Aphelion Issue 295, Volume 28
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Aphelion Editorial 031

December 1999

The Senior Editor's usual drivel about whatever...

by Dan L. Hollifield

It gets harder and harder to nail down a topic each time I write one of these things. This month (during an argument at work) I was reminded of my views on the multiple-universe/timeline theory that I and other, far better writers have been using to tell alternate-timeline stories. It seems that modern physics is rapidly catching up with us, folks. Since the physicists are now saying that the whole of the universe is really some kind of "quantum foam" of probabilities where anything can happen, this makes writers like H. Beam Piper, Andre Norton, L. Neil Smith, Larry Niven, Keith Laumer, and many others seem quite like prophets when they described time as being infinite in a sideways direction according to how "probable" some arbitrary event is. The TV show "Sliders" is a prime example of this premise- World after world with strangely differing histories, and all of them just as equally our own dear planet Earth. Robert Heinlein's last few novels explored this concept pretty fully, although there's always room for a new voice in the choir if you'd like to do some conceptual spelunking of your own. Here's a ground rule that I've noticed; given an infinite universe (or infinite number of parallel universes- the multiverse) then not only is anything possible, but everything is required! The usual image of entire universes being created by the toss of a coin is a bit old, but still holds true. And Niven's concept of alternate timelines branching off from each possibility of each choice that each of us ever makes is equally true. But, and here's the kicker, but each of us can only perceive only one timeline at a time. So this means, for instance, that there's a timeline out there where my stories actually sell! (Throw everything in the truck, Baby. We're moving!) The problem is that I don't live on that timeline, alas.

Now having said that; I have to add that I think that each of us wander from timeline to timeline at will, but usually the difference between them is too small to be perceived. What do I mean by that? Well, do you know someone who seems so lucky that they're downright irritating? They get all the breaks, they're always in the right place at the right time, they never roll through a speed-trap until the cop's radar gun stops working, their car never gets dented in the parking lot, the elevator is always there when they press the button, ad infinitum nauseum... These people are natural timeline-shifters, to my way of thinking, without them even noticing. Something they want to happen isn't probable on the timeline they inhabit? They just shift over to another one where what they want is more probable. This goes far beyond mere branching of timelines to something more messy, but probably more accurate; that timelines don't "split away" from each other like tree limbs, so much as they weave in and out of each other like a field of kudzu vines. Confused yet? It gets worse, believe me. I postulate that the basic unit of a timeline is the individual. You, me, Shakespeare- anybody. Each of us would have to have our own individual timeline that weaves and splits and grows and weaves again in relationship to everyone else's timelines. I'd explain further, but in about three steps the whole process gets so intertwined that 

  1. it'd get boring to read, 
  2. I'd forget something and screw it all up, and 
  3. before I was halfway through even Heisenberg would be sure... that I'd escaped from some mental institution.

So maybe I should just save it for a story. That way no one would think that I expected them to believe me, or that I actually believed it myself. So, you say that the universe is stranger than I can imagine? Hmmm... We could debate that. {GRIN}

Thanks for your time.



1999 Dan L. Hollifield

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