Thursday, November 07, 2013

Supertime for fun

I went off on a tangent on one of AVI’s posts and thought it might be amusing to pull it all together cleanly to describe a science fiction setting.

Instead of just traveling in time, suppose one also can travel in “supertime.”

You have undoubtedly heard of the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics, where each possible outcome appears in some “world.” This is a modified version of that. The full many-worlds setting isn’t restrictive enough to tell very satisfactory stories in (though see Amber, Flight of the Horse)—you can pull any rabbit you please out of the hat.

The universe has a history from beginning to end. Just before the end of time, a man decides to have scrambled eggs. In another history, just before it all ends he decides to have bacon and waffles. Those two universe histories are otherwise identical, and if they both exist they will be “close to” each other in the obvious sense. Suppose that instead of a landscape the set of universes is a subset of the full many-worlds set—a well-ordered set of histories that progress from one to the next in “supertime.”

Obviously the earlier a decision is made in a history, the larger the “supertime-duration” between the histories. One way to think of visiting the “next” history is to time-travel to the EOT, step to the next history and travel back in time.

Since an ordinary human only experiences one history, the question for the writer is “who is making the supertime choices that changes history to history, and why?” We can round up the usual suspects here: humans make up a collective being and this being is aware of supertime; supertime aliens try to maneuver to some goal; or (why not?) angels and demons nudge history this way and that to a different kind of apocalypse. You could combine the first and third, with the collective humanity being the devil. (You leave ordinary science fiction behind with this option, though).

The next question is “why is the hero interested in the outcome of other histories?” Presumably after he learns what’s going on, he must find or create a more congenial history, retrieve a loved one, stop a villain from fouling up the histories, or something like that. Maybe a villain wants to find a nicer history for himself and compel a swap with his other self, and things go south from there? Changing histories needs to be tricky because large changes mean big jumps which aren’t very close together, so maybe shortcuts cause big problems, and the hero has to help put things back. Maybe if you go far enough back in regular time you'd have trouble getting anything to notice you at all, so most of your work is done in the near future (no going back to prevent the crime). Plan a setting to trap the villain, until the "big boys" take exception?

I wouldn't want the story to go the way of Star Maker--kind of evolving to the Omega Point--it seems a waste of a decent setup.


Assistant Village Idiot said...

My imagination is limited by the certainty that one of these skeins of time is the "real" one. I don't know where that assumption comes from, other than being bound to actual experience.

It holds no attraction for me to reduce suffering or increase happiness on one thread and live there if there is another "I" who gets the worse life anyway. The lack is mine, I'm sure, as it cuts me off from much good SF.

james said...

The Incarnation seems to pin down the real one well enough; willing suspension of disbelief only goes so far.

Did you ever read The Dark World by Kuttner?

james said...

And if swapping lives with another "you" holds no attraction, I guess that means you couldn't be the villain of the piece.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

If I had a dozen repetitions of the "real" thread of time, with promise that I wouldn't have to keep lives I didn't like, I would probably give a try at being the villain at least once. Yet I would be afraid that the rug would get pulled, I with my hand in the cookie jar.