Thursday, 17 July 2014

Diffraction

 Poul Anderson's understanding of what the Time Patrol has to guard against became more subtle. Originally, it was simply that well established science fiction time travel scenario: can time travelers change the past? In later formulations, the time travelers do not seem to matter:

"...reality is conditional. It is like a wave pattern on a sea. Let the waves - the probability-waves of ultimate underlying quantum chaos - change their rhythm, and abruptly that tracery of ripples and foam-swirls will be gone, transformed into another."
-Poul Anderson, Time Patrol (New York, 2006), p. 671.

In this case, Anderson does go on to say that, although twentieth century physicists already had a glimmering of quantum chaos, it was time travel that made it impact on human lives. However:

"...all the life that pulsed in the city today and in past and future, everything that begot and nourished it...he knew their whole reality for a spectral flickering, diffraction rings across abstract, unstable space-time, a manifold brightness that at any instant could not only cease to be but cease ever having been.

"The cloud-capp'd towers..." (p. 480)

I have problems with the phrase "...cease ever having been..." but my point here is that in this passage time travel is not mentioned.

A Danellian confirms:

"'Think, if you wish, of diffraction, waves reinforcing here and canceling there to make rainbow rings. It is incessant, but normally on the human level it is imperceptible. When it chanced to converge powerfully on Lorenzo de Conti, yes, then that became like a kind of fate.'"
-Poul Anderson, The Shield Of Time (New York, 1991), p. 434.

Diffraction is mentioned again. And, this time, although the Patrol needs time travel to fix de Conti, no time travel was involved in the convergence on de Conti.

"'In a reality forever liable to chaos, the Patrol is the stabilizing element, holding time to a single course...left untended, events would inevitably move toward the worse. A cosmos of random changes must be senseless, ultimately self-destructive. In it could be no freedom.'" (p. 435)

And this is "'...the meaning...'" (ibid.) The Patrol was founded not to catch criminals but to counteract chaos.

5 comments:

  1. Hi, Paul!

    But I would argue that the Time Patrol's catching or thwarting of time criminals would be part of its struggle to counteract random quantum chaos. Left unchecked or unpunished, these time criminals would hasten the bringing on of a "...cosmos of random changes [which] must be senseless, ultimately self-destructive."

    Sean

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  2. Sean,
    I agree. But it is interesting that, right at the end of SHIELD, Manse and Wanda learn of an ultimate meaning that would be necessary even if their police role were not.
    Paul.

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    1. Hi, Paul!

      Are we truly disagreeing? I would argue that if human beings are to be truly free, that has to include the risk of some of us becoming criminals. The checking of crime still has to be part of the Patrol's struggle to counteract random quantum chaos.

      I would say that the catching of time criminals or madmen is part of the Patrol's "day to day" work of counteracting chaos. You are looking at the bigger picture while I am stressing the need to focus on smaller details as well.

      Sean

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  3. Sean,
    No, we are not disagreeing. Stane, Neldorians, Exaltationists and Carl Farness, if he had refused to play the role of Odin, had the power to change the course of events just as much as space-time-energy randomness can change it. What a brilliant time travel series!
    Paul.

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    1. Hi, Paul!

      Glad we don't truly disagree! I concur, Poul Anderson's Time Patrol stories are probably among the very best of all stories dealing with the theme of time travel. L. Sprague de Camp's LEST DARKNESS FALL is also excellent, indeed, a classic of the theme, but it was a "one off" novel, not the start of a successful series. Only Poul Anderson seems to have written as brilliantly on this theme as part of a series.

      Sean

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