Time and the Gunwitch

Have I ever mentioned how much I hate time travel stories?

Okay, there’s Doctor Who, but that treats time the same way Star Trek treats space: it’s a way of getting between adventures. And it never really treats its time travel very seriously anyway, and that’s usually the only way I can stomach time travel plots.

It isn’t that time travel makes for bad stories, it’s more that you need a really good writer to avoid turning a time travel story into one, huge, horrible, gaping plot hole. It’s especially bad when TV writers get their hands on the idea. I have never seen time travel done on TV, seriously, in any manner worth watching. It’s kind of annoying. Films don’t generally do better. I think the problem is that it’s really hard to write something involving time travel, that’s the typical kind where the time travellers are changing things, where you don’t need degrees in physics and philosophy to put it all together without making it sound stupid.

Let’s take the classic one as an example. It’s been used in a fair number of books and films, and it’s the basis for many more. Ray Bradbury’s A Sound of Thunder. I know, venerable science fiction author, big deal. I shouldn’t be going there, but… it just makes no damn sense. Time travel is used by people with more money than sense to go back in time so that they can hunt dinosaurs. They must be very careful not to change anything important (they hunt dinosaurs which are going to die soon after anyway) because tiny changes can cause unforeseen and massive changes back in the present. Someone steps on a butterfly and the world changes. Frequently the story is represented as bringing the dinosaurs back, but that’s not what actually happens in the original story, just in many of the remakes.

So, what’s the problem? Well, in the original story the changes are too subtle, or too extreme, depending on your point of view. Human society has been changed by the death of a single butterfly. Even assuming large-scale chaos theory-type conditions, changes to human society are too subtle while the probability that humans would be wiped out, along with the time travel system seems both unlikely and yet more realistic. If you switch it and bring the dinosaurs back, well, that’s beyond ludicrous: the dinosaurs were wiped out by large-scale climate change, possibly involving a huge meteorite impact: if you can stop a space rock hitting Earth by stepping on a butterfly… Well, just no.

Other plots tend to leave gaping holes, or be illogical. I’ve been enjoying The Flash recently. Good series, I like it. However, the time travel stuff thus far has had more holes in it than I care to think about. What got me into writing this post was a film I just watched on Netflix called ARQ. That features a Groundhog Day-style time loop, but it’s done very seriously and those only ever work played for laughs. (For the record, Xena and Stargate SG1 have done Groundhog Day episodes that I thoroughly enjoyed, but they were played for laughs, which is the w I like it.)Β Also, I was discussing time travel stories with a friend recently and I mentioned that I had written a time travel story once and I had reread it very recently…

And that gets me to the Gunwitch. She was a character I created for the Going Rogue supplement to the City of Heroes MMO. As with many of the characters I created for that game, bits of her have made it into my books, but I did a lot of pretty good stuff for Gunny and I was reminded of her recently. She was definitely one of my favourite characters and I decided that I was going to bring her back from video game oblivion. The setting had to change, of course, which does change the character a little, but I can get pretty much all that Gunwitch goodness out. Assuming nothing goes wrong – and it’s going pretty well so far – the first book will be out November/December and will be called Gunwitch: Rebirth for two reasons, one in-continuity and the other because I’m bringing her back for the book.

And one of the Gunwitch stories I won’t be doing again, sadly, is one I called Murder in the Orchard. In that one our plucky heroine is sent back in time to 1927 to investigate a string of mysterious murders which happened in an English country village. They know they have to send her back because (drum roll) they have a picture of her taken in 1927 at one of the crime scenes, so she has already investigated the crimes, she just needs to get there to do it. It was a closed loop time travel story; going back in time was simply fulfilling history which was known to have happened. It’s one of the few kinds of time travel plot I can handle without my teeth itching. Plus… I really wanted to write an English cosy mystery story with a sci-fi element…

Anyway, another wall of text there, I feel you deserve a picture so here’s the latest concept art for the Gunwitch. There will be more about her later, but that’s what you’re getting for now.



28 responses to “Time and the Gunwitch

  1. Looks promising.
    Is that a gun she’s wearing on her back? Its kinda hard to tell.
    If it is that’s an odd way to carry it.

  2. The most acceptable time travel stories for me now involve the Quantum universe where if the protagonists go back(or forwards) in time they create a separate branch of the universe…And can’t ever go back to their own time. My favourite Stargate time travel story was the 5th season episode in SGA “The Daedalus Variations”.

    • My problem with the branched universe concept, and I’d really love to hear an answer to this from someone into high-end cosmology, is that most ‘quantum branch’ universe schemes assume a cosmology containing infinite amounts of energy. Or appear to. I tend to blanch at physical infinities. They make my teeth itch too.

      • Well, strictly speaking, the energy of a branched cosmology at any point in time isn’t infinite. Just ridiculously huge.

        More to the point, though: since different branches of the cosmological tree can not interact except at the point of creation, the energy of each branch’s history is finite and conserved, which is consistent with our observed universe.

        Out of curiosity, as a fellow I-hate-infinity-er, what’s your take on black holes?

      • I don’t buy the ‘consistent within our observed universe’ thing; of it works, it has to work everywhere.
        Meanwhile, black holes sick, obviously. Sorry, I had to. If I had to get rid of the infinity there, I’d point out that the science used to define it doesn’t actually work under those conditions. I think there are (unproven) quantum gravity solutions which remove and explain the infinity, but I’m getting out of my depth trying to think about them critically.

  3. I do not know if you have seen it but I recommend 12:01 http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0106188/?ref_=nm_flmg_act_52
    As one of my favourite Groundhogs Day type films.

  4. Yeah, time travel is a HARD one to write well. I usually just blow off anything that involves time travel in my stories by having a character say ‘It makes my head hurt. STOP asking!’

    In the only story I have published, it is a closed loop and everyone knows it. But NO ONE knows ALL of the loop except the protagonist and HE isn’t talking.

    I have seen and read so many cringe worthy time travel stories it just isn’t funny. But you are right, if done for laughs, it can work. Groundhog Day was the best of that I think but Stargate and Xena did it well too as you said. Harry Harrison’s Stainless Steel Rat was the ONLY decent time travel story that have read that wasn’t a loop. But it sort of was. And not. The Rat makes his won rules.

  5. Have you read “The apocalypse troll” by David Weber?

    I think I can handle that type of time travel.

  6. One of my favourite time travel books is, The Guns of the South by Harry Turtledove a good alt history book where general Lee is offered as many ak47’s as he wants for his troops πŸ™‚

  7. The Apocalypse Troll is one of David Weber’s early books. I enjoyed it. It too assumes a split off reality, but that is just a side light to the story.

  8. Yes, indeed, I’ve reread the “Take me to your leader” part a few times! (In Weber’s Apocalypse Troll).

    Apropos of nothing, have you looked at your author forums on Amazon.com? Every now and then somebody there asks a question.

    • Re the author forums… I don’t often, no. I tend to forget they’re there. Plus, I hate reading reviews so I tend to avoid things like that. Well, I hate reading negative reviews so I avoid all of them. Anyway, I should try to make the Amazon forums part of my routine. Doesn’t help that I think I need to look in two places since there are multiple author pages.

  9. Since you are willing to criticize a venerable science fiction writer when he dares to breach the time barrier, I wonder if you have any thoughts on Robert Heinlein’s “All You Zombies”, the basis for the Ethan Hawke movie Predestination.

    • I had to look this one up. I’ve never read it, that I recall, but it’s not just the basis for one film: it’s the basis for an entire concept! The main logical problem with it links rather nicely with Batman, specifically The Dark Knight. Why? Because both appear to have no actual planning and forethought, but would require a lot of it. Heinlein gets a pass because he knocked this out in a day, Nolan doesn’t. πŸ˜›
      The Heinlein story would work as a closed time loop scenario. Fundamentally it’s flawed unless someone, the protagonist, actually set out to make it happen. Someone apparently said this was a “perfectly consistent time travel story” which just goes to show they never considered how to start the loop.

  10. I totally agree, most tv series fail horribly. I enjoyed Continuum when it started, because it appeared to be a set and unchanging timeline, but I thought it got more and more ridiculous as the show went on.

    I enjoy timetravel stories where the “future” cannot be changed because I find it the most logical – that if you travel into the past then that is already part of your past and thus nothing changes. Of course, Groundhog Day type stories are resets and thus a different type that can also work (I also really enjoyed Stargate SG1).

    My favorite book series that involves some limited time travel is definitely “Theirs Not To Reason Why” (my notes include “logically engaging” and “simply perfect”). I recommend it and it’s even on your waiting list. πŸ˜›

  11. Ken Grimwood, “Replay,” a more-or-less serious one with a “flickering” multiverse, where (a small vignette among many other things) choices can actually cause a universe — or at least a variation of the protagonist’s timeline — to cease to exist. One of the alternative solutions to the Grandfather Paradox. 1988 World Fantasy Award for best novel (don’t know who the awarding organization is.)

    Heinlein, “By His Bootstraps,” a novella length story played for laughs. Orig pub 1941 under pen name Anson McDonald.

  12. So Gunwitch was a twin pistol corrupter or a Rogue TP Blaster? (since Defenders were pretty much unplayed by Rogue, guessing it wasn’t secondary… that was the only down side of the power diversification project)

    I tended to favor masterminds, particularly after Rogue when you could mass buff and were not stuck Redside. Melange (my primary in CoV) went Vigilante so fast that her minions had to buy new boots afterwards. Heh.

    Man I miss that game, I have refused to patronize NC Soft since then — it was the THIRD time I had been burned by them closing a game even though it wasn’t losing money. They didn’t like small profit “maintainence” games that were based in the USA even though they kept Lineage I (SK) on life support forever. Plus refused to ever sell off anything.

    Heck, I haven’t been able to find an MMO worth playing at all since then.

    • I honestly can’t remember what she was. I remember she was Twin Pistols and her secondary had trip mines, gas traps, and a force field generator. Somewhere I probably have the build. Don’t think I ever got the hang of Masterminds.

      I miss it too. I’ve played MMOs since, but I never found a community like CoH/V had and I don’t think I’ve ever just enjoyed playing a game as much since. Well, Mass Effect, but that wasn’t an MMO. If BioWare ever did a Mass Effect universe MMO I’d need that ‘shut up and take my money’ meme, but I don’t see that coming.

  13. Yeah, the later (post FTP and Power Proliferation) game was so well engineered for being able to play with everyone regardless of level — particularly when they added the team auto-level-to-the-leader. Being able to just look for a team without worrying about relative levels was just great. It definitely opened up the community, the only content that was level locked was the Incarnate L50 game and you could still take those 50s down to play with anyone lower.

    Sounds like GW was a Pistols/Devices blaster.

    MMs were best played as a support + DPS class which is a different way of playing. I liked the odd classes, my other main character was a Warshade and I played the Human-form as primary focus.

    • Oddly, there was a Warshade (sort of) associated with Gunwitch, though I never got to actually progress the plot. You’ll get to meet a character called Sarah Donaldson, friend and flatmate, who is infected by a sort of broken Nictus and doesn’t know it. There was going to be this whole deal with her discovering this and… Anyway, didn’t happen. And I can reveal this vital piece of plot because it isn’t going to happen! Yay!
      The Sarah-shade was fairly human-focused too, though I seem to recall that I couldn’t resist the flying squid. I mean, who could resist the flying squid? Right? They’re so cute. And squidy.

      • Daniel Sifrit

        Most of my characters shared a common last name and were related, my Warshade Jenna had a big brother James who was a PeaceKeeper and she went looking for one and “made a deal” with a WS. Originally nobody liked teaming with Kheldians because of all the Quantums it randomly added opposing the teams with one in it — if your party was flagged for Quants it stayed flagged even if the Kheld left.

        Using a common last name (Python) was a trick I borrowed from Tabula Rasa, everyone knew it was one of my characters and I never had to worry about someone having my name already. My FIRST character was an Illusion controller named Rex Python. πŸ™‚ So much fun until they nerfed decoy indestructibility.

        Of course I also had a few oddballs like Melange who didn’t use the last name, but that was usually part of their backstory and anyone that actually READ it would know it was me.

        Human focus was sort-of a controller/defender hybrid, lots of cool passives but issues with power regen. A very mobile one, who had to charge into the fight to use point blank area attacks and them back off to regen. WSs were also unpopular because their inherent travel power was teleport. (although as a nova you obviously had a slow flight power as well)

        Ah, the memories..

  14. I’ve been thinking of your time travel concerns (which I agree with) and recalled a Series by Ray Asplin and Linda Evans by the name of Time Scouts. This is a four book series that takes the approach of having a trigger event allowing time travel through numerous rifts in the space time continuum.

    It’s a cute series and he does some fun things with it, but I mainly enjoy the approach he takes on modifying the past. He simply explains that it can’t be done. Anything a time traveler does that would impact the future simply fails. This also includes a prohibition (by physics – not law) on “looping” yourself, or being at two places within the same instance of time. When this happens in one of the books, the oldest version of the person simply dies and disappears.

    Again, it’s a fun concept based on a quantum trigger event similar to what both yourself and Justina Robson do with magic (in your series) and alternate dimensions (fae, demonia, etc. in Justina’s “Keeping It real” series).

    Just a few thoughts…

    I enjoy your books, please keep up the good work!

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