Saturday, 10 September 2016

Time And An Insubstantial Pageant Faded

SM Stirling, Against The Tide Of Years (New York, 1999), Chapter Three.

(The image shows the Unitarian Church, Nantucket.)

"It was a warm late-August evening as they stepped out, shepherding the children before them; the big American elms lining the brick sidewalks were still in full leaf, and the whale-oil lamps on their cast-iron stands were being lit by a Town worker with a long pole topped by a torch. The tower of the old Unitarian church stood black against the red sky ahead, still showing a little gold at its top in the long summer twilight." (p. 39)

This paragraph speaks of time, age and the past in several ways:

it is late in the month and in the summer;
it is evening;
the central characters now have children;
the elms are big so they have been there a while;
the church is old;
there is a lamplighter so this sounds like a historical scene - although in fact it is much longer ago and further away;
black tower against red sky, gold in summer twilight.

Ian Arnstein says that he'll be damned when he sees a tattooed Indian with a harpoon going to the docks. The time travelers' sense of reality has been knocked sideways:

"Cofflin...still woke up some days with that sense of dislocation, a feeling that the solid, tangible world he saw and smelled and tasted around him was just a veneer over chaos. Something that might spin away, dissolve like a mist at sea and leave...nothing? Or another exile beyond the world he knew. If once, why not again?" (p. 42)

Poul Anderson's Time Patrolmen have become familiar with this sense of dislocation:

"'To [the Tyrians], the world isn't entirely governed by laws of nature; it's capricious, changeable, magical.'
"And they're fundamentally right, aren't they? The chill struck deeper into Everard." (Time Patrol, p. 254)

Remembering the works of art and the life in Amsterdam, Everard:

"...knew their whole reality for a spectral flickering, diffraction rings across abstract, unstable space-time, a manifold brightness that at any instant could not only cease to be but cease ever having been.

"The cloud-capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces,
"The solemn empires, the great globe itself,
"Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve
"And like this insubstantial pageant faded
"Leave not a wrack behind -" (p. 480)

(I think that the manifold brightness could cease to be, although not as a result of any tinkering in the past, but could not cease having been. See here.)

"...reality is conditional. It is like a wave pattern on a sea. Let the waves - the probability-waves of ultimate underlying quantum chaos - change their rhythm, and abruptly that tracery of ripples and foam-swirls will be gone, transformed into another." (p. 671)

"'If everything is random and causeless - if there is nothing out there, no firm reality, only a mathematical shadow show that for all we can tell keeps changing and changing and changing, with us not even dreams within it -'" (The Shield of Time, p. 433)

We are not less than dreams. We are at least the dreamers! But there is an answer:

"A smile, a gentleness beneath which lay steel and lightning: 'Yes. In a reality forever liable to chaos, the Patrol is the stabilizing element, holding time to a single course.'" (p. 435)

But the Nantucketers do not have a Patrol.

1 comment:

Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

I think I can understand why Jared Cofflin and other characters in Stirling's Nantucket were troubled, even frightened by thoughts about quantum chaos. If it happened once, who can say it would not happen again? There must be bad times when they feel that nothing is real or substantial. To say nothing, of course, of how the Nantucketers don't have Anderson's Time Patrol.