Monday, 1 October 2012

Plot Device

An old-fashioned formula for fantasy or science fiction is that the hero:

(i) starts in the here and now;
(ii) is somehow transported to another world or time;
(ii) has adventures there or then;
(iv) returns (optional).

Considerable ingenuity has been invested in the means of transport and I need not list any of them here. Often the means is a mere plot device left behind as soon as possible. By contrast, HG Wells described "time traveling" in detail - which brings us to Poul Anderson's time travel novel, The Dancer From Atlantis, a classic example of this formula.

(i) Five and a half pages describe the "here and now" and this narrative could have continued indefinitely as a contemporary novel of personal relationships. It is the early 1970's. The Vietnam War is in progress. Men have walked on the Moon. Duncan Reid, an architect, is traveling to Japan on business and trying to salvage his marriage. He has a two page conversation about Seattle and Chicago with the third engineer of the passenger-carrying freighter on which Pamela and he are traveling. He mentally quotes Rupert Brooke. Thus, the here and now is made real and concrete.

(ii) The moment of transition:

"And the vortex seized him, the black thunders, he had no moment to cry in before he was snatched from the world." (p. 12) End of Chapter One.

In a September post entitled "An Ancient Triad," I listed four similarities between this time travel novel and a popular time travel TV series. The use of the word "vortex" is a fifth.

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