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Time Travel Stories

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Time Travel can be a mechanism or a Template.

The sterling examples are the earliest uses of the mechanism, before the template was thought of. The British Barbarians uses a tourist/researcher from the future as a way to demonstrate how barbaric the preening, self-congratulatory Late Victorian English could look to a culture really advanced — in short, to remind them they still had a long way to go before they could consider the problems of the world and society solved. The Time Machine is on the Long Sleeper Template to visit a dystopia. The only reason to have a machine with a reverse gear is so the Traveller could return to his own time and tell his story to a friend in the frame, before disappearing again, never to be seen. Otherwise, the character “wakes up” (stops the machine) in a future age, has adventures, and the story could end right there. Wells tacks on some pointless vignette visits of the dying Earth after humanity has vanished.

The Time Travel Template, on the other hand, is wrapped up with the nature of time, fate, destiny, luck, free will, and alternate history. The time-traveller must use time travel to try to solve plot problems, which requires that the travel be controllable to some tiny extent. It’s up to the author to decide what they want or need: the “many worlds” of quantum theory or a monolineal timeline, rigid fate or conservation of history, or the easy fracturing into time branches that lets you kill your grandfather and still exist because you came from some other time branch where he didn’t die.

A story where the character simply stumbles through a hole in time at convenient (to the plot) moments is not on the Time Travel Template, but only using time travel as a mechanism.

Mechanism or template, the means of time travel are, by most realistic extrapolations of physics, all fantasy. You can mutter about Einstein and quantum-foam holding open wormholes, but those exorcisms won’t change that it’s highly unlikely to ever happen. So you can make it work almost any way you like to limit your traveller’s jumping around. Possible useful snags:

  • It has to recharge between uses, so when you land some place, you’re there for minutes, hours, or days.
  • It has finite energy, so you have to stop every so many centuries even in a high-speed run, and recharge. Picking rest points is an art.
  • You have to keep a log, because you can’t be in the same time twice. After a while, whole decades and eras are “used up” for you. If you try to go there, you wind up at the nearest “empty” point forward or back. Multiply this by the number of travellers in a group.
  • You can be in the same time twice, but if you run into yourself, the universe implodes, so stay out of that town.
  • It’s a big honking device like a small submarine so you have to find somewhere to leave it, and walk away from it to do your visiting. It has to have great burglar-proofing. You may have trouble getting back to it.
  • It’s tiny so you can carry it on your person, but that means it can be stolen, especially if it looks like a ring or other jewelry.
  • It’s embedded in your tour guide, who was just carried off by the bandits.

So you can always make the time travel part of the problem as well as part of the solution.

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The Revision Project

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Heaven knows it was useful to me to update my page that gathers all the blogs for the Revision Project. Just a few holes here and there! And maybe someday I’ll get that counting thing straight …

For those of you following that, it may help you catch some you missed, and also explained some apparent non sequiturs.

 

Revision 04.3 — Speculative Fiction Story Templates

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These are the templates.
These are the Themes or Motifs. These are the Categories.
These are Mechanisms. These are Settings.

You may notice that many of the examples are very early specfi. I spent 2008 and most of 2009 reading almost nothing written after 1912. Finding early versions often made the template clearer because the author wasn’t trying to disguise it.

I. Science Surge: inventors, mad science, new technology in our society or the indistinguishable near future: Read the rest of this entry

Revision 04.2 — Templates: Over 6000 Years and Still Going Strong

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Templates are underlying structures of kinds of invented story, whatever genre or media they may be created in.

Templates are not formulas, so wipe “formula fiction” right out of your frontal lobes. Fiction formulas are laid down by editors, often rather arbitrarily, and may apply only to one publisher, not even the whole industry.

Templates are universal and human. They arise from the audience, and date back before writing, though we can only see them as far back as they are written down, whether the myths of Ishtar harrowing Hell or Isis seeking a dead mate’s resurrection, or the heroic quest of Gilgamesh for eternal life, or the wanderings of Odysseus, or the wars of the Rg Veda.

On the other hand, at least one template was founded as recently as the 1950s. Collecting and sorting them has been a hobby of mine for some years, based in a chance remark of a workshopper and my broad basis in myth, epic, folk tale, and fairy tales.

Not every story you write will fit a template, but most will because you are as human as anyone else, and as much imbedded in the culture of fiction. If your story is close to a template, it will be stronger if you move either onto the template, fulfilling its satisfactions, or move well away so you don’t look like you just missed the boat.

However, you may find that outside of litfi you can’t avoid templates. Many genres are built on, not just a single template, but a single sub-template, like mysteries are basically the Mystery Template.

Templates of Fiction
These are the Templates.
These are the Themes or Motifs. These are the Categories.
These are Mechanisms. These are Settings.

Read the rest of this entry

That -punk is Not Punk; Or, How You Can Have Something Called Mannerpunk

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fantastic-city-and-windsock 01 office02 03

Some people tried to lay down some bogus law to my buddy, Sarah Z., that dieselpunk had to be about machines, therefore her dieselpunk fantasy wasn’t dieselpunk. Uh, no. Not anywhere else I’ve seen it defined. (So I’m going to be quoting like crazy to establish that this isn’t my unique viewpoint.)

Terms like dieselpunk aren’t about how narrow a field they can be cut to, or what one small coterie wants to use as limits on their dieselpunk parties. Like steampunk, cyberpunk, stonepunk, and mannerpunk, dieselpunk is a sales guideline for writers selling to publishers or studios, or anyone selling to readers/players/viewers. It’s a way of signaling that over here you might find something you’d enjoy reading or viewing or playing, because it’s like other things you enjoyed with that label.

So squeaky-tight limits are not what it’s about. Rather, it’s a sales tool that must encompass everything that publishers, writers, artists, and consumers are calling “dieselpunk” without getting so vaguely connected that most of the audience would think the inclusion is nuts. It’s like “Science fiction is [or means] what we point to when we say it.” (paraphrase of Damon Knight, 1952) Or Norman Spinrad, 1974, “Science fiction is anything published as science fiction.”

So like all such sales tools, dieselpunk as a tag is subjective and historical, descriptive until it reaches so many inclusions that it can become prescriptive.
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