John C. Wright on Time Travel: An Absurdity Wrapped in a Non-Starter

It’s a longish post, but well worth your time.

In science fiction stories, there are a limited number of ways to explain the conundrum of how time travel can work in a world where there is both the appearance of free will and the appearance of cause and effect.

I doubt I can list all the various answers of the various imaginative authors who have attempted in an entertaining way to address the paradox. It makes for entertaining bull sessions by college students and philosophers, however.

But I can mention some basics:

In effect, the effort is to see how you can keep one or both of the appearances of cause and effect and of free will.

Wright mentions a number of methods (he calls them “options”) for dealing with the paradox:

  1. Free Will Doesn’t Exist (You can go back in time, but you will do exactly what you did, because that is what happened. This is the Slaughterhouse Five answer. “The Moment is Structured That Way” say the Tralfalmadorians).
  2. Cause and Effect Doesn’t Exist (You can go back in time, but in changing the past you only eliminate yourself).
  3. The Universe Doesn’t Like Things Changed (You can go back in time, and change the past, but the universe will order itself so that it gets the desired result in spite of your actions. This is the Tralfalmadorians-on-Steroids).
  4. Time Travel is Just a Scene-Change Device (Dr. Who, Quantum Leap, etc.)
  5. Multiple Time Lines Without Consequence (the easiest solution, in which no matter how much mucking about you do, the only changes will be cosmetic, and you can always go back and re-do it, and you will discover that you in fact, already have)
  6. Time is a Hard Drive Being Overwritten (By changing the past, you destroy the original timeline in which time travel was invented. So time-travel has the result of eliminating time-travel)

It’s great fun to consider, and I’ve always admired the Back the Future precisely because it makes Time Travel very difficult. You’ve got to have a Flux Capacitor and you’ve got to have 1.21 jiggiwatts of electricity and you’ve got to get that car up to 88 mph. Miss either one of these, and the time travel won’t happen.

I also especially enjoy the second movie because the plot takes it back inside the structure of the first movie, and revisits the exact same scenes without disturbing any of them, or indeed having anyone in those scenes notice that they’re being observed. It fascinates me. I’ve never seen a sequel deconstruct the first movie so entertainingly.

Lit Fic is a Genre

At least, that’s the takeaway I have from this Sarah Hoyt Post at Mad Genius Club.

Look, most twentieth century literature we were forced to read — particularly late 20th century literature — was written to be “what university professors like.” A dash of unearned superiority, a bit of social critique and always, always, every character being a worthless bastard or bitch, not worth the paper they were described on. Oh, and the entire thing always ended in a morass of bitterness and disillusionment.

The word for this Human Stain plot-template is trope.  Things fall apart, the center cannot hold, and all that cal. Broken people behave brokenly. I just had this experience with Manhattan Beach. It was a fun little story, with a mystery sewn into it, but I didn’t finish before it had to go back to the library, and now I’m not sure if I’m going to bother to. The mystery wasn’t going to be that mysterious. Whatever the most disillusioning solution would be, that was going to be the one that did it.

Bad things happen and that’s the end. That’s literary fiction for most of the time I’ve been alive. Really, since before that, if you go back to A Farewell to Arms and The Great Gatsby, where these things became obligatory. And that’s fine. But it’s a trope as simple and pure as Space Lords and Barbarian Kings. They comfort the worldview of the a certain segment of the population, by “challenging” it, according to a process of peripeteia and catharsis that was already old when Aristotle wrote about it. The rest is wankery trying vainly to disguise what they’re doing.

Back when I was going through literature courses I cured every professor who hit me with the “genre is just bad literature” by introducing them to Bradbury then hitting them with Phillip K. Dick while they were down.  Not one retained their opinion of genre, and some of them I left converted to science fiction.  (You could trace my progress through Portuguese educational institutions by the teachers/professors who not only read but rhapsodized over science fiction.

In.Deed.

David Lynch’s Dune is So Bad it’s Hypnotic

The “Disasterpiece Theater” series at The Decider begins with a good choice.

In a lot of ways, Dune has a lot of the same problems as Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace. Hear me out… Both were made for a rabid science fiction audience. Both films boast beautiful production design and talented casts. However, the biggest problem with both films is that they spend more time providing exposition about tedious political plots and religious superstitions than they do establishing characters and relationships. Dune spends almost a half hour telling you about houses and treaties and spice and navigators before getting to the tense gom jabbar scene (which Herbert begins on, like, page 5). Lynch just drops you into Paul’s world and you go with it because he doesn’t quite know what’s going on, either. You’ve got a relatable protagonist to latch onto, use him!

Lynch’s Dune is visually stunning but a narrative mess. And I’m a big fan of the series. I even like God Emperor of Dune (But not any book after that. The last two novels that Herbert wrote feel tired and meandering, and all the works written by Brian Herbert and Kevin Anderson just feel wrong). But even I find almost every line and acting choice weird and off (plus Patrick Stewart as Gurney Halleck? What?).

Yes, it should be watched. Actually, it should be watched several times:

  1. What? Who’s that? What’s going on? Why is this so BORING? Ugh, Never again!
  2. Actually, there’s some neat things to see here. It’s got a cool look. I might watch this again; it might grow on me.
  3. No, this is a bad movie. I’m done. Wierding modules? What were they thinking?
Virgina Madsen is gorgeous, however…