Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Through Space And Time, Between Worlds

Occasionally in fantasy and science fiction (sf), someone makes a random series of "jumps" through space and time or between worlds without any idea of what they will encounter after each "jump." The author's imagination must be up to the task. Whatever is encountered, it must be something new, not an implication or consequence of anything that had occurred earlier in the narrative. It is like writing, or reading, a mini-series.

The hero of James Blish's Jack Of Eagles made such a journey near the end of that novel. In "Beep"/The Quincunx Of Time, Blish invented what was effectively a variation on this theme. A small group of characters in our future sits comfortably in an office while receiving audiovisual messages from various periods of their future. Thus, like the reader, they go nowhere physically and remain perfectly safe while learning about problems that will concern their successors but not them. In some cases, tantalizingly, they do not fully understand the problems yet.

Poul Anderson, I now suspect, did everything that there was to be done in sf. He certainly contributed to the  "through space and time, between worlds" theme. In "Flight To Forever," he had to imagine a new future scenario every time his characters halted their headlong rush into the future. A timeline for this story is very impressive.

In Chapter XXVI of The Avatar, a spaceship is forced to make a random jump through a T machine field. In Chapter XXVII, it is in an unknown planetary system where there is another T machine so that, after some exploration, it will be able to make another jump. Thereafter, nine chapters begin with the single word "Jump."

Spoiler alert: my next task will be to reread the remainder of the novel and to summarize what is found after each of these jumps.

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