Tuesday, January 06, 2009

The Cycles and the Seasons

Margaret Carter raised an interesting point in her New Year's post.


All of Earth's cultures have noticed we have a "year" -- a solar year, or cycle, and picked a point of the circle for a "beginning" of the year -- and made that a celebration of some sort. Fiction worldbuilders writing for an Earth audience have to take this kind of celebration into account when creating alien cultures - and romances across that cultural gap.

Also this year the standards authorities have brought to our attention that the Earth's rotation is slowing, and this year the master timekeeping standard atomic clock was adjusted another second.

We've only been able to measure accurately for a little while, so presumably the slowing has been going on since Earth began rotating.

Still, the Day is part of the Year cycle. The slowing, the lengthening of the Day and year, indicates a kind of non-permanence about our situation on Earth and around this star. Time is elastic. What changes can begin -- and end. The slowing of the Earth's rotation puts a whole 'nother spin on things.

In the Torah, the Creator of the Universe assigns the proclamation of the New Moon, and the New Year to the human venue. We are responsible for choosing the marking and celebrating of TIME itself -- and as Margaret pointed out, all our cultures create and innovate on how to do this. But NONE of these cultures have chosen "wrong" -- they're all "right" -- all at least OK. Because it's the human prerogative to divide and mark the cycles of Time.

From the human perspective, we all know "time" is "relative." The 20 minute wait in the dentist's office is much longer than the 20 minutes spent watching your favorite movie, or bedding your lover.

If Time were to be absolutely regular and objective, the Creator could have just assigned the cycles and markers to suit Himself. But now, only NOW, we discover that Earth's spin is not precisely repeating. No two years are alike. And it's up to us to call the end and beginning of cycles.

More than that, we now understand how our Sun fits into a spinning Galaxy that's moving through space.

In truth, no two successive years (days or months or any other cycle) are THE SAME. There actually is no "repetition" -- yet we are given the responsibility to mark the anniversaries of a death of a close relative, and other Events that are featured in our personal and collective History. All our cultures and religions have a year's calendar of Holidays commemorating such Events.

Yet the Earth is never -- ever -- in the same place twice. Even in the billions of years it takes a Galaxy to rotate completely, the Galaxy has moved through space and the suns do not come back to the same "place" in space-time.

I used the galaxy's rotation and move through space in setting up the backstory of two novels (now available on fictionwise.com as e-books as well as used on Amazon) - Molt Brother and City of a Million Legends.

Each moment of life is unique. Imagine that.

Margaret brought up one of my favorite novels by Robert A. Heinlein, Time For The Stars, where twins are used to communicate telepathically from Earth to FTL ships.

That reminded me suddenly of a wonderful little book -- HOW TO BUILD A TIME MACHINE by Paul Davies, from Penguin Books paperback 2001 -- reprinted through 2003.

I don't know if this book is still available. It might be woefully out of date with respect to the newest discoveries in astrophysics. But that wouldn't matter to worldbuilders writing fiction.

HOW TO BUILD A TIME MACHINE is popular physics which explains clearly in layman's terms how it is that there can never be any such thing as simultaneity at interstellar distances.

Gravity distorts space-time in such a way that the galactic civilizations we write about really can't exist or function as we describe them -- as analogues of Earth at the time of sailing ships.

My mind is still absolutely dizzy about this concept. Even Robert E. Forward (an astrophysicist) in order to write a good novel had to kind of cheat his way around this concept.

And then a couple years ago I took a course which I've mentioned many times in blogs and my review column ( http://www.simegen.com/reviews/rereadablebooks/2007/ ) and which led to a series of 6 review columns which I called the Soul Time Hypothesis. Those 6 review columns presenting this concept of the relationship between the Soul and Time became the basis of a course I gave in the Spring of 2008.

The mind-boggler is that the soul enters manifest reality through the dimension of Time.

Physicists obsess on measuring Time because it's a factor in almost all the key equations that describe the physical universe. So possibly they'll keep on studying and finally discover that the non-simultaneity concept has to be changed to something more amenable to SF writing. After all, physics said FTL travel is impossible, but we write about it. And physics said matter-transmission is impossible, but it's been done in the Lab (albeit on sub-microscopic particles). So maybe there's hope for writers.

Maybe, by writing such imaginings, getting others to imagine the universe CAN have simultaneous effects on events across galaxies. Maybe we can actually change the way the universe works? If Time is so plastic -- maybe other things are likewise responsive to human imagination? That was the theory behind Marion Zimmer Bradley's MISTS OF AVALON - a wonderful novel of Arthurian Legend's women.

Or alternatively, the power of the human imagination to change the functioning of the physical universe could become the reason that galactic aliens want to destroy Earth and all humans? What a threat - our novels alter THEIR reality! What a Helen of Troy lovestory!

Actually, I approached that idea sidewise in my novel DREAMSPY. But I fudged the physics with a little magic. Anyone know another novel that plays with that concept?

I don't really know how to "worldbuild" myself a universe strictly based on the non-simultaneity concept that includes the Soul-Time Hypothesis and that would work for a novel's background. Yet more than likely a blending of those two ideas would depict our objective reality (if there is such a thing) much better than any novelist has yet managed.

Well, then maybe the key for writers is to create some Aliens who do understand the universe in that blended way - non-Simultaneity plus Soul-Time, and just proceed from there?

Oh, wait -- actually, I think Edward E. ("Doc") Smith did that with the Lensman Series and his Arisians vs. Boskone war that stretched over millenia. I read all those books when I was in grammar school and High School, and they made a deep impression on me. They're still available in a recent reprint.

I haven't seen anything even remotely similar lately. If you have, please drop a note about them on the comments here. But don't forget that the Lensman Series had the first really HOT romance in the space-travel SF field. I've always wished I had auburn hair.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg


  1. Lovely concept that human beings are responsible for determining "times and seasons." That must be one aspect of our being co-creators with the Creator, as Tolkien said we are.

    One of Terry Pratchett's YA novels, ONLY YOU CAN SAVE MANKIND, focuses on a boy playing what he thinks is an ordinary video game, but he discovers that on a higher plane of reality he is actually destroying the ships of real aliens (who don't deserve to be killed, and they turn out to be the "mankind" he has to save).

  2. Jacquiline,

    A wonderful post. The idea of one existance which overreaches all of Creation, as opposed to the relative time which we are forced to live in has intrigued me for years. I particularly liked your example of moving through space, and never, ever being in the same spot again. Rather like a Great Dance to me. I like to think on these things as to how they would affect inter-stellar travel and communication. Hmmm.


    I have never read ONLY YOU CAN SAVE MANKIND. It sounds as if there were a resemblence to ENDER'S GAME. Very troubling concepts.

    Frances Drake

    Writing Science Fiction Romance
    Real Love in a Real Future