Chapter 18 of Martha’s Children, and time travel

In the last episode, Sherlock Kammen got ventilated, by bullets, that is, so we need a new narrator. Sally Truax, Internal Affairs’s finest, steps up to the plate to tell us what happened after she shot up her sometime lover, in “Narrative interrupted: Sally speaking,” chapter 18 of Martha’s Children. If you’re not already reading this story of cops and vampires in 1969 Chicago, you can start here.

I’ve tried to avoid writing time travel stories. For me, they keep running into the problem of whether the past can be changed. Now, admittedly, there are a good many stories about time travel that avoid that problem, from H. G. Wells’s The Time Machine (1895) onward. But the moment one opens up the possibility of time travel, it is hard to avoid the question of whether time travel can change what has already happened. If the answer is “no,” then the universe has to play games on the time traveler. The time traveler becomes a puppet. (“I went back in time to kill Hitler, but it turned out the diary on which I relied got his movements wrong.”) If the answer is “yes,” we have to wonder how a future that will not come to pass affected our world. There are tricks to get around both of these problems, some of which are effective but arbitrary, others of which ultimately raise more questions, such as the parallel universe “solution.” (“If there’s a parallel universe which I visited, is there not also a parallel universe that is just the same that I didn’t visit?”)

It's silly. It should be.

It’s silly. It should be.

Sometimes a good writer can get around the problem by connecting the “solution” to the themes of the work. Connie Willis did a splendid job of this with her novels Doomsday Book and To Say Nothing of the Dog, but pushed the connection too far by reversing it with her Blackout/All Clear two-volume story. [Warning: here be spoilers!] Willis used a consistent time travel theory, that people could not make major changes to the past, for all three stories. So, yes, the continuum conspires against our time travelers. But in Doomsday Book, the reason our time traveler gets inadvertently stuck in the Black Death is because a pandemic is raging at Oxford in the present, and the two events are intimately connected. While To Say Nothing of the Dog is a comedy in which our protagonist uses the way the continuum interferes to frustrate him as clues to what is really going on. Those worked. However, in Blackout/All Clear, Willis needed to make her previously indifferent continuum benevolent to sustain her story. Thematically, it works: the changed concept of time travel supports the development of all the leading characters, fulfilling all their wishes in a genuine way (which is not always a happy one, even so), and incidentally saving the entire world. Logically, it is a disaster: the continuum can use small changes to make Hitler lose the war, but simply couldn’t kill him. Why? Who knows? Realistically, because then there wouldn’t have been any story. To make her story work, Willis turned the “great men of history” theory on its head, but the result doesn’t actually make sense. M. A. Foster did a better job with that idea in his Morphodite trilogy (1981 – 1985), which was not complicated by having to support time travel. [End spoilers!]

The "slasher" style poster makes this look like a stupider movie than it is

The “slasher” style poster makes this look like a stupider movie than it is

All of this leads me to the conclusion that time travel back to the past leads one into one form of insanity or another. So it was a pleasure to find a story about time travel into the past that recognizes the insanity, and is successful by playing it up for all it’s worth. I’m referring to the 2007 Spanish movie Los Cronocrímenes, a.k.a. Timecrimes, which I just saw over this weekend. An ordinary married man sees strange things, and gets involved in time travel. And things keep getting stranger and stranger, in a fashion which supports both the motivations of the lead character and the insane logic of time travel. Part of the fun of the movie is being able to guess sometimes what is going on, and being right . . . sometimes!

Timecrimes isn’t for everyone. If you speak English and not Spanish, you’ll have to cope with subtitles. The movie has its violent moments, which aren’t overdone, and a bit of nudity and sexual suggestiveness, enough combined to give it an “R” rating in the United States. But if you can go into a movie prepared to enjoy time travel that is logical and insane at the same time, Timecrimes should be enjoyable.

About Brian Bixby

I enjoy history because it helps me understand people. I'm writing fiction for much the same reason.
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23 Responses to Chapter 18 of Martha’s Children, and time travel

  1. Russell says:

    Dear Mr. Bixby,
    As a fan of your story who is unfortunately some installments behind, I must object to the use of spoilers — sans warning — in new posts! What is seen cannot be unseen, though perhaps, in the case of vampires, what is ventilated can be unventilated?
    Best Regards,
    RH

    • Brian Bixby says:

      Dear Mr./Ms./Mx. RH,

      I have sweated out my heart’s blood (always a dangerous practice around vampires) to write blurbs that are sometimes serious and accurate, and other times are partial and misleading. AND I AM TO TELL YOU WHICH THIS ONE IS? No, sir! (Or no, ma’am, or no, whatever, as the case may be.) You must remain as confused as the rest of my readers. My writing style guarantees it.

      Save in this matter, I remain, your dutiful and worshipful scribe,
      BB

    • Brian Bixby says:

      More seriously, Russell, I’ve been thinking of splitting off the chapter announcements from the other material on my Friday posts for related reasons, so that if you are behind you could just let your eyes glaze over the chapter announcements. I’ve had to do as much on CP’s posts, because I fell behind when stricken with a virus in March and am only now in the process of catching up.

      • Russell says:

        Understood, and I think that would be a helpful way of indexing the chapters.
        Sorry to hear you’ve been sick, though I wish I had as good a reason for being behind on your posts and CP’s.

        • Brian Bixby says:

          I have assumed you’ve got a busy life. I KNOW you’ve expressed frustration with the pace of your own writing. And I would not want to make reading my writings a chore! It should be for when people have the time and inclination.

          Thanks for the sympathy on being sick. My ailments have been more debilitating than serious.

          • Russell says:

            Well, my very late reply probably confirms your observation about my life, but I will never find your writing a chore!
            I hope that your recent comments on CP’s blog mean that you are once again whole in mind and body.

            • Brian Bixby says:

              Getting there. What medical problems I have remaining aren’t draining me the way my ailments in the spring did.
              So I’ve been catching up on CP’s, having the fun of reading YOUR comments before making mine (Neve genealogy ring a bell?). Will tackle FF this week and next. And you’ve just got a chapter up, I see, which I will read this afternoon.

              • Russell says:

                I’m sorry to hear you are still suffering to some extent. I have medical issues of my own, so I’m sympathetic. Another blogger who has visited both of us posted (at her own site) to the effect that it’s hard to think about your next sentence when you’re in physical pain. I hope you’re almost done with this problem, and that it has done no lasting harm.
                Yes, Neve’s family tree has stumped me more than once, but CP has certainly done her part to help. I’m back on Neve, FF and MC as soon as I can, and look fwd to your feedback on Chapter 16, sir.

                • Brian Bixby says:

                  My, we’re an unhealthy lot, aren’t we? Sorry to hear you’ve your own health problems. Despite my recent ones, I’m happy about one thing: I managed to get health insurance again after 3 years without it.

                  • Russell says:

                    Very glad to hear that — my family is certainly glad for ours. You, CP and I would all no doubt be in debtor’s prison without it. That is, I assume CP is not blogging from jail, but then again, she has nationalized health care. Here’s to a summer of good health for all us valetudinarians!

                    • crimsonprose says:

                      I have once or twice amended a potential comment that included references to not being able to travel, in case it was mistaken. But no, Russell, I’m not in jail. Just debilitated, often to the extent of being housebound.

  2. Judy says:

    I did love that quirky ‘ventilated’ opener!! I enjoy time travel stories and alternate realities. So with that territory always comes wondering, and I’ll leave the details to writers, whether you can fix something in the past without creating a worse future instead of a better one. I mean would you want to eliminate some bad guy only to find out that one of his descendants was the one to find the cure for cancer and thereby save innumerable lives!! But, I certainly have always liked the idea of traveling in a machine as a viewer and watching the events fly by. Maybe even picking a place to stay other than the present.

    I know I am digressing but enjoyed the latest Chapter!! I look forward to Fridays…the days run together so sometimes your post even reminds me it is Friday!!

    • Brian Bixby says:

      I enjoy reading time travel and alternate reality stories, too. (After all, the latter is what “Dragon Lady” really is.) It’s just the logic of time travel into the past that gets me hung up. And there is that incalculable element to which you refer. If I kill Hitler, will someone worse take his place?

      Your last comment on this subject reminds me of a Robert Silverberg story, “Up the Line,” in which time travelers take up residence in medieval Constantinople.

      And thank you for you continued reading. I’ve just finished the Aldiss book, and will probably post on it here within a week or two.

      • Judy says:

        Gee, that is pretty fast reading on Aldiss!! Anxiously awaiting your comments on that!! 🙂

        • Brian Bixby says:

          You’ll note the latest post on time travel novels offers a case in support of Aldiss’s ideas. If du Maurier isn’t a textbook example of sci-fi springing from gothic roots, I don’t know what would be.

  3. crimsonprose says:

    As an early reader of the time-travel genre, for years I’ve mulled over the TT paradox. So, I skipped around the problem by having Neve able to time-travel, but only by tapping into Raesan’s memories. That, of course, is only possible when there is a character available who suffers from longevity. And is obliging. And both characters have full ESP abilities. 🙂

    • Brian Bixby says:

      Now, if Neve were able to COMMUNICATE with the people in Norman England . . . well, then we’d have our paradoxes again.

      • crimsonprose says:

        Which means she has to achieve her quest without asking questions. To ask questions would have been so much easier. And as you’ve notice, Raesan is not exactly forthcoming, neither is he high on communications skills.

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