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all the time in the world

The Time Traveler's Life - Part Two

By Allan Eastman

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A Conversation with Science Fiction Master Joe Haldeman

And that’s the one you go to. There might be many others that still exist in some peculiar way. In fact, you have to say that finally when you think about a many worlds interpretation of reality, there are gazillions, uncountable gazillions, of Nows and of futures a microsecond from now and of pasts a microsecond ago. So, the whole notion...well, when I was little, I tried to get my head around the idea of infinity. And I think I’m still stuck in thinking of infinity as a number that’s bigger than any number I could ever visualize. And it’s not a number, of course...it’s a condition. And whatever that condition is, it describes the number of time lines available from this instant to any given amount of time in the future.

Which is theoretically infinite as well...?


And infinity just keeps getting bigger too, doesn’t it? With what quantum gravity and theories like that are talking about – the Multiverse, any number of Big Bangs, lots of Big Bangs outside of our Big Bang.

Yeah, once you put in the clutch and allowed yourself to more or less visualize infinite things, it’s only another gear shift to get into trans-finite things – we have infinite infinities...(laughs)...and then your brain just blows out and you’re left floating...

To me, it’s a kind of positive for time travel in the sense of the argument that many people make is that there can’t ever be time travel because we haven’t met any time travelers. But we also haven’t lived through into a future in which time travel has been invented so when time travel is invented, the time travelers come back and create a different past - which may or may not include us...

Well, that’s not inconsistent with the many worlds interpretation because all they say is, OK there’s nothing in our physics that allows time travel backward in time and so we have never experienced somebody coming from the future but that’s OK because that’s the kind of present that we’re in. We’re inhabiting a Universe that doesn’t allow backward time travel. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t another Universe where it’s quite ordinary.

Apparently, there’s nothing in physics that actually forbids backwards time travel. It just...

Yeah, when you’re in Newtonian physics, that’s OK.  It’s just minus T instead of T. It all works.


We just don’t happen to inhabit that kind of world where T is run backwards. The thing is that kind of Universe doesn’t deal with thermodynamic realities. But it never did. It doesn’t have to. In a Newtonian or Einsteinian simple Universe, you don’t even have friction. So it doesn’t describe anything like the real world. It’s always an approximation.

I’m starting to think that entropy might be the biggest religious concept that humans have ever come up with...

(Laughs) Yeah, well, it’s basically the Universe grinding down...

Well, we certainly seem to experience that, don’t we? On a different point, one of the interesting things you wrote about in Accidental Time Machine was the idea that every temporal displacement also included a spatial displacement. As the time displacement increased so did the spatial displacement so eventually the characters ended up in Space. The earth is moving around the sun at about 108,000 Kilometers per hour (67,000 mph) and the sun around the center of the galaxy at say, 900,000 KPH (560,000 mph). That seems to be a big problem with time travel – that you don’t necessarily end up spatially where you start from. Where did you get that idea?

Oh, that’s totally generated by the necessities of the plot...


...I mean obviously if you used any interstellar or even geographical fixed point, then you’d be flying to hell and gone every minute that you were traveling in time. You’d be off Earth in no time at all.


The Time Travel genre has been extremely popular with the public ever since H.G. Wells published The Time Machine, right up through Star Trek and The Terminator. Why do you suppose people seem so fascinated with the subject of Time Travel?

Partly because we’re trapped by Time. Time travel would release us from the steady march toward death. Partly curiosity about the past. There’s also fear and visceral attraction to the unknown, past and future.

Any favorite stories or authors of time travel fiction?

Let me see. Well, I go back to Ward Moore, Bring The Jubilee. And I guess Rudy Rucker does a good job, of the modern guys. I don’t read that much science fiction – I’m very critical. I have to read a lot of non-fiction for my own writing...and for my own curiosity. I read the “Best Of” collections when they come out. My wife reads constantly and she will recommend novels to me. You know, a great time travel novel was Doomsday Book. That was not only logically consistent but the past that she made up was just as concrete and real as anybody could want. Connie Willis wrote it.

Can you talk about what you’re working on now, Joe? Is that still in a secret state?

Naw, it’s not secret. I’m doing the 3rd novel in the trilogy – Marsbound, Starbound and the new one is called Earthbound. I’m up around page 300 and some. I’ll finish it before the end of the year, he says, touching wood.

Can’t wait for it, as always. So, time travel...No, huh?

Time travel fine for fiction...

OK. Thanks, Joe.

* * *

Truth to tell, as much as it was a thrill for me to talk with him, I was a little disappointed by Joe’s contention that Time Travel didn’t seem possible in our Universe. I guess I wanted him, with his scientific and mathematical background and all his literary thought on the subject, to support my own hopes that eventually humans would be doing it.

Fortunately for me, Time Travel will remain one of those areas of Time where we don’t know anything for certain until it is ultimately proven to be possible or not. If that ever happens. So, it is all right to harbor hopes.

I’d still like the chance to meet Helen of Troy.