Truth Requires Consequences

Standard

It’s been years since I read *The Time Traveler’s Wife* and I don’t  reread bad books. I do hope the author has since learned how to write, plot, and portray convincing characters.

Over-writing was one problem. “She leaned against him like cold pasta” did give me a permanent bad example when I teach writing. By that late in the book I had been sand-bagged with so many poorly-chosen metaphors that I just sat there giggling in my office chair.

Lack of any science in something she tried to treat as science fiction is another, as is classic levels of “character acting on author knowledge.”

But the most over-arching, thorough-going problem, destroying plot, tension, and characterizations, is the lack of consequences.

We expect, in any world, that when characters transgress the rules of their culture, there will be negative reactions and punishments. To have known rules, taboos and laws both, broken and then have nothing happen to the character except maybe a sympathetic talk, instantly destroys all suspension of disbelief. The plot loses all tension, because we don’t believe in the world or the characters, and it looks like nothing really bad is ever going to befall them anyway. When something bad does happen, it merely seems an author contrivance to play at being dramatic with her handpuppets.

Examples ensue.

The time traveler works in a closed stacks library with a number of co-workers, male and female. At one point it becomes known to the reader that everyone “knows” (from finding the clothes he vanished out of) that he takes off his clothes and goes around naked in the closed stacks.

Reality check: what would happen at any normal workplace if it were found that a male worker customarily wandered starkers around the warehouse or old document storage? Right: the first time his clothes are so found, a note is left on them telling him to come talk to his supervisor or the head of HR. If he does it again, out the door. That’s normal consequences. This does not go on for months or years with co-workers wondering when they’re going to run into him in the altogether.

Instead, everyone is cool with this and doesn’t care that he does this, including all the women. It only comes up when he appears naked in a place with no human entry, and his boss explains that they’ve known about him being a little odd for years.

Additional nega-points for Stupid On Cue: no-one has ever noticed that his clothes aren’t folded on a shelf, or flung all over, or dropped normally. They are laying all in a crumple as if he dematerialized out of them: all garments still fastened, socks inside shoes and cuffs, underwear inside clothes, shirt buttoned and the tie still around the neck, and his watch and wedding ring on the floor under his left shirt cuff.

Secondly, he takes his problem to a genetics specialist because he (via the author) just knows his problem must be genetic. In this way, his secret is out. Later, he has a daughter who zips randomly through time from infancy. Her public school teacher knows this and to allow for it. No one cares that they can travel in time, otherwise.

I’m sure the author meant us to realize that an uncontrolled random time-skipping just isn’t important except to the ones so cursed. Except, as she does not realize, it would be one of the most important discoveries of all time.

ALL SCIENCE IS TURNED UPSIDE DOWN!! Time is no longer one-way and causality can be reversed. The future can create the past, as he sometimes does.

She hand-waves off time-travel with “it’s caused by a genetic mutation.” But *how* is it caused by tweaking a bit of DNA? How does something in him turn physics inside out? Scientists from bacteriologists to astrophysicists must find out. She never even hints at a theory of how the travel works. “It’s a mutation” seems to be her idea of an explanation.

On top of this, once it is known to be genetic, someone is going to get the bright idea to sedate the traveler so he can’t jump, sequester him, hook him up to a milking machine, and use artificial insemination to produce as many offspring of his as possible, in the hopes one of them or their crossbred descendants will have controlled time travel.

Yet he and his family go on living a normal life with no heightened security, and even the geneticists lose interest in them.

One of the times he acts on the past again lacks consequences. The wife, as a high schooler, gets beaten up by a date when she won’t give him sex — but he doesn’t rape her. No one sees her bruises and such until the time traveler conveniently shows up in the next week. She talks the middle-aged librarian into being the muscle for her revenge. They get the bad date to a place, the traveler cows the boy into stripping, and they duct tape him to a tree. She then cell-phones everyone she knows (in school) to come by and complete his humiliation.

And then the event is over and vanishes from conciousness. No one talks about it at school, so that a teacher might overhear. No parent picks up on it. The bad date does not complain to his parents, making up some story about this thug the girl hired because bad date wouldn’t ask her out any more, thereby getting her possibly arrested and sent to Juvenile Hall. No one keeps grilling her on who was the man who helped her pull that off. No one who hates her or just likes trouble purposely brings it up to a teacher or her family.

So please remember in your revising to check for this kind of gross continuity error. This isn’t how the world works, and I detect a whiff of Mary Sue to all this being happy or amnesiac with events that ought to get the characters in some very difficult situations. The author also missed the chance for a much more interesting story in some spots! At least, she needed to iron out these (and other) plot wrinkles so the story wasn’t so desperately silly.

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