Different Shores

If you had a choice between traveling in time or travelling to different dimensions, where the laws of physics may change, which would you prefer? You may make two assumptions. First, you are assured of a trip home (but not necessarily alive), and second, you won’t die as soon as you step out of your conveyance. For the purpose of this discussion let’s leave rubber time out of things. That would only muddy the waters unnecessarily. Time is a steady series of cause to effect. You can see what’s happening, but can’t do too much to change it. You can pick your direction, though. Past, future, it doesn’t matter.

If it were up to me, I’d have to take dimension hopping.  Specifically, I’d like to go where magic works. Part of me thinks I’m there already. I am the guy you see gesturing at the doors of grocery stores, waving them aside by the merest effort of my will. When I get on an elevator, there is some part of me that wills  it to move before it actually does, with accompanying somatic components depending on who’s with me at the time. Every once in a while, when my day gets very difficult, I have been known to shout “SHAZAM!” in the faint hope I will be struck by a bolt of lightning and transform. (I especially enjoy doing that in stairwells, because they echo so nicely. The Field House works well for that too.) Yes, people do look at me funny, but usually they smile, shake their heads and walk away, amused by my antics, if not my hubris. And so I do my part to bring a bit of joy into the world.

Of course, as Arthur C. Clarke observed, any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. Any puritan who happened to wander by as I worked my will upon the door of the grocery store would be astounded,  perhaps frightened by my accomplishment. And how would I explain it to him in terms that would make sense to him? Truthfully, I barely understand it myself. I can mumble something about electric eyes and hydraulics, but the only reason that isn’t an incantation even to me is I have a layman’s  grasp of science. I could no more explain it than I could work the alleged spell in the first place.

It is here, in this grey area between incantation and equation, where sci-fi and fantasy meet. When you come right down to it, Star Trek’s transporter might just as well be magic. Even if Scotty were standing next to me telling me how the thing worked, the best I could hope for is a convincing nod and smile. Nor is this a one way thing. Once, as a literature assignment, I explained the Silmarillion and the Lord of the Rings as a science fiction premise. It’s all interchangeable if you look at it the right way.

This may be one of the reasons I spent so much time reading hard SF as a kid. In hard science fiction, you have to obey the laws. You can extrapolate them out a little bit, but you can’t just break them. Light speed is the limit. Mass must be conserved, and biology behaves in specific, somewhat predictable ways.  There are still stories to be told without the glitter of shattered laws of physics lining the ground. The Cold Equations by Tom Godwin is as hard as science fiction ever gets, and that story moves me to tears every time I read it. Not because of the science. Because of the people.

At the end of the day, it is the people in the story that make it interesting. What difference would the Enterprise -D make in the universe if there were no Captain Picard at the helm? For all it’s power, the Wild Magic was nothing without Thomas Covenant to guide it. The science, the magic, all that is situation, the stuff in the background.

Give me character. Give me Miles Vorkosigan, the hyperactive genius created by Lois McMaster Bujold. Give me Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden, the only wizard listed in Chicago’s yellow pages. Give me people I care about and then make the situation happen.

In the end, it really doesn’t matter if you travel in time or through dimensions. Go forward in time  far enough and you may not even be able to tell the difference. The science won’t tell the story. The magic can’t make me care. It’s my job to do that.

But I still want to meet a wizard.



One Response to Different Shores

  1. Ronny says:

    I have to say dimensions. it would seem to have a wider range of possibilities. I want more than a future so amazing it is as if magic.

    I want to ride a unicorn across fields of rainbow colored grass raising my dragon bone staff as my voice rises and ancient elven incantations slip from my tongue, blue sparks light above and it begins raining every candy that ever entered willy wonka’s mind.

    Then again, there are billions of billions of planets and eternal time, so maybe that’s out there someplace.

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