by Richard Levesque
What if all you had to do to make your dreams come true was violate the laws of the universe?
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I’ve written before on the question of whether time travel fiction and alternate histories fit better under the heading of “science fiction” or “fantasy.” I suppose the debate would just dry up if we called it all “speculative fiction” and moved on.
Certainly, there are some time travel and alternate history narratives that fall more into the fantastic mode rather than the scientific: I’m thinking of older stories like A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court or others where “time travel” occurs because of a dream or a blow to the head or divine intervention. For the most part, though, authors who venture into time travel tend to have some scientific explanation—if it’s only a reference to a time machine or something else like the “net” in Connie Willis’ time travel books. American SF has tended toward a collective experience since the early pulp days, so if Writer A comes up with a plausible way to explain something like time travel, Writers B through Z tend to borrow the vocabulary and move on with their tales, assuming their readers are up on the latest trends. I think that’s been the case with much time travel fiction: the narrative focuses more on what the time traveler does, or the interesting paradoxes that can result, rather than get hung up on how the time traveler gets to his or her destination.
But what about alternate history? Surely, it’s more fantasy than science fiction to suggest that the South won the Civil War or that the Axis won WWII and write a “What if?” narrative around that idea. But that doesn’t take into account the ideas found in quantum physics, one of which is the theory that there are multiverses rather than a single universe, and that every decision made throughout history has yielded branchings off. You chose chocolate over vanilla? In another universe, you chose vanilla. Betty over Veronica? The same idea. In that sense, the alternate history text in all its variants could be just an expression of this “branching” theory of the multiverse and of time itself.
In my time travel novel, Take Back Tomorrow, I’ve blended time travel with alternate history and tried to keep the whole thing from dipping into fantasy. The book is set in 1940 Los Angeles, but it’s a 1940 where the great works of science fiction’s Golden Age weren’t written by people like Asimov and Heinlein. They were written by Chester Blackwood, a seemingly brilliant SF writer with a shady past and a seemingly shady daughter, Roxanne. When my protagonist, Eddie Royce, discovers that there exists a different time thread in which Blackwood didn’t write those books, he gets caught up in a web of intrigue and eventually has to set out on a time travel journey of his own—using naturally occurring “time bridges” that aren’t visible to people with normal perceptive abilities.
Here’s an excerpt from the book. Eddie has just tested out one of the time bridges to see if they work the way Blackwood claimed; now he’s crossed back to 1940 to get Roxanne, who’s waiting for him in a house where they’ve been held against their will. Traveling through time is the only way for them to get away from their captors.
* * *Seconds later he was back over the bridge and with Roxanne again. He felt an odd sense of disorientation, something else Blackwood had mentioned about time travel and returning to his own time. It was as though his sense of time and space were slightly compromised for a few seconds. A broad smile spread across Roxanne’s face when he came through the opening, and she quickly stepped forward to hug him. “How long was I gone?” he asked, remembering to whisper again.
“Maybe a minute,” she replied, stepping back to look at him. “Does that sound right?”
He said it did. “What did it look like when I went through?”
She shook her head in confusion. “It was weird. It was like you stepped up onto a stool or something and then you just faded from sight. It wasn’t a now-you-see-it now-you-don’t sort of thing. You just . . . dematerialized. And when you came back, you just faded in as you stepped down.” She still looked apprehensive but not as intensely so. She nodded toward the time bridge. “What’s on the other side?”
“This room,” Eddie said. “I don’t know when, but I assume sometime in the future. You move in space as well as time. I came out about four feet away, and the bridge seemed to be about four feet long when I was walking on it.” He turned to look at the opening again and then glanced at his watch. “We need to get on with it. Make sure you bring your purse and your coat. It might be cold where we end up. The room felt comfortable enough on the other side, but we may not be staying in that time. It could be tomorrow for all I know, and I need to get us further into the future.”
* * *
Bio: Richard Levesque has spent most of his life in Southern California. For the last several years he has taught composition and literature, including science fiction, as part of the English Department at Fullerton College. His first book, Take Back Tomorrow, was published in 2012, and he has followed it with other science fiction and urban fantasy novels, novellas, and short stories. When not writing or grading papers, he works on his collection of old science fiction pulps and spends time with his wife and daughter.