Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Subtle Influence

If even a small group of people were able to travel in secret between their original timeline and an alternative timeline, then their altered perspective would subtly influence some of their contemporaries in the original timeline. John Rolfe wants to build a reservoir and a hydroelectric project in the Berkeley hills of his alternative Earth so he pays an engineer good money to survey and plan for this project on the original Earth where such a project can never be implemented!

The engineer must regard these plans as fantasies. Thus, engineering as fantasy! But it is not fantasy because the plans will be realized on the alternative Earth. And yet it is fantasy because we are reading about it in a science fiction novel. And, within the novel, this game has a debilitating effect. The engineer's daughter tells an investigator:

"'My father was used to doing real work, and seeing what came of it. I'm convinced that the...the futility of it all drove him to early retirement, and to dying before his time.'"
-SM Stirling, Conquistador (New York, 2003), pp. 47-48.

When Tom Christiansen invites Adrienne Rolfe out to dinner, she replies:

"'How about something Oriental?...I always...that is, I really like that.'" (p. 61)

She was about to say that she always has Oriental when she is on FirstSide, because they do not have it on her Earth. Tom notices oddities in her speech and that her family sound very out of date but none of this can possibly arouse suspicions of the truth. However, a smuggled condor genetically unrelated to any known condor is another matter. Tom thinks of and dismisses time travel.

How many alternative Earths are there? A physicist let in on the secret says that they must be infinite. Could Stirling write a novel linking all of his alternative timelines?

The physicist theorizes that the Big Bang was a quantum fluctuation and that there is "'...a standing waveform drawing on zero energy...'" (p. 96), which sounds a bit like the cosmological terminology in Poul Anderson's Starfarers.


  1. Kaor, Paul!

    Yes, I remember the bit in CONQUISTADOR about John Rolfe VI hiring an engineers to do surveys and draw up lans for reservoirs and power plants. Plans whiich did not make SENSE on Firstside. I can see why a baffled and frustrated engineer used to SEEING the results of his work might have had his life shortened by the sheer absurdity (as it seemed) of the work he was hired to do. The only other alternative would have been for John Rolfe VI to have RECRUITED the engineer by inviting him to join the Commonwealth.


    1. Kaor, Paul!

      All this discussion of alternate time lines and worlds reminded me of this bit from the prefatory note of Poul Anderson's THREE HEARTS AND THREE LIONS (Doubleday, 1961), page 13: "What of other universes? Wave mechanics already admits the possibility of one entire cosmos coexisting with ours. The lecturer said it was not hard to write the equations for an infinity of such parallel worlds. By logical necessity the laws of nature would vary from one to another. Therefore, somewhere in the boundlessness of reality, anything you can imagine must actually exist!"

      Altho published in an expanded book form in 1961, THREE HEARTS AND THREE LIONS goes back to a shorter, serialized magazine version in 1953, during Anderson's early phase. It's interesting to see how serious scientists were speculating about alternate worlds/timelines/universes even then.