Sunday, December 16, 2007

World-building. How off Earth do you tell time?

Have you ever thought of "Time" as a problem?
Maybe not.
If all your action takes place on one planetary body, or moon, you might start with the local sun or star, and measure time by the orbit.
But what if the orbit wobbles?

I suppose you could have Leap Years on a grand scale.

If the sun is a Cepheid Variable, (not recommended, too unstable) can you rely on light to predict time?

What if there are two suns? Suppose you have several moons?

And supposing your civilization is on a space ark, or a tora, or a space station --like Babylon 9-- populated in a democratic manner by peoples from many galaxies. How would they agree on what time "Standard Time" is? Whose moon --or watch-- would rule?

Would there be Time wars?

Why do the military use a 24 hour clock, and civilians use a 12 hour (plus am/pm)?

Even on our own little world, we've had different calendars and almanacs as current world rulers have dabbled, and named months after themselves, and got egotistically involved in whether or not "their" month is bigger and longer than their rivals' months.

If any super power ever elects a President named February, watch out!

Even if "we" all agree on Greenwich Mean Time (time is "mean" ?) we live in different time zones, and when we fly across an international date line, we travel in time. And if we leave one atomic clock at Greenwich, and whizz another identical one around the globe in orbit, they don't tell the same time. (Twin paradox).

So what would happen to fast-moving --but not equally fast-- spaceships? Do you think, instead of talking about the weather (as Englishmen are supposed to do), friendly spacefarers would chat about the time all the time?

In FORCED MATE, I decided to base time-telling in the Tigron Empire on a regular, predictable, reliable event: the alien female cycle. "The third thing females are good for."

That presupposes mammalian females, and reproductive cycles, and also that gravity, velocity, the space diet etc do not interfere with biology. What else is regular and reliable?

Heartbeats? Just imagine if time passed more quickly when we are frightened, or sexually active, or doing our gym-rat thing!

This week, Barbara Vey blogged on Thursday about a sex myth quiz. You can find a link to Barbara Vey's blog through the bloglinkhoppers link.

Spoiler alert!

Apparently, the average, healthy, human male (at least three loopholes, there) produces 300 million spermatoza every day. Imagine trying to tell time based on that reliable number! Of course, this is not a serious suggestion. It would be totally unmanageable and impracticable.

On that happy thought.... I'll leave you to go spoof something.

Best wishes,

PS. Check out the Sampler of 10 current and former Dorchester FF&P authors' first chapters.


  1. Early Earth civilizations just referred to days and months, and for years used the name of the King of the moment.

    You REALLY don't need "time" in a civilization until you get into pretty high tech applications.

    By then you can use the unwinding of a spring, the dripping of water in a gravity field through a specified aperature -- etc.

    But where all space faring civilizations will end up is particle physics -- the Atomic Clock we are now using for a standard, for example, or something more accurate we may figure out later.

  2. We may, or "They" may.

    I like the Year of the King. We'd have a Y2K problem relatively regularly, wouldn't we?

    I'm so used to time that I find it hard to imagine a socially cooperative society without it, if only as a basis for fair sharing of tasks.

  3. I think it's pretty easy to figure out what to do simply by going back to the beginning of time for humans. You're all right, of course, but don't forget the impact of culture and religion. Don't forget Julius Caesar, the Popes, the Celtic winter soltice, and all that. There's 'BC' and 'AD' and 'BCE,' not to mention all those divisions of prehistory people love to argue about. Even today, there are communities who balk at Daylight Savings Time if they live near a dateline. Alaska has a few of those. Who decides what is what and what they have to live with? And why?

    The primary aliens in a story I'm micro-polishing now are very religious, so I based their way of telling time on their religion.

  4. Anonymous2:06 PM EST

    Kimber An: Now you've intrigued me. If it's not too much of a spoiler, how does one do that? Are these planet-bound (non-spacefaring) folk?

  5. Hi, David!

    Glad to know you recovered from the Zombie attack.
    First of all, we only need to create ways of telling time as they're needed in the story. Although, when you consider any flavor of Fantasy or Science Fiction, there's always a possibility of more stories in that 'universe.' So, I feel it's important to make it all make sense. That is, there must be a logical system.

    I used Catholic history as a model. For example, all saints have a feast day and 'B.C.' stands for 'Before Christ.' The Gregorian calender was named for a pope. (P.S. I'm not Catholic, just a history buff.) It's very easy to use calender markers like that.

    Since we have the Jewish people to thank for Christianity, I was drawn back even further to the Old Testement prophets, like Isaiah and Daniel. They did time in exile and mixed with astronomers and all that. Astronomical events were often credited significant occurances. Hence, we have the visit of the Magi to baby Jesus after seeing his star in the East. People theorize it was a comet.

    Of course, there are many cultures to draw on for inspiration. I also find the Aztec, Maya, and Chinese way of telling time intriguing.

  6. Hi, Jacqueline, Kimber An, David,

    Thank you for your comments, which I've watched with interest while biting my mouth parts.

    I guess I'm too aggressive. I can't imagine intergalactic military manoeuvres without time being of the essence.

    "We'll invade when we feel like it?"

    "When we get there?"

    "Stardate This... or That... Whatever?"

    Tee Hee!


  7. Do you ever wonder what atheists and people of non-Judaeo-Christian religions think of measuring time in BC and AD?

  8. Oh, yes, that's why they came up with B.C.E which stands for 'Before the Common Era.'
    The rest the world has to adjust to our calender for commerce too. It's not difficult to imagine smaller worlds having to adjust to the calender (and other cultural differences) of more powerful worlds in a Sci-Fi universe.

  9. Anonymous1:37 PM EST

    Well, I was thinking more in terms of divisions of time, like the relative length solar days of various home worlds, translations from one unit of measure to another and so forth. Then too, there's relative lifespan from species to species. Perhaps even a species with an acute perception of elapsed time or space-time, that sort of thing. Highly ponderable stuff, all that. You could get lost in it. ;-)