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?”)
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!]
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.