Sunday, 13 July 2014

Multiverse: Gondwanaland II

Robert Silverberg, "Christmas in Gondwanaland" IN Greg Bear and Gardner Dozois, Editors, Multiverse: Exploring Poul Anderson's Worlds (Burton, MI, 2014), pp. 215-244.

Because of my interest in time travel, I turned first to the three Time Patrol stories in Multiverse. I was reluctant to continue reading "Christmas...," after its opening pages, because it seemed that its events could not happen. If it is impossible for a time traveler to proceed directly from the Gondwanaland of a "timeline 2" to the Prague, 1910, of a "timeline 1," then why continue to read about such impossible events?

I read the other short stories before returning to "Christmas...," then found that the explanation given ("We exist and we don't exist" (p. 218) etc) did not make sense. However, I continued to read because it is always interesting to try to unravel time travel stories. After appreciating Silverberg's description of Prague, I was surprised to find a different explanation. I do not yet know whether this second explanation is fully coherent but it is at least not immediately and obviously self-contradictory.

Although, in Patrol terminology, "deleted" timelines are said to be simply nonexistent, they nevertheless have a temporal relationship to each other and to whatever is regarded as the current timeline. Thus, there was an original timeline in which there was time travel and there were Danellians although there was not yet a Time Patrol. The Danellians knew that a temporal change, whether deliberate, accidental or random, could prevent their existence. To preserve that existence, they made one change, the establishment of a Patrol to prevent any further temporal changes, thus to guard a timeline leading to the Danellians.

The original timeline is said not to exist but can also be described as having existed before the Patrol timeline. In other words, it is in the past of a second temporal dimension. It cannot be accessed by time travelers going back and forth along the current timeline but nor did it at any stage cease to exist from the point of view of anyone living within it. Its denizens or inhabitants all lived from their births until their deaths and did not cease to exist at any intermediate moment.

Ben-Eytan tells Everard that the Danellians who were to attend the Founding Convocation, somehow knowing that the attack was coming, either exited before the attack or arranged not to be there in the first place. Either way, there are Danellians still at large. In any case, Ben-Eytan claims that human evolution and history will lead to Danellians whatever happens. It follows that the Danellians had some other reason to organize the Patrol! The Danellians want Ben-Eytan, Everard and three other agents to rectify events in Gondwanaland.

But, and this is the alternative explanation that I have been working my way back to, the Danellians have organized a Time Patrol II, with a Founding Convocation in an (unknown) other time and place, to ensure that, despite the catastrophe in Gondwanaland, the timeline remains indistinguishable from the one that had been guarded by the first Time Patrol! By trying to prevent the massacre in Gondwanaland, Everard etc will be working against Time Patrol II but they accept that their sworn duty is to restore their version of the timeline, including their version of the Patrol. But why do the Danellians want them to do this? Continuing to read will make everything either clearer or unclearer.

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