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Time to the Power of Tim

Three Time Travel Tales by Tim Powers

Three Time Travel Tales by Tim Powers

This year the guest of honor at Capclave was Tim Powers. (Capclave is the Washington DC Science Fiction convention.) Tim is not only the author of many fine science fiction novels, but a very nice guy.

This turned out to be a good thing, as the initial proposal was to have Tim & I appear together and do something physic-y about his novels.  I have never done a talk with a live author before (dead authors are no problem, I have that down cold), so I was a bit nervous about the whole thing.

But it worked out well:  Tim was very helpful & gracious and when the audience asked him if one of my theories about the time travel in his novel The Anubis Gates was correct he said, essentially, “Now it is.” 🙂

I focused on three of his novels, The Anubis Gates — his first big success (with romantic poets & time-traveling Jackel Gods), Three Days to Never — something like the bastard child of John Le Carre & H. P. Lovecraft, and Medusa’s Web — who can resist the Time Spyders?

One of the distinctive features of Tim Powers working method is that he starts with a place and a time, researches it looking for the curious facts, bizarre details, & strange omissions that point to an unknown but dark reality, then gradually teases out the true story of whatreallyhappened!

“I made it an ironclad rule that I could not change or disregard any of the recorded facts, nor rearrange any days of the calendar – and then I tried to figure out what momentous but unrecorded fact could explain them all.”

So Tim builds his novels from the bottom up. As a result, they tend to differ wildly from each other.  Other authors, once they have got a setting that works, tend to reuse it, Tim builds anew each time.  No ten volume trilogies here!

And he also works out the timelines of all of his critical characters.  At each moment, he knows where each of his on and off stage characters are & what they are up to.  His notes on this are a kind of secret history of the secret history!

He has 20 or more novels out, so I focused on just three, all involving time travel.  And in each the theory of time travel was radically different!  I had a lot of fun linking each up to the corresponding physics and going back & forth about all this with my stage-mate Tim. 🙂

The talk, minus alas, the actual talking, is now up on slideshare.  Download if you will & any questions/comments please let me know!  thanks!



Stargates: The Theory & Practice

Doors and Portals and Stargates, Oh My!

Call them Stargates, Jumpgates, Fargates, Hypertubes or just an invitation to every unwanted pest from the far reaches of the Galaxy to visit, they are absolutely necessary if we are to have the glorious Science Fiction action we desperately need.  But could they actually be built?  We look at what modern physics has to say:  how to glue black holes together to build a wormhole, how to avoid the dangers of spaghettification, radiation poisoning, and paradox noise, and just what it would take to build one in practice.

This was a talk I did at the last Philcon, went over well.  And I had a lot of fun doing it.  I’ve got it up as a talk on slideshare.  And I may do variations on this at the 2017 Balticon & also Capclave.

It is the kind of subject you can go anywhere with!


Deadline Necronomicon: Tales from Miskatonic Library now open till 8/23/2015

Today is the official deadline for unsolicited submissions for the Tales from the Miskatonic Library.

However Darrell & I have decided to push the deadline back to 8/23, the end of Necronomicon, the Providence convention for all things Lovecraftian.  Darrell & I will both be there, and this will give us a chance to meet some of you in person.

And the mss are still flooding in!  So we want to make sure we have a chance to see everything that’s out there before making the final cut.

One question I’ve gotten a lot:  is there a maximum length?

Well we are only paying 3 cents a word, capped at $100, so that’s about 3333 words.  But all that means is if you go over, the payment is capped, we will still look at the story.

Really the best length is determined by the story itself. As Lincoln said once, a man’s legs should reach just far enough to get to the ground, more than that is a waste of leg.  Same for stories:  if they are good, they have a natural length of their own.

If you start when things are just getting interesting and keep going till it is clear what the final shape of the narrative is, wasting no time between, the length will tend to be about right.  After you’ve cut the story first by a half.  And then — and this will hurt — squeezed out another 25% of what is left.

But stick to point of view, in a short story there isn’t much time for anything but what happens & then what our hero or heroine did about that!

You’ve no time for backstory:  if our narrator has had a troubled past (& that is pretty likely in this case) it will show in how he or she responds to events, maybe a bit too fast to leap to conclusion X, a bit over sensitive to casual remark Y.  And if it doesn’t show in his or her responses, why does it matter?  Leave history to the historians!

And you have no time for fore-shadowing, for what is to come, it will be here soon enough, why trouble the already anxious reader?  There is only time to show what is happening now!

And in fact things are happening so quickly in your narrative — there is so much now now! — that you can barely relay a fraction of them to your reader!  You’re like a tour guide where the boat, car, motorized book cart, flying carpet, night gaunt, is going so fast you can only report one or two of the most salient details — the eyes reflected off what had seemed a bit of waste paper, the curious omission in the alphabetized records for Z, the orchid giving a cheerful wave as you pass by — before the next incident commands attention.  Not so quickly that the reader loses the thread of course — and therein lies the art.

So by the grace of ye eds, another two weeks.  Spend the golden seconds wisely!  Write, read, revise, reread, rewrite, & submit!

Be reading you!

John Ashmead

PS.  And as what we are looking for, as earlier, three requirements:

  1. Good story — pulls you in from first sentence.
  2. Gives you something to think about — leaves you going hmm after the last sentence.
  3. Fits into an anthology called Tales from the Miskatonic Library — without taking two pages of explanation by ye eds.



Unclassified Horrors

And speaking of Balticon, several Balticons back, I mentioned to my old friend Darrell Schweitzer (looks a bit like the Emperor Palpatine but is significantly less evil), that I had been thinking of a story about the Miskatonic University Library to be called Unclassified Horrors.

I have always been fascinated by Libraries in general & by the Miskatonic University Library in particular.  This is the place where the hero/victim of a Lovecraftian story will go to check out/steal/examine furtively an obscure but dangerous tome.  This is a particularly poor idea if you can’t break yourself of the habit of reading aloud.

See for instance the unfortunate consequences experienced by Evelyn Carnahan (“I … am a Librarian!”) in the 1999 film The Mummy.  She reads from the Book of the Dead.  Aloud.  And awakens the High Priest Imhotep, whom being buried alive for the last three thousand two hundred and thirteen years has not put in a good mood.  Difficulties ensue.  And the world is saved only by the pluck & luck of a few bold adventurers.

But I digress, something that happens to me a lot in libraries.  That is actually a design goal of libraries, think of them as an early form of the Intertubes, where when you go in you are planning to swot up on topic A and find yourself well among the Z’s or even On Beyond Zebra  before you know.  They deliberately arrange the cataloging systems so that interesting volumes will tend to be right next to target volumes.

What you think of as chance is in fact as so often a sinister plot:  the very scheme intended to create the illusion of order is meant to pull you in & leave you helpless & browsing on the floor when the final gong is rung & the library scraping machine comes by to scoop up the day’s victims.  As you slowly sort yourself out of the pile of your fellow victims at the back of the library, you may wonder how this happened — yet again!

It’s the fault of the Dewey Decimal System.

One of the innovations of the Dewey Decimal system was that of positioning books on the shelves in relation to other books on similar topics.

That’s the problem right there:  we are naturally associative thinkers; this well-intentioned positioning of topics near similar topics has the effect on the inquisitive mind of those elvish lights in Mirkwood that lure Bilbo & the dwarves into the spider’s lair (name World Wide Web a coincidence, I think not).

And if that were not suspect enough, consider the ninety one entries missing from the top nine-hundred and ninety-nine.  As Rex Libris, the Kick-Ass Librarian, put it:

Have you wondered why Section 217 is missing from the Dewey Decimal Classification System? …

Section 216, good and evil, is left just hanging there, with the obvious follow-up section completely, mysteriously AWOL.

Where did it go? Why is it missing? This question has plagued people for years.

Did Nietzsche have something to do with this? Are his attempts to go beyond good & evil, to explore Section 217, what led to his almost Lovecraftian madness?

And when I brought these & similar too-dangerous-to-commit-to-print questions up to Darrell he said — like all editor/writer/booksellers he can resist anything but a chance to make money —  ah, the perfect idea for an anthology.  And thus Tales from the Miskatonic University Library was born.  Surely if we present this as fiction, we will be safe from the attentions of the things that haunt the stacks.  But of this more in a subsequent post.

Now drops shoe the 3rd …

Give me the child. Through dangers untold and hardships unnumbered, I have fought my way here to the castle beyond the Goblin City to take back the child that you have stolen. For my will is as strong as yours, and my kingdom is as great…

Or, less poetically, I have (finally) finished checking the calculations in my dissertation.  The checked version is up & I hope to have it uploaded to the physics archive by the end of the weekend.

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