The Healer and the Pirate

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Monday, July 18, 2011

Media Monday - Time: A Traveler's Guide

I buy a ridiculous number of books from the VNSA Used Book Sale. I think I bought Time: A Traveler's Guide by Clifford A. Pickover in 2009. The back cover boasts "A must buy for all wannabe time travelers." Is it?

Warning; I'm a pretty critical reader.

The format is an interesting idea--the start of each chapter is a story written in what is often called "second person". The first sentence of the "Prelude"--did I mention the fact that time travel and music are linked for the story?--reads:

The year is 2063, and you are chief curate of the Museum of Music located on Fifth Avenue in New York City.

Every chapter is then followed by a scientific explanation of what was generally explained in the story.

It's a nice way to attempt to get the reader involved in the story, with light descriptions of the "future" (blinking fingernails, alien creatures, etc.). While I'm sure the framing device was part of the plan for quite some time, it appears the second person structure may actually be an afterthought (at least once nearer to the end of the book, I recall it slips into third person, referring to "you" as "he").

Unfortunately, by necessity, "your" assistants continually call you "sir." And by page 14, "you" are noting the comely features of "your" new assistant Constantia. By page 17, "you" are obviously hitting on her.

I think I understand the author's intention, and I know women are less likely than men to go into the study of physics. But I found the entire framing device distancing, when the character who is "me" not only has substantially different mannerisms and interests than myself, but isn't even the same gender. And frankly I didn't care for either of the human lead characters one bit. The actual storyline isn't the most engaging, given I don't care for the characters. But the majority of the "story" is just the characters talking, demonstrating, etc...and mostly, "you" deliver the information in stilted language better suited to a lecture, and Constantia and "your" alien sidekick just happen to ask the exact questions the author would like. For instance, "you" say:

"Perhaps the most interesting example of a brilliant mathematician studying cosmic questions is Kurt Gödel. He was an Austrian mathemetician who lived from 1906 to 1978. Not only did he formulate a mathematical proof of the existence of God and make shocking contributions to pure mathematics, but he also proved that time travel is possible."

Constantia watches the funnel whirling about the table. "He proved time travel is possible?"

Some of the science is interesting, at least, if you're not familiar with it already (I wasn't). The cutaneous rabbit experiment and other experiments which seem to demonstrate that the brain actually engages in backwards time travel of its own are fascinating concepts. And there are interesting ideas I hadn't thought of. Honestly, unless one is incredibly mathematical and/or fairly mathematical and has a lot of time to kill, I'm not sure the formulas can be followed.

I read it more or less looking for an easy way to accomplish (fictional) backwards time travel, since for better or worse, time travel tends to creep into most of my works. While the book does offer a few ideas, I recall they're all pretty complex. In short, if you're looking for a scientific way to just throw time travel in your book, this may not be the best place to look, unless maybe your story involves spaceships.

Personally, I may or may not look through this book again. Like I said, some really interesting ideas, but unfortunately, by the end I came to actively dislike the characters who present them.

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