Wednesday, 30 July 2014

"The Wrong World"

Poul Anderson does a good job of avoiding glaring inconsistencies in his Time Patrol series. The passage with which I had most difficulties was the following.

"'...if we resolve this and restore the proper course of history, the hiatus will never have happened. As far as Patrollers stationed here are concerned, everything will always have been normal'...
"'But I will have had quite a different experience.'
"'Up until the turning point moment, sometime later this year. Then, if we're lucky, an agent will come and tell you it's all okay. You won't remember anything you did thenceforth, because 'now' you won't do those things. Instead, you'll simply proceed with your life and work as you did before today.'
"'You mean that while I am in the wrong world, I must know that everything I do and see and think will become nothing?'
"'If we succeed. I know the prospect for you isn't quite pleasant, but it's not really like death. We count on your sense of duty.'"
-Poul Anderson, The Shield Of Time (New York, 1991), p. 316.

What does all this mean? Everard is reassuring Koch who is based in the twelfth century. Later "this year, " 1137, the timeline diverges from the history guarded by the Time Patrol but agents like Everard are trying to rectify the course of events. Other "Patrollers stationed here..." do not know and hopefully will not have to know. Koch "...won't remember anything [he] did henceforth..." Of course not. We do not remember actions in advance! Nevertheless, in the divergent timeline, Koch will perform some actions. I have argued that it is meaningless to state that these actions "'...will become nothing."

We are contemplating at least three timelines:

(i) a timeline without the random space-time-energy fluctuation that changed the course of medieval history;
(ii) a timeline including that fluctuation and its effects but also the Patrol's preparations to counteract it;
(iii) the "restored" timeline in which the fluctuation occurs but its effects are immediately counteracted by the Patrol so that history proceeds as it should.

Koch, in slightly different versions, exists in all three timelines. (ii) does not become nothing but is succeeded, along a second temporal axis, by (iii). Everard's use of the word "...'now'..." in inverted commas is a tacit recognition of this second temporal axis. In timeline (ii), some Patrollers, including Koch, will live for the rest of their lives in what Koch calls "'...the wrong world...'" but they will also hope that Everard and others who have disappeared from that timeline have traveled into (iii).

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