Thrice Upon a Time
Order by Mail
or Online


      At some time or another, it seems, every SF writer has to do a time-travel book. I decided that I wanted to try one which at last faces up to the paradoxes and tackles them, without such cop-outs as characters religiously making sure that everything is set up and left the way it "happened," magical, mysterious forces compelling them to act in ways that keep everything consistent, masking the paradoxes by burying them far in the distant past, and that kind of thing.

      The other thing I wanted to do was get away from those conjurors' boxes, introduced in whatever disguise, that we read about all the time. I certainly wouldn't start by jumping hopefully into one to be launched off to who-knows-where--or, quite possibly or more probably, depending on one's degree of natural cynicism--to simply vanish without trace. I'd want to send a few monkeys or some such through first, and make sure they came back okay. In other words, if this ever became a real issue being investigated by real scientists, it seemed to me that they'd handle it very differently than as depicted in a lot of the stories we've seen.

      Come to think of it, if this kind of physics ever became a reality, would it be likely to emerge immediately at a sufficient level of sophistication to permit the sending and reconstitution of structured objects, or even of matter? A more plausible beginning might be the ability to send just a whiff of energy. Now, if you can send energy, you can modulate it, for example by switching it on and off according to some kind of code, which means you can send information. If you can send information, you can cause events at the other end to be changed, hence introducing all the familiar paradoxes of time travel, but perhaps in a more plausible setting. The result was THRICE UPON A TIME, which deals with a group of scientists and others trying to make sense out of experimental results derived from the discover of being able to propagate signals back through time--in other words, figuring out the rules.

      Obviously, I had to know the rules in order for the characters to discover them. Trying to work them out tends to be difficult when they're entangled with the complexities of plot situations. So to separate them out and simplify things, I reduced everything to a model consisting of a button and a lamp. When the button is pressed, the lamp comes on. You can't get much simpler than that. Now, add in a black box that sends the signal back through time so that the lamp comes on thirty seconds before the button is pressed. Two questions arise:

  1. The lamp comes on. Thirty seconds later it's time to press the button. I won't. What happens?
  2. Thirty seconds ago the lamp didn't come on, but I press the button anyway. What happens?

      Every time-travel paradox is a variation of one or the other of these two situations. When you can answer the above two questions, you can resolve all of them.

Content © The Estate of James P. Hogan, 1998-2014. All rights reserved.

Page URL: http://www.jamesphogan.com/books/info.php?titleID=27&cmd=background