October 8, 2006 2 Comments
The best time-travel novel I read (maybe the only good one I read) was The Man Who Folded Himself by David Gerrold.
I highly recommend it.
Here’s a passage:
Today I destroyed the career of an archaeologist. Accidentally. I didn’t mean to do it. A fellow named John Shannonhouse. A chair at Columbia. He reported some very perplexing recent discoveries. And half-jokingly referred to them as “very convincing evidence of a practical joker with a time machine.” It was the half that wasn’t joking that concerned me.
The “recent discoveries” he referred to were some rather unfortunate anachronisms. Things I should have paid more attention to. Things I left in the past. Things that someone left in the past.
I thought I’d been more careful, but apparently I wasn’t. Or one of me wasn’t. One of the Pompeiian artifacts in the British Museum has definitely been identified as a fossilized Coca-Cola bottle from the Atlanta, Georgia, bottling plant.
It’s possible I did it. I was there for three days prior to the eruption of Vesuvius. I don’t remember leaving the Coke bottle, but if it’s there, then I must have. Unless some other version of me has been there since and left it there —
That is possible. The more I bounce around time, the more versions of me there are; many of us seem to be overlapping, but I have observed Dans and Dons doing things that I never have or never will — at least I don’t intend to — so if they exist in this timeline, they must be other versions, just “passing through.”
Either they’re around to react to me, or I’m supposed to react to them. Or both. Certain fluxes must keep occurring, I guess — I assume there are mathematical formulae for expressing them, but I’m no mathematician — which necessitate two or more versions of myself coming into contact: such as the Don who came back through time to warn me against winning three million dollars at the race track on May 20.
That one was a situation where three versions of me had to exist simultaneously in one world: Dan, Don, and ultra-Don(who was excising himself). Other situations have been more complex; the more complex I become, the more me’s there are in this world.
The whole process is evolutionary. Every time Daniel Eakins eliminates a timeline, he’s removing a nonviable one and replacing it with one that suits him better. The world changes and develops, always working itself toward some unknown utopia of his own personal design.
My needs and desires keep changing, so does the world. (I must be about thirty now. I look about that age.) I have lived in worlds dedicated to the pursuit of pleasure — sexual fantasies come true. I have lived in other worlds too, harsher ones, for the sense of adventure. World War II was my private party.
But always, whenever I create a specialized world, I make a point of doing it very, very carefully with one or two easily reversed changes.
I do not want to get too far from home — meaning my own timeline. I do not want to get lost among alternate worlds with no way to get back and no way to find out what changes I made to create that alternate world.
So I make my changes one at a time and double-check each one before introducing another. If I decide I do not like a world, I will know exactly how to excise it. (I thought I had done right when I kidnapped the baby Hitler and left him twenty years away from his point of origin, but that had serious repercussions on the world of 2005, so I had to put the baby back. Instead I let Hitler be assassinated by his own generals in 1939. Much neater all around.)
For a while I was on an anti-assassination kick. I have had the unique pleasure of tapping Lee Harvey Oswald on the shoulder (Yes, I know there were people who had doubts about who did it — but I was there; I know it was Oswald) just before he would have pulled the trigger. Then I blew his head off. (John Wilkes Booth, James Earl Ray, and Sirhan Sirhan were similarly startled. In two cases, though, I had to go back and excise my removal of the assassins. I didn’t like the resultant worlds. Some of our heroes serve us better dead than alive.)
Once I created a world where Jesus Christ never existed. Yeshua ben Yusef went out into the desert to fast and he never came back. Never went to Jerusalem. Never got crucified. Never had followers.
The twentieth century I returned to was — different.
The languages were different, the clothing styles, the maps, everything. The cities were smaller; the buildings were shorter and the streets were narrower. There were fewer cars and they seemed ugly and inefficient. There were slave traders in the city that would have been New York. There were temples to Gods I didn’t recognize. Everything was wrong.
I could have been on another planet. The culture was incomprehensible.
I went back and talked myself out of eliminating Jesus Christ.
Look. I confess no great love for organized religion. The idea of Christianity (with a capital C) leaves me cold. Jesus was only an ordinary human being, I know that for a fact, and everything that’s been done in his name has been a sham. It’s been other people using his name for their own purposes.
But I don’t dare excise that part of my world.
I might be able to make a good case for Christianity if I wanted. After all, the birth of the Christian idea and its resultant spread throughout the Western Hemisphere was a significant step upward in human consciousness — the placing of a cause, a higher goal, above the goals of oneself, to create the kingdom of heaven to be created on Earth. And so on.
But I also know that Christianity has held back any further advances in human consciousness for the past thousand years. And for the past century it’s been in direct conflict with its illegitimate offspring, Communism (again with a capital C). Both ask the individual to sacrifice his self-interest to the higher goals of the organization. (Which is okay by me as long as it’s voluntary; but as soon as either becomes too big — and takes on that damned capital C — they stop asking for cooperation and start demanding it.)
Any higher states of human enlightenment have been sacrificed between these two monoliths.
So why am I so determined to preserve the Church?
Because, more than any other force in history, it has created the culture of which I am a product. If I eliminate the Church, then I eliminate the only culture in which I am a native. I become, literally, a man without a world.
Presumably there are worlds that are better than this one, but if I create them, it must be carefully, because I have to live in them too. I will be a part of whatever world I create, so I cannot be haphazard with them.
Just as a time-traveling Daniel Eakins keeps evolving toward a more and more inevitable version of himself, then so does the world he creates. It’s a pretty stable world, especially in the years between 1950 and 2020. Every so often it needs a “dusting and cleaning” to keep it that way, but it’s a pretty good world.
Just as I keep excising those of me which tend to extremes, so am I excising those worlds which do not suit me. I experiment, but I always come back.
I guess I’m basically a very conservative person.