lived and led to my existence, the other in which I killed him, and so the fact that I both do and do not exist at this moment because of a future action I will take in the past is not a problem.

I still see it as a problem.  Let’s get at it, though, by noting that I have a brother.  (In reality I have two, and a sister, and a batch of cousins, nephews, neices, and cousins-once-or-twice-removed who might also be affected, but let’s stick to one brother.)  We have talked about the problem of having a brother in multiple dimension theory before, but it’s a different problem in this version.

The problem is that when I kill my grandfather, I also rather inadvertently also kill my brother’s grandfather.

My reality is convoluted, but it is comprehensible.  There is a reality in which I exist up to the moment–let’s call it “today”–when I leave for the past, and after that–“tomorrow”–I no longer exist because I left and never returned.  There is another reality in which I was never born, and so “today” I do not exist and never existed, and that’s confusing–but tomorrow is somewhat simpler, because tomorrow I still do not exist because I never existed.  In my experience, therefore, I both exist and do not exist today, but tomorrow I simply do not exist.  Reality is unstable for a while, but then we might suppose that it stabilizes “today” when I leave for what we will call “yesterday”, stretching the term about a century to when my grandfather was a child.

What, though, of my brother?  There is a reality in which he exists “today”, and since he does not leave to go back to “yesterday” he, in that reality, still exists “tomorrow”.  Yet since I went back to “yesterday” and killed our young grandfather, there is a reality in which he was never born, either.  My reality stabilizes into a universe tomorrow in which I do not exist–but his reality never does so.  From the moment I either do or do not kill our grandfather, he either does or does not exist, and that never changes.

That’s very dramatic when we consider him; he is quite obviously impacted by whether or not I killed our grandfather.  Yet it is not just whether or not he exists tomorrow; it’s whether we have existed in these intervening years, and what the shape of the future will be hereafter.  We always discuss this as killing a grandfather before he has children, but that means there is that intervening generation–in which one of our parents was never born.  Reflect on it and you’ll recognize that no matter what happened between your parents, their lives would have been very different had they never met, and if one of them had never been born, they would never have met.  I have elsewhere written about the genetic problem.  Note that had our mother not married our father, she probably would have married someone else; and whoever that was probably actually did marry someone else in this reality whom they would not have married had they married Mom.  That ripples through hundreds, possibly thousands, of relationships, displacing couples and altering the identities of a large segment of the next generation which in turn multiplies the impact, as the couples marrying in that generation are altered by the fact that thousands of them were never born, replaced by thousands who were born instead.  So it is not just my brother and I who both do and do not exist; it is thousands of others whose births will be prevented if my mother marries someone other than my father.

And when we reach the end of that bit of twisted time in which there are two different realities, one in which I live and leave for the past and the other in which I am never born, we have two worlds that are so completely different that it becomes utter nonsense to speak of them even as parallel.  The counterpart for my brother Roy Young is probably someone like Vinnie de LaRosa, who also exists in one dimension but not in the other.  The world has been so altered by this one event that the two versions can never converge to the same future.  “Tomorrow” can never be unified.

At that point, whether we say that there is a diverging universe with its own history beginning from the moment of my arrival in the past or that there is only one universe in which the same matter is configured in different ways in various histories which diverge from each other becomes a matter of semantics which solve nothing.  It is divergent universe theory with a lot of smoke and mirrors to make us think it is something else.

Meanwhile, the same action–killing your grandfather–in replacement theory causes an infinity loop.  In essence, there is an original history in which my grandfather lived and I was born, and I departed for the past ending that history, and as I arrived in the past I erased the original history and began writing a different single history of the world in which my grandfather died young and I was never born; then at the moment I fail to travel to the past, I remove myself from the past (the exact reason the grandfather paradox is a problem) and create a history in which I am not there, my grandfather lives, and ultimately I am born–the original history restored, leading to my decision to travel to the past.  Those two versions of history repeat, each causing the other, perpetually; “tomorrow” never comes, because it can only exist as a single universe with a single set of people and events if it has a single unified history in which all causes and effects are found.

So the video suggests an interesting idea that ultimately is not different from the divergent or parallel dimension theory it begins by dismissing.  It is not really something different.

#80: Environmental Blackmail

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #80, on the subject of Environmental Blackmail.

Augustine has been quoted (by C. S. Lewis, somewhere) as claiming to be “one who by writing profits and by profiting writes.”  I have that experience as well.  I had been musing on a completely different subject (for the Christian Gamers Guild Bible study) and suddenly saw how it applied to the massive global warming controversy, and thus I am writing about that here.

First, let me establish a few bona fides.  I am indeed a somewhat conservative moderate, but have also always been involved in environmental issues.  As a Boy Scout I cleaned up and repaired trails and wilderness areas as well as working with early recylcing efforts, collecting paper, glass, and aluminum in a time when it was voluntary and someone had to make an effort to make it happen.  I am in favor of policies that really do improve the environment; I am not in favor of policies which severely impact other areas of life such as economic growth but whose benefit to the environment is at best minimal or dubious.  I also favor policies that would shift the costs of environmental impact to those responsible for it–if the “cost” of a product includes that it damages our waterways, that cost ought to be covered in the sale price.  However, I also think that there is a great deal of alarmist talk in this field (see mark Joseph “young” web log post #45:  The Math of Charging Your Phone for an example).

img0080Earth

I am old enough to be skeptical of current scientific opinion simply because it is current opinion, and the fact that it is scientific does not much improve its credibility.  I remember when we were all being moved away from butter to healthier margarine for the sake of our hearts, and now it seems that margarine is much worse for our hearts and we should prefer butter (or some other heart-healthy spread).  Smoking was once encouraged for its supposed antibiotic and antiviral effects, and it was a slow road to persuade everyone that it was a major health problem.  The majority of scientific opinion has often been wrong in living memory, and it is a fool who believes that because he has corrected certain errors in his thinking he must now be completely right about everything.

I am also not so foolish as to be persuaded that all the scientists on one side of the issue and none of those on the other side have a vested interest in the outcome.  That is, we are told that those of the minority opinion, those scientists who either do not believe that climate change is occurring or do not believe that human activity is a significant factor in it, are largely funded by industries who want the outcome to support their continued exploitation of natural resources, and thus that their research is tainted.  We are not told that those who believe human activity is creating climate change which will occur on a rapid and global scale at devastating levels are largely funded by environmental groups who want more money invested in environmental activities, and thus also have an economic interest which potentially taints their research–not to mention that they get publicity and sell books and media based on it.  That blade cuts both ways.  Besides, saying that oil companies support scientists who agree with the position that benefits them (or that environmental groups do likewise for those whose work benefits them) is a bit like arguing that the resurrection of Christ must be a lie because everyone who claims to have seen Him after His resurrection was a believer:  if you actually knew you saw Jesus alive after you knew He had been executed, could you reasonably not become a believer?  It is quite natural for groups with an interest in the outcome to fund those who appear to be producing data that supports their preferred outcome, and to promote that data which does; that is equally true on both sides of this debate.

I think that there is evidence of climate change.  I think that it is a bit less clear to what degree it is because of our contributions rather than because of natural climatic shifts.  The fact that it cannot be demonstrated that we are having a serious impact on the environment is not, to my mind, a sufficient reason not to take steps to reduce our impact on the environment; it is sufficient reason not to do so in ways that are going to strangle an economy that desperately needs to grow and create jobs.  Some are arguing that jobs now are not as important as the future state of the earth, but they have jobs now and probably are not in much danger of losing them.  It can as easily be argued that the state of the environment in a century is not going to matter much to people who starve and freeze and die of heat stroke today because of a collapsing economy.  (Minimum wage increases will not help this; the only way to increase everyone’s share of the pot is to make the pot bigger.)  We must take reasonable steps to improve the environment; we must not take unreasonable ones.  Our debate, then, comes to identifying those reasonable steps.

My complaint, though, is that in the current debate the threat of global warming is being used as a weapon to promote environmental policy and quash intellectual exploration.  I am particularly concerned, because it is not clear to me whether human activity is impacting climate, and it is also unclear that any such impact is negative.  In 1991, the science fiction author trio of Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle, and Michael Flynn wrote a Prometheus Award-winning novel entitled Fallen Angels in which an essential element of the premise was that the world has been headed into an ice age for several hundred years which has been kept at bay by humanity’s production of greenhouse gases warming the planet, and that were we to stop that production we would within a very few years see glacial sheets descending southward on the continents of the northern hemisphere.  The appendix in that book explained this in some detail.  A Nova production a few years later explained how greenhouse gas levels fluctuated naturally, through a process in which rain washed carbon gases from the atmosphere, briefly became dilute carbolic acid, and either soaked into the ground and released the gases back into the atmosphere or landed on calcium-based rock usually upthrust by contintental drift, creating calcium carbonate that washed down the waterways to settle on the bottoms of seas and oceans out of the environment for centuries.  All of that is complicated, but the gist of it is that there was then–about twenty-five years ago–perceived to be a real danger, scientifically, that a significant reduction in the human production of greenhouse gases would result in a catastrophic climate shift.  Now we are being told that the failure to reduce the human production of greenhouse gases will have such a result.  Forgive me for feeling like this is the fad of the moment, like whether I should be eating butter or margarine.  I accept that there might be a problem, and it might need addressing.  I object to the hyperbole.

For example, there was a terrible storm on the east coast in 2012 known as Hurricane Sandy, a category 3 storm.  We were told that it was a harbinger of worse storms to come–but it was not as bad a storm as Hurricane Katrina, a category 5 storm in 2005.  The destruction from Sandy was because a rather ordinary storm was funnelled in an extraordinary way so as to be focused into a very narrow highly populated area.  The storm itself was not so severe; it was the vulnerability of the target that made the difference.  We have records of hurricanes using modern rating systems going back perhaps one and a half centuries, and there was a category 5 storm in 1928 and another in 1932.  Storms are not getting worse, and we’re not having the severe ones more frequently.  New England’s blizzard of 1978 was unprecedented and has not been matched since.  Yet every time something happens with the weather that people don’t like, the specter of climate change is paraded to scare us into environmental consciousness.

Scare tactics do work on some people, but intelligent people usually respond negatively to them.  Let’s address our environmental concerns sanely and sensibly, and stop trying to incite people to extreme action which might have worse consequences than what we already fear.

#79: Normal Promiscuity

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #79, on the subject of Normal Promiscuity.

A few weeks before his death, my father forwarded a link to an article which seemed to bother him.  It included interview excerpts from young women, and put forward the notion that now that the governmnent was providing full coverage for birth control they felt free to sleep with as many men as they liked, and were taking advantage of this new-felt freedom by doing so.  His comment to the link was a question as to whether this was really happening, and I was not at the time certain (and never did determine) whether he realized that the article was from one of the sites that rather poorly attempts to do what The Onion does so well:  create parody that looks like news.  They weren’t seriously suggesting that the availability of free contraception caused an abrupt upswing in the sexual activities of young women; they were rather facetiously suggesting the reverse, that those who thought this might happen were being foolish.

Yet the notion returned to my thoughts periodically.  There was something there that bothered me.

L0059976 Model of a contraceptive pill, Europe, c. 1970 Credit: Science Museum, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org
L0059976 Model of a contraceptive pill, Europe, c. 1970
Credit: Science Museum, London. Wellcome Images
images@wellcome.ac.uk
http://wellcomeimages.org

Some years ago one of my then-teenaged sons was dating a girl in about as serious a relationship as teenagers have.  On his first visit to her home, her slightly older sister gave him a tour of the house which included what I gather was a laundry and utility room in a finished basement, identified by the sister as the room where you go when you want to have sex.

I was not present; I heard this second or third hand.  I suppose it might have been the sister’s idea of a joke:  “I know you want to have sex with my little sister, well, this is the place for it.”  Somehow I did not think so at the time.  I was a bit upset, but did not know whether it should concern me more if their divorced mother did not know that her teenaged daughters were so open about having sex with boyfriends in the house, or if she did.

That latter possibility reminded me of another woman I had known some years before, a friend of my wife, who had a daughter.  I never had a high opinion of her.  From what I gathered she was certainly no virgin when, in high school, she seduced the boy she hoped to marry and then reported that she was pregnant with his son (it was sometimes questioned whether it was his child), but having failed thereby to induce him to marry her she decided to live with him.  She was believed, even by him, to have had a series of affairs, but when their relationship was struggling she got pregant again and had the daughter (no one doubted that she was his) and finally got the marriage certificate.  (That might be an oversimplification and I might have the wedding in the wrong place; it’s been a couple decades by now.)  Again in what is second-hand knowledge I gather she had a talk with her daughter about having sex, when the girl was about twelve or thirteen.  The gist of it was, “I know you’re going to have sex, so I want to make sure you do so safely.”

It is this underlying presumption that bothers me, this belief that everyone is having sex.  What we once somewhat derisively called “promiscuity” is now regarded as normal.  It was previously regarded as abberant, and I think that in an historical context we might have good reason to consider our age abberant in this regard.  Of course, the majority in any era considers itself normal, its ancestors in error, and its future descendants extensions of its own values.  The third being demonstrably false on the evidence of the second, we should doubt the first.

I understand the logic of the situation.  It is asserted, correctly, that teenagers have always engaged in sex, hidden from their parents, and that single adults have similarly managed secret sexual liasons.  Too, there have always been extramarital affairs, infidelities, as husbands and wives have taken lovers, either those single persons who are looking for sexual partners or the spouses of others.  It has always been so; it is the norm.  The difference, we are told, is that today we admit it and in most cases no longer attempt to hide it.

The error in this logic is evident when you realize that the statement “teenagers have always engaged in sex” is then taken to mean “all teenagers have always engaged in sex.”  That was a misperception when I was a teenager.  I think–I do not know–that there were among my peers some who were having sex, perhaps sporadically, perhaps frequently or even regularly.  For any who were, I suspect that they thought everyone was doing it and they were thus no different; for those of us who were not, I think we thought that everyone else was doing it save for a few of us unfortunates who had been excluded.  In retrospect, the facts of the case then were that very few of my peers were engaged in sexual relationships or activities despite the fact that we were in high school on the tail end of the “sexual revolution”, had regular “sex ed” classes explaining how it worked, and knew something about how to obtain and use birth control.  I don’t know what percentage of us were virgins, but I gather it was considerably larger than even we thought, and that the majority of those who were not had very little actual experience.

I cannot say that my experience even then was typical in a country in which there are so many social and economic variables; I know it was not atypical.  I also know that the idea that “all teenagers are having sex” is not true now.  Nor is it true that all single adults are engaged in sexual activities, or that all married people are having or even have had sexual liasons with other partners.  The supposed facts are untrue.  Yes, there have always been some who have been what we called promiscuous.  It may depend on how you count, but it was certainly not a majority in the past.  It is not even certain whether it is a majority in the present.

However, because of the general attitude in the present, it is likely to be a majority in the future.

We once told our children that sex was a very natural part of being married.  Then somehow we decided that this was too prudish, and started telling them instead that sex was a very natural part of being in love, and that if they were in love they should not be embarrassed about sex.  There are good reasons for the old idea, that sex was part of being married, quite apart from the legal issues of responsibility and legitimacy.  We, as a society, forgot them, and promoted a lesser standard, that sex was fine between any two people who were truly in love.  Then that became too limited–as the Tina Turner song demanded, What’s Love Got To Do With It?  Sex became a recreational activity, something people did for fun, and any suggestion that it was other than that was considered prudish.

Barry McGuire spoke somewhere of his own youth.  His generation was raised by adults who had long lists of things one did not do, who were never taught why you did not do them.  Thus he and his peers were told you do not do these things, and when they asked why not no one had an answer beyond, “You just don’t.”  That being an entirely inadequate answer, he said, “we went out and did them all–and we discovered that you don’t do them because they end in death.”  That has literally been the outcome for many who have lost control of their “recreational” drug use or their “social” alcohol consumption, and of many infected by the human immunodeficiency virus or other sexually transmitted diseases.  It has also been true of many who live in the shadow of death, whose lives have lost meaning because they are so destroyed by these misperceptions–the world teaches them that alcohol, drugs, or sex will make them happy, and when it does not deliver beyond a moment of pleasure (and momentary pleasure is not at all the same as happiness) they wind up seeking the pleasure and abandoning any hope of anything more.

And so today we are teaching our children that sex is nothing more than a recreational activity they should feel free to enjoy carefully–like drinking alcohol or using drugs.  We have lost the moral compass, the moral foundation, of a world in which some things were disapproved because they were ill-advised, hazardous, and thus wrong in the same sense that it is wrong to stick tableware in electrical outlets.

So we have created a world in which promiscuity is normative.

I mentioned earlier that it is a mistake to believe that our descendants will be extensions of our own values.  We cannot predict what will happen even in the next generation.  Perhaps the world will realize its mistake, and some sense of decency will return; perhaps, as with other cultures before ours, the deterioration will continue to snowball and the world as we know it will collapse into chaos from which some new order will arise.  What we do know is that the future will be different.  Our best hope is that we can inform it with values that will make it better.  They are not likely to come from the mainstream of our present society.

#78: Novel Fears

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #78, on the subject of Novel Fears.

With permission of Valdron Inc I am publishing my second novel, Old Verses New, in serialized form on the web (that link will take you to the table of contents).  If you missed the first one, you can find the table of contents for it at Verse Three, Chapter One:  The First Multiverser Novel.  There was also a series of web log posts looking at the writing process, the decisions and choices that delivered the final product; the last of those for the first novel is #71:  Footnotes on Verse Three, Chapter One, which indexes all the others and catches a lot of material from an earlier collection of behind-the-writings reflections that had been misplaced for a decade.  Now as the second is being posted I am again offering a set of “behind the writings” insights.  This “behind the writings” look definitely contains spoilers, and perhaps in a more serious way than the previous ones, because it sometimes talks about what I was planning to do later in the book or how this book connects to events yet to come in the third (For Better or Verse).  You might want to read the referenced chapters before reading this look at them, or even put off reading these insights until the book has finished.  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 was at this point one similar previous mark Joseph “young” web log post covering this book:

  1. #74:  Another Novel (which provided this kind of insight into the first nine chapters along with some background material on the book as a whole).

This picks up from there, and I expect to continue with additional posts after every ninth chapter in the series.

img0078House

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 10, Hastings 47

When writing the Multiverser rules, I had described “stage two” as “attempting to achieve that higher level of consciousness known to the ancient monks of Tibet as ‘awake’”.  I didn’t use the whole line here, but I still liked the description.  Lauren supposes herself surrounded because her dream-state is overlaying the mossy trees of the new world with the imagery of giant birds from the previous one.

Those who have read the previous book know that there is some connection between Lauren and Merlin.  This is where it starts.

I knew from the beginning of the first book–even before it was going to be a book–that eventually Lauren was going to become Merlin’s pupil.  It was, I suppose, one of those ideas Ed Jones had that he never fully executed; but he credited me for it in a round-about way.  I had been running his character in Multiverser games, and had a crazy idea for a Narnia series.  It would begin with an adventure connected to The Silver Chair, a rather easy one to build an adventure around, but people in the world would recognize him from an earlier visit in the time of Prince Caspian which he had not yet made.  Thus I was going to run him through a series of adventures in this world in reverse chronological order, and tease him in the present with things he was going to do in the past.  He liked the idea so much he had a character named Henry show up and tell me that I was Merlin.  I’ve probably already covered this (I’m writing this history of the ideas entirely out of sequence, so I have not yet written the history of the ideas in the first book that far).  I worked out that I was eventually going to meet Merlin and then later be mistaken for him.  I figured out how to get around the fact that Lauren was a woman (and so could not be mistaken for Merlin), but she was still going to be his student.  It was time to do that.  I knew I needed in this book to train Lauren, give her her other name of Laurelyn, connect her to Wandborough, introduce Bethany as her student, and not make it seem like this was the entire point of the book.  That meant I needed ample time to do other things, and I had to create story lines that led her to these events smoothly.


Chapter 11, Kondor 45

CPR—Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation—was not taught to lifeguards when I took my training, nor part of Boy Scout first aid.  It was not developed until I was starting college, I think, and then it became very popular very quickly.  More recently it has been revised to eliminate the interruption for breaths when working alone, but Joe would have learned the version that was taught at the turn of the century, which is the one I represent here.

My father once commented on that aspect of the history of medicine.  We were taught a couple ways to pump air into the lungs of someone who was not breathing, with Mouth-to-Mouth Resuscitation the most modern of them.  It wasn’t until the 1960s that someone thought to blow air into the lungs of someone not breathing.  I’m guessing that before that they thought that exhaled breath wouldn’t have enough oxygen in it, but there must have been a time before that when they wouldn’t have thought to consider that.

The reaction seemed apparent.


Chapter 12, Brown 4

Derek is working through the process of proving to himself that this nightmare of his present experience is not a dream.  It’s not really that easy to do.

The line “But a wrong is unredressed when retribution overtakes its redresser” is taken directly from Poe’s story.  I was very impressed with it, and brought it over into my dialogue.

When I ran this game for my son, Montresor’s gun was a muzzle-loaded cap-and-ball.  After reading Poe, I moved it up to the early nineteenth century and gave him a revolver, which made more sense as a weapon in Multiverser terms.  It also meant that even if Montresor responded faster than Derek, Derek would have a chance to kill him before dying.

I needed the talking killer; but I needed to make it seem reasonable.  Thus I came upon the idea of moving Derek to a spot where he would not be seen, and letting Montresor spill his guts about the murder as a way of trying to flush him out.  I also wanted Derek to kill the killer, but die in the process, which is a difficult stunt to arrange, but I think I did it.

This is terribly athletic for Derek, but it is an act of desperation in a desperate situation.

It is also improbable in Multiverser that a knife wound would be rapidly fatal; I’m assuming that Derek is teaching himself a kill technique, which he refines in future encounters.

Derek takes the knife with him; it is now his, and becomes his first real weapon even though it’s only a butcher knife.


Chapter 13, Hastings 48

I never explained how Merlin knew anything he knew; at this point, he was just Merlin, Lauren’s teacher for this part of her adventures and part of the mythology of Camelot.  He expects her because by some magic he knew she was coming, but I don’t know how he knew.

When Lauren was working with the parakeet language, my editor became impatient that I was trying to explain why names did not translate, but that was actually a problem—ordinarily names do translate, because they have meanings.  It seems that the parakeet names did not have meanings, but were musical strings identifying individual birds.  Having established then that the names did not translate, I now had to explain why in this case they did.  It was essential to my story of Lauren that she somehow was going to become Laurelyn of Wandborough, and part of that was that I was making the name “Lauren” a shortened form of “Laurelyn”.  The trick was not quite sudden, and took some thought; but it had occurred to me that I could get to Laurelyn from Lauren if I suggested it was the earlier form of the same name, and that the creation of the name Elsbeth (a popular name in fantasy at least) could give me Spellsbreath, which would be a fun name to give her.

As to that, I never checked.  I don’t know that the names are etymologically related at all, but it sounds good.

I also have no idea about the spell that creates the road, and don’t think I ever used it again.


Chapter 14, Kondor 46

Medicine is one of those things that seems almost magical if you don’t know what’s happening, but in this case the doctor is intelligent and experienced enough to figure out what it is that Joe did, and try to learn it.

One of the challenges in front of Joe that I did not want to overlook is that he knows how to do things with much more advanced medicine and equipment, and of course he knows what he learned in Sherwood, but it was pretty likely that there would be medicines and procedures here that “everyone knows” that he had never seen.  He had to be able to learn them without suggesting that he doesn’t know any real medicine—but the CPR incident has moved him forward significantly in that regard, an incidental benefit of an event that was intended primarily as a moment of excitement in what is otherwise a routine storyline.

I briefly contemplated whether Kondor should do the medical advances thing here, so I brought it up thinking my readers would probably also wonder about that.  I found reasons why it would not work, and so was able to avoid telling the same story over again.


Chapter 15, Brown 5

The ghost story I made up out of whole cloth.  It probably has some connection to a lot of haunted house movies that I never saw.

The haunted house was an experiment.  I’d never run it, never really thought much about it, but I wondered whether I could do it.  I later wrote it up for game play, and have used it in convention demos.

The bicycle now came in handy as a reference point for him to track; that part was fortuitous.

I think it was an episode of Seaquest DSV in which the characters were exploring a ghost ship, a haunted sunken passenger liner, and one of them touched a doorknob that was blazing hot but immediately thereafter cool.  I liked the idea, but reversed it to cold, partly because I didn’t want to steal it outright and partly because I think of ghosts as connected more to cold than to heat.

I got the idea at this point of having him pick up souvenirs of each world.  He had the knife from the last world, and I was going to add the blanket from this one.

Part of the trick to this world is that the ghost can do things like slam a door or freeze a doorknob or cause noises, but initially these are all done in a way that admits to being otherwise explained.  Derek has to recognize that there is a ghost here, and until then he will continue to provide rational explanations for everything that happens, or at least attempt to do so.  Providing his rational explanations and maintaining the mood of something eerily supernatural was the challenge through this world.

The house has a shape in my mind that is drawn really from several houses, and ultimately it does not fit into a coherent floor plan.  I attempted to fix this when I made it into a playable world, but it wasn’t too important here.

Versers generally have to find an explanation for themselves.  Lauren chose to believe that God was sending her into worlds to do good, Bob that he was training for Ragnorak, Joe that there was a scientifically explainable accident that infected him with scriff resulting in random travels.  Derek is still exploring possibilities, and the notion that “this is the afterlife, and you’re a ghost” certainly is one.

When I was twelve we moved into a new development, and over the course of the next dozen years there were always houses being erected within a block or two of where we lived.  Being kids, we always explored the building sites on weekends and summer evenings, often collecting scrap wood with which to build tree houses.  I spent a fair amount of that time looking at the way the buildings were constructed, and that nervousness Derek has about the open space where the stairs had not been installed was my own—if I fell into the basement, not only was I likely to be seriously injured, there would be no way for me to climb out again.

There were times when my mother would put clothes on the stairs for us to take to our rooms.  She didn’t do it often, partly because she tended to do the laundry before anyone else was awake, and partly because we weren’t very good about putting the clothes in closets and drawers, but there was a time when I had to check to see if anything piled on the stairs was supposed to go up with me to my room.  I figured Derek had the same experience.

It occurs to me that in my mind’s eye I have a pattern, a floor plan, of Derek’s home.  We never see him there but in his own recollection of the moment his friend broke the game controller and he versed out the first time.  However, I see that as the living room of a house in which we lived briefly on Del-a-vue Avenue in Carney’s Point.  It had a couple of small rooms upstairs, and my mind made one of those Derek’s bedroom.  I don’t see that it ever mattered, but it was part of the character background.

The wait has made Derek the more nervous, and so he rushes as he decides the stairs are safe.  Thus his fall is abrupt.

The wooden floor was an accommodation to the fact that I did not want him seriously injured in the fall.  When I see this stairway, it is the one in my mother’s house in Ramsey, carpeted stairs with a flagstone hall at the bottom.  (The floorplan here is very like that house, but that at the bottom of the stairs there is no door to the left leading into the family room, and there is no front door leading outside, and the archway to the living room is open—my mother’s has folding doors concealing that room.)

I worried about the electronics he was carrying—laptop, video game.  I decided that between the backpack and the blanket these things were probably adequately wrapped such that they could survive the tumble, even though they might have broken, and so since I needed them to survive they did.


Chapter 16, Hastings 49

The uncertainty in regard to the date helps me avoid the problems associated with dating the Camelot stories; all extant accounts are considerably later and highly fanciful, but exactly when any of these people might have lived is debated.

My vision of Merlin’s home probably owes something to Disney’s The Sword in the Stone.

I had by this point worked out what the acorn was.  It was one of those abrupt flashes of realization, but now I had to figure out how to keep it from becoming known before the reveal.

Some of this was rewritten, particularly in reference to Bob Slade, after I had finished the third novel, because I surprised myself there and needed to anticipate that here.

I picked up from C. S. Lewis the notion that it was possible that the myths of Paganism were preparing the world for the coming of the gospel, and perhaps expanded it a bit to suggest that the gods of Paganism were real spirits charged with the care of various peoples in the world until such time as the gospel reached them.  That allowed me to suggest that the gods of the druids were lawfully deities in Britain as servants of God—spiritual mid-level managers running their part of the world to the best of their abilities—and so I didn’t have to make Merlin a Christian for him to work with Lauren.  The idea had been cooking in my mind for many years.  God chose to have the gospel carried by people, not by angels.  There seems a plausibility to the notion that some, at least, of the pagan gods were appointed to care for the nations to whom that message would not yet come.  Lauren’s supernatural presence here might or might not change that.

In a sense, Lauren’s magic is less interesting to Merlin than her technology.  He predates the invention of buttons, and so almost everything she carries is futuristic for him, and thus interesting.

It occurs to me that Merlin uses the Socratic Method; they use it in law schools.  The idea is that you don’t tell the student what you want him to know, you ask him questions that will force him to reach the information himself.  That way you’ve taught him how to think.


Chapter 17, Kondor 47

The idea of a major operation had the appeal that it would be exciting without being more combat (which can only be interesting so many times).  Having it be the doctor who was injured meant first that there would be no question of whether someone else would care for the patient and second that new avenues would open for Kondor, as he would then have more to do in medical.

I read about using microwave scalpels to cauterize spleen injuries in Omni Magazine in the 1980’s; it still sounds futuristic to me, though.  Spleens are so rich with blood that they don’t normally clot and seal.  I included it in Kondor’s bag as a tool from the future.

The blood typing thing, and the notions that the humans aboard the Mary Piper might not be quite as “human” as they appear, is a consideration in a lot of games.  I remember Eric Ashley dropped me in one world where all the proteins were linked opposite to ours, with the result that there was no nutrition in anything I ate.  Here the concern is about matching blood types, and the recognition that there’s not much Joe can do without a lot of research he can’t do.


Chapter 18, Brown 6

Derek connects the sight of an electric light switch with proof of “civilization”, having just come from a nineteenth century home where lanterns and candles were the illumination of choice.

Derek’s internal struggle is part of the tension here.  He can enjoy horror movies because they are not real (he ultimately recognizes this), but he would be terrified if for one moment he thought this was real.

As the ghost begins throwing objects, it starts surreptitiously, trying not to reveal its own existence at this point.  It seems more as if things are falling than that they are aimed.

It occurs to me that I always envisioned Derek as finding his own as a computer whiz.  That’s why he started with the laptop.


I hope these “behind the writings” posts continue to be of interest, and perhaps some value, to those of you who have been reading the novel.  If there is any positive feedback, they will continue.