19 November 2010

Time Flies . . . often with a broken wing

Time. Usually that's enough said. Everybody follows it--grammatically time then happens before we react to it. Many people curse it. Some love it. Only the truly narcissistic among us worship it. Time is measured in the accumulation of gray hairs or loss of hairs--such minute items representing such a mighty entity! Time is measured in wrinkles formed and anti-wrinkle cream purchased. Time is measured by sunrises and sunsets, as the Fiddler on the Roof so blithely intoned. Time is the one constant in a swirling fiction plot.

The Dream Land series has some time-shifting aspects to it. It did not start out that way. Yet our hero, Sebastian Talbot (a.k.a. Set-d'Elous) and his long-lost love, Gina (a.k.a. Queen Jinetta of Fenula) find themselves in different time periods with each adventure. In the second volume, the time traveling goes viral, as they say. Wanting to prevent a war that has already happened, Sebastian/Set returns deliberately at an earlier time--intending merely to spend more years with the love of his life, Ghoupalle wife Zaura-Matousz, then serendipitously encountering the evil Empress Basura-Kanoun as she appears in her innocent youth. The opportunity presents itself and he acts.

In many time-stream tales, the repercussions of "changing history" are profound. The same is true in the Dream Land. At first, everything seems streangely serene, apparently unchanged. Only gradually do the changes present themselves, multiplying and rising to a horrible crescendo that causes our hero to realize that the changes are worse than the original. There are a few twists in time shifting--e.g., can someone who fought in the war still remember it after history was changed to prevent the war? These events lead him to send a team of mercenaries to undo what he has done, with mixed results.

In the Dream Land series, the time travel is accomplished by entering/reentering different tangents, each leading to not only different physical locations but also different temporal "time zones." Marvelous machines are not needed for the transformation. The same conundrums exist, however, regardless of the vehicle.

Time shifting in fiction is necessarily complicated--more so in reality. Even the Author is sometimes confused. Writers typically (or so I've heard) write out far more information than gets into the book. The author needs to understand deeper layers, perpendicular storylines, and unconscious motivations in order to create a compelling, plausible story. That does not mean the reader needs to see all of the bars and braces beneath the facade, of course. The same with time. The Author of the Dream Land series tries desperately to cheat. He has created a detailed timeline across several papers--with many cross-outs and arrows indicating changes in that timeline. Going through the manuscript as editor, the time shifting becomes even more problematic: the Author wishes readers to be able to follow the story yet does not want to hit readers over their heads with a calendar on every page. Appropriate time cues are thus given in characters' dialog, the expository passages, and, if absolutely impossible to avoid, as numerals denoting years.

The rebellion, revolution, annexation, and wars occur between the Ghoupalle years 1481 and 1556. Soreg College students Basura-Kanoun and Diert-Gangus marry in 1548, but Set-d'Elous arrives to intervene. After acting, Set returns to 1570 to wait for Gina, who is supposed to be passing through town in 1574. The mercenaries, however, must go to 1457 to stop Set. One scene in Dream Land II "recalls" an adventure he undertakes in 1602, spoken as though it has already passed. Imagine: "I remember, on this night in 1493, that trip I took in 1650," and so on.

And so it goes. I am continually engaged in the counting and recounting of years in the manuscripts. The only thing more tricky, more disconcerting, more potentially dangerous, I suspect, would be duplicating the actual time shifting that these fictional characters do so easily!

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