Saturday, 9 August 2014

Evocative Phrases II

Some phrases in Poul Anderson's Time Patrol story, "Star of the Sea," are tantalizingly evocative, hinting at a mysterious and unelaborated perspective on time that, I think, cannot be fitted into any coherent framework.

(i) "...if we're to discover how it is that the time stream forks - and which is the right course, which the wrong one, for us and our world."
-Poul Anderson, Time Patrol (New York, 2006), p. 506.

"Time stream" merely seems to be straightforward. A stream in the normal sense is moving water that can be seen to flow past a fixed point. However, events occurring at different times are merely before or after, earlier or later than, each other. None of them moves anywhere. They do not flow past any fixed point.

Is there really a "fork" in time such that Everard, moving futureward, could turn left into the Tacitus One timeline or right into the Tacitus Two timeline? Or does the entire stream of events somehow flow along one course rather than the other, leaving the other empty? Obviously, that is not what happens but the language used can suggest some such image.

(ii) "...intervene, most carefully, now and then, here and there: till at last [events] were out of the unstable space-time zone and could safely be left to themselves." (p. 629)

Objects move through space, taking time, but events do not move through space-time. They occur in space and are temporally related. Thus a volume of space-time contains a sequence of events. Some "space-time zones" are "unstable"; others not. Time Patrol agents must sometimes intervene in unstable zones.

(iii) The following terminology is more familiar to Time Patrol readers:

"'Often a causal loop has a powerful and subtle force to it. What we've got to do is prevent it from developing into a causal vortex.'" (p. 600)

Since, rather unaccountably, the Patrol has historical texts from two timelines, Everard knows what they need to do:

"'We have to forestall the events that would lead to Tacitus Two, while not unduly perturbing those that are described in Tacitus One.'" (ibid.)

Events cannot be left to themselves and Patrol intervention may be the decisive factor. Indeed, it was Patrol investigation of the events that had destabilized them in the first place.

"'The time is out of joint...'" - Hamlet - "' can't set it right today. You can't. Meddle any more, and I swear there'll never be a Tacitus One book, maybe never a Tacitus Two. We don't belong in these events, and that's why the future is in danger. Leave them be!'" (p. 593)

Some "zones" are so unstable that the mere presence of a time traveler is problematic. The "fork" is the moment at which Heidhin did or did not commit suicide.

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