Monday, January 18, 2010

Of Time Travel and Time Loops

At the end of “the Stainless Steel Rat Save the World,” by Harry Harrison, our hero Slippery Jim is in the year 20,000. He has for a third time failed to kill his time traveling enemy “He” before He can make an escape to a time unknown.

Since Jim destroyed the time-helix in an attempt to stop He, Jim is stuck, but out of nowhere pops another time-helix machine with a recording from Coypu, Jim’s scientist friend in the year 30,000 or so. Coypu gives Jim the code to postpone the launch of some nuclear weapons and Jim and his wife Angelina return to the year 30,000 something.

However they arrive before Coypu sends them the time-helix, in fact Jim dictates the instructions on the disarming of the weapons to the scientist who them makes the recording and sends the device back.

Jim learned the disarmament sequence in the past and gave it to Coypu in the present, who in turn gave it to himself in the past, but where did this knowledge originally come from?

The answer according to the logic of the novel is nowhere; Slippery Jim had found himself in a time loop.

And so it follows that if an idea can appear in a time loop out of nothingness why not a person…

At the start of the novel, Jim is in the office of Special Corps, the secret police of the galaxy, when everyone around him begins to disappear. Scientists rush up to him and explain that they have been attacked and are in a Time War. Someone is changing time and erasing Special Corp’s very existence.

Jim travels back to the 1970s as the lone hope for his future. He defeats his enemy a mad creature called He, a cyborg in a red android body. However, He escapes to 1805 where he joins forces with Napoleon and conquers England; Jim again thwarts his plans. However, just as He is about to escape into the time helix Jim alters the controls so that He ends up in the year 20,000 something, instead of where he had intended.

Then just as the alternate 1805 was collapsing all around him, Angelina traveled back from a restored year 30,000 to rescue her husband. Together they traveled to 20,000 something to defeat He once and for all.

For whatever reason they arrived 200 years after He. In the meanwhile He had armed all the nuclear weapons on the planet. Jim defeats He again, but once again He escapes and as I said earlier Jim escapes back to his present with the help of a time loop containing the knowledge to postpone the termination of the nuclear weapons.

But the point of all of this is Jim wants to follow He again, but Coypu tells him not to. You see from the year 20,000 something, He traveled to the 1970s where he launched an attack on Special Corps, that Jim had already defeated as evidenced by everyone in Special Corps being alive.

You see He was locked inside a time loop himself, eternally fighting Jim in 1970s, 1805, and the 20,000s .

“Where did he originally come from?” Jim asked.
“Nowhere,” was Coypu’s reply.

At first after reading this I was skeptical after all how can a person come from nowhere and exist only in a loop of time. But I can’t deny the simple example of the disarming codes existing out of nothingness, so why not an evil cyborg too?

My only question is how He doesn’t realize he is stuck in a loop? Does He experience some sort of amnesia when Jim alters the controls at the last second in 1805, so that when He arrives in 20,000 something he only remembers his hatred of Special Corps. That would explain things.

Here is a crude visual aid. He’s time loop is in black ink while Jim’s trip is in blue. Disregard my notes for this article at the sides of the chart.


What do you think, is a time loop possible or is that not how you think time travel works? I’d love to hear any opinions.


1 comment:

  1. I don't even pretend to understand most of the "theories" of time travel postulated in books, film and television. Despite that I generally enjoy time travel if the story itself is enjoyable. This story is the third in a collection called The Adventures of the Stainless Steel Rat, which is the way I first experienced them many, many years ago, as opposed to their individual novel format. Although it is my least favorite of the three and at times feels much more dated that the other two, it is still a very fun story and one that I am glad to hear you enjoyed.

    I do like the whole 'time loop' concept, a concept that has been done well on episodes of Star Trek among other places. I'm not sure Harrison does a completely adequate job of describing the concept in a way that holds up to the critical eye, but again I felt like the story was fun without spending to much time info dumping in order to make the time travel elements feel plausible.