Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Revisiting The Time Patrol Timeline

See here.

Poul Anderson's Time Patrol series presents not multiple timelines but a mutable timeline. A close reading of the Timeline shows some bracketed events. These are remembered but prevented. There is also a period of "instability." Potentially, other timelines flow from this period. Such timelines could be displayed separately and a time traveler might pass through the instability into an alternative timeline.

This series has to be the subtlest treatment that there has been of the time travel causality violation paradox. L Sprague de Camp's Lest Darkness Fall and Ward Moore's Bring The Jubilee both succeed because each confines itself to describing a single time traveler initiating a single divergent timeline.

However, Anderson instead wrote a long series about a large organization, based throughout history, preventing or rectifying causality violations, and he managed to do this while at the same time avoiding any overt incoherencies or contradictions, unlike alternative attempts. His unstable space-time periods are endlessly fascinating because there is no way to pin down exactly what has happened or is going to happen in such situations.


  1. Kaor, Paul!

    I"m reading your comments about Poul Anderson's Time Patrol stories with interest. And, for the most part, with agreement. I particularly recall your arguments for believing that "deleted" timelines of the sort we see in "Delenda est" and THE SHIELD OF TIME did not simply ceased to exist, become non existent, but continued to survive (even tho Anderson himself had his Patrol characters thinking that was the case). The "deleted" timelines simply became inaccessible to the Patrol in the "main" timeline. I believe this to be your major contribution to commentary on the Time Patrol series.

    If we accept your arguments as true, then some moral problems do arise. Such as how Manse Everard had promised the dying Harpagus that he would not take away Cyrus from the Persians and Medes. Manse THOUGHT he had honored his promise in "Brave to be a King" when he prevented the original Cyrus from being killed by his grandfather Asytages, thus "deleting" the timeline Keith Denison got stranded in. But, if the timeline where Denison was Cyrus the Great did not actually become non existent, then the Great King disappeared 13 years before he died in OUR timeline. A Cyrus the Great who vanished like that would have caused incalcuable changes in that timeline. And Manse would have failed to keep his promise to Harpagus.

    Am I right thinking you made these arguments to Poul Anderson in one of your letters to him? And that Anderson himself thought you had made very good points? So much so that he would have to keep them in mind if he had lived long enough to write another Time Patrol story?


  2. Sean,
    Yes. I commented extensively on the Time Patrol. My comments definitely included the argument that changing history from (i) the Danellian timeline to (ii) the Carthaginian timeline and (iii) back again entails a second temporal dimension such that (iii) succeeds (ii) which succeeds (i) along that timeline. Thus, although Everard and friends wind up living in (iii) that does not change the fact (ii) in its four-dimensional entirety existed/exists in the past of the second temporal dimension.
    Anderson replied, not in response to this specific argument but more generally, that he accepted my points and would keep them on file for future reference. He also wondered, however, whether some of these points would require too much explanation within a work of fiction.

    1. Kaor, Paul!

      Yes, you do seem to have thought of a possible difficulty in the rationale for the Time Patrol which Anderson would have needed to keep in mind for any future TP stories he might have written. I also see his point in wondering if the points you made might have required too much of an "info dump" within a fictional work.