On the past

On holiday, I brought a couple of actual physical books, printed on paper with me. One of them was How to live safely in a science fictional universe, which has a great concept, and a lot of wit and charm in the early parts. As it goes on, it becomes melancholy, but remains engaging, and ends in hope.

Alan (who I borrowed the book from) has already reviewed it here, so I won’t go through the whole thing, but I did want to talk about a few paragraphs from the end of chapter 8 that I found really intriguing. I’ve been putting this off for weeks, as it involves so much typing, but here goes:

“A typical customer gets into a machine that can literally take her whenever she’d like to go. Do you want to know what the first stop usually is? Take a guess. Don’t guess. You already know: the unhappiest day of her life.

Other people are just looking for the weird. They want to turn their lives into something unrecognizable. I see a lot of men end up as their own uncles. Super-easy to avoid, totally dumb move. See it all the time. No need to go into details, but it obviously involves a time machine and you know what with you know who. General rule is you want to avoid having sex with anyone unless you are sure they aren’t family. One guy I know ended up as his own sister.

But mostly, people aren’t like that. They don’t want trouble, they just don’t know what else to do. I see a lot of regular offenders. People who can’t stop trying to hurt themselves. People who can’t stop doing stupid things because of their stupid hearts.

My vocational training was in the basics of closed time-like curves, but what they should have taught me was how that relates to people’s regrets and mistakes, the loves of their lives that they let get away.

I’ve prevented suicides. I’ve watched people fall apart, marriages break up in slow motion, over and over and over again.

I’ve seen pretty much everything that can go wrong, the various and mysterious problems in contemporary time travel. You work in this business long enough and you know what you really do for a living. This is self-consciousness. I work in the self-consciousness industry.”

I hope I’ve done that justice by keeping it fairly typo-free. I think it’s a great bit of writing. The time travel in the book has its limits (as time travel nearly always does) – you can’t make changes, so there’s no point going back to try and kill Hitler (though it makes a pretty good Doctor Who episode, obviously), and I don’t think you can go forward either.

But even with those limits, I don’t want to believe that the author is correct. With all of the past to experience, all of the great events of history, the highs and lows of the human race, I can’t believe I would want to go back to the lowlights of my own life. And yet, given enough time, perhaps the lure of our own life would be inescapable. Not the first destination, but maybe an inevitable one, sooner or later. I don’t know. But I think it’s a great bit of writing.

 

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