Time After Time: origins


I love the "Terminator" movie series (apart from "Terminator 4"). Arnold Schwarzenegger makes the perfect machine cyborg, with his sculpted body and stiff acting. Linda Hamilton's Sarah Connor character is truly a warrior female, who will do anything to protect her future progeny.
But there was always something that bugged me about the films' concept. Actually there were two, but the second would serve as a spoiler for my own novel so I'm not going to discuss that here. It's the other bugbear I have with the movies, that became the starting point for me when I was thinking about my novel "Time After Time". In fact it even lies behind the novel's title.
In "Terminator" a cyborg assassin is sent back through time to kill Sarah Connor to prevent her giving birth to her son that will become the future leader of the Resistance to the rule of the machines. The Resistance also manage to send one of their top men Kyle Reese back to protect her. This is where the human brain goes into meltdown, trying to pick all the logical flaws and frays that accompany these assumptions.
Let's say the Terminator is successful in his mission and kills Sarah Connor so she never gives birth to her son. The future therefore ineluctably proceeds on to the triumph of the machines and the extinction of the human race. Then what happens/happened to that version of the future where the machines were so up against the rack against the Resistance that they needed to send back a Terminator to kill Sarah Connor? It happened in the narrative once, so it can't be uninvented. Yet the future now has no John Connor and no potent human Resistance.
Second, Reese comes back and not only protects Sarah Connor, but both impregnates her and dies in the earth of the past in the line of fire. So John Connor makes it to the future, but with the DNA of a father who should be one of his troops in the Resistance and indeed in one version of history was, but yet Reese died back in the past and didn't ever make it back to the future to take up his 'normal' place in the timeline. How can he have been sent back from the future when he's already died in the past and not lived to make it into the future in the first place? Presumably time splits between two versions here, but I'll pick this up a bit later. Also, before Reese was sent back, he is fighting alongside John Connor. Yet that John Connor should not even be alive, since it is only Reese going back in time and making Connor's mother pregnant that gives life to John Connor in the first place... Does your head hurt from all this yet? Mine did!
The usual logical way round these paradoxes is to suggest that time is not singular, but that there are many versions of reality, with differing outcomes and narratives. These are often referred to as parallel universes and are tied into Quantum Theory to explain the differing probable and possible outcomes even from the same set of circumstances. Reese says that the current reality he and Sarah are embroiled in with its implications for the future, "one possible future", but then feebly proffers that as he "doesn't know tech stuff" he can't explain it in any more detail. Well parallel universes only get us so far.
So there are many possible futures and even possible veering off of the present. In some versions the Terminator will be successful and the machines will rule the future. In other versions Reese and Sarah foil the Terminator and John goes on to lead the Resistance to victory over the machines. In a coiling of time back on itself, the strange goings on of Reese siring John, or Reese dying in the past before he can return to the future to be sent back to the past are just bumped over into the next version in an infinite loop. But then if the machines win some futures and the humans win others, what does it matter? You have a chance to live in the future where man prevails, or you are unlucky and end up in one of the timelines where you become extinct. But both exist. Just hope and pray you end up in a lucky timeline. Not that you are conscious of any other version of reality. But it means the human race can never be wiped out, because in some realities it persists. Equally mankind cannot ever fully extirpate the machines, because elsewhere in a parallel universe they still rule the roost. Parallel realities show the entire spectrum of outcomes, they can never lead to a single, ultimate one.
Hence the title of the book, "Time After Time". I do try and deal with these paradoxes of time and make clear that my assassin's mission has to be successful in every version of reality, for him to wipe out the presence of the 'mother of the future' from ever existing. But chance, different timings and the like mean that there will always be other outcomes of his mission, that it can never yield the same result time after time after time.
What my book does, is draw a parallel between the mission of getting up close to a stranger in order to assassinate them, and getting up close to seduce them. The same variables of timings, chance, circumstance, missed signals, misread intentions and the like all impact on the outcome. The book is less about assassination, but more about the countless number of outcomes when a man and a woman are in the same place, at the same time and trying to get close to one another. And the humour derived from the tiny differences that can alter the outcome so radically. I also draw lightly on "The Butterfly Effect" from Chaos Theory, which can be summarised as the possibility that the mere flapping of a butterfly's wings can change a whole weather pattern the other side of the world through a linked change of circumstances that build up on the back of that one tiny event. Again, I feed this principle into that panoply of words and signs a man and women display during the initial time of their suit.
And finally we return to the concept of time and its paradoxes. Time is just a human concept that helps us pattern our perceptions (night/day, the seasons, the movements of the planets, shadows, etc). It has no existence beyond our conscious mind. The Big Bang theories state that there was no Time before the Big Bang itself and that it only came into being at that point. Matter came into being and started moving away from the Big Bang explosion, travelling through Space at a velocity measured in time and also that the material of planets started to age from their formation. Einstein came along and merged time with space to form our fourth dimension of Spacetime, an oblique concept for most of us who can only conceive of things  in the three dimensions of space, because that is how our minds have been taught to perceive our world, horizontal, vertical and depth. Three dimensions is a sufficiently good model for us to negotiate our way not only through life, but also to be able to send rockets to explore planetary bodies way beyond our atmosphere. Yet it is this fourth dimension of Spacetime, or any fourth dimension of conceptualising the arrangement of matter (as offered by recent theories like String Theory or multiverses), where our brains start to malfunction and logic breaks down, because we simply don't have the mental apparatus to enable us to think in four or more dimensions.  And it is these failings in our perceptual and conceptual apparatus that allow the paradoxes of time travel to remain unsolved and to stay at the heart of films like "Terminator" and books like "Up The Line" and "Time After Time".
As Sarah Connor says towards the end of "Terminator" - "A person could go crazy thinking about all this stuff". Did I already mention that I love the "Terminator" film series?


Those of you who have been following my work or posts for any time now, will probably know that I'm not a fan of genre classifications for fiction. I feel it is diminishing to writer, reader and the book itself. The reader is smart enough to track down the books that they're interested in without being spoon fed categories. The writer shouldn't have to pigeonhole his or her own work to fit in with what their publisher's sales team demand. I understand bookshops have to have some notion of how to display and arrange books to aid customers in finding the authors and books they want. But there I feel bookshops could be a little more adventurous and make a themed treasure hunt of their store, so that maybe books are brought together by theme, whether notionally sci-fi, horror, true crime or literary fiction, if the theme is say Jack The Ripper. But that's for another debate really. The increasing move towards e-books demands labels and tags for narrowing the search algorithm.
So why am I tagging "Time After Time" with not one, not two, not three, but different FOUR genres? Urban Science Fiction Comedy Romance. Can you call a book "Romance" if the main drive of it is murder? Well that in itself gives some indication as to why; I'm looking to subvert these genre classifications in part as much as honour them.
So let's start with Romance. It's true that the heart of the book is a series of seductions, but as hinted above, it's with dark motives of murder behind it. So possibly not the regular fare of Chick-Lit or Mills and Boon, though the seductions themselves do look at the dark arts of two people trying to get close to one another in microscopic detail. One man, one woman, the same initial meeting, and the myriad of different outcomes that can follow from that first encounter. Sort of "Sliding Doors" meets "The Time Traveller's Wife" meets "Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus". Only where love clashes with murderous intent...
Sci-Fi is always pretty clearcut isn't it? Takes place either in the future or in alternate reality. Sometimes it's called Speculative Fiction. Well this novel has lots of alternate realities, but all of them predicated on the world of the present, to wit, a sink London council estate, all too recognisable within our current lives. There is some time travel back from a future world into the present, but the bulk of the plot is in the here and now. The technology on show is neither advanced, nor retro as in Steampunk (itself perhaps the genre sub-category that makes me froth the most, not because I don't like such works, but because I just find it insulting that fans couldn't find such books without a separate category being created for it, that at the same time suggests no other books outside it could appeal to them. It makes fans more like a cult than fans of a genre. Okay, rant over). My novel does have some actual science concepts lightly explored, Quantum Physics, Parallel Universes, Schrödinger's Cat, Chaos Theory and The Butterfly Effect. But are these real life scientific metaphors, for that's what they are once they are separated out from their various mathematical proofs and transposed into words, sufficient to make a work Sci-Fi? There are plenty of non sci-fi books that resort to these metaphorical models within their pages, because it suggests a way of seeing that the author is after supplying for the reader. I do wonder what the Sci-Fi community will make of my novel, whether they will count it as one of their own or spurn it...
Urban, I don't even know what the urban genre is. Books set in cities I guess, which mine resolutely is. But Urban always seems to be a prefix of other genres, YA, Fantasy, Paranormal, Horror, Supernatural, Steampunk, Speculative, Thriller, Mystery and even those without it in the name like the New Weird. Well mine is just, well you know, urban. Set within the environs of a built up area. And that's it. Though lots of weird stuff happens within the urban setting, it's all drawn from everyday urban living. The urban setting isn't a jumping off point into whole other worlds. Nor is it distorted by the goings on, rather the opposite, it's very robustly urban landscape shapes much of the human action that transpires within its architecture. But it's not quite that other genre version of Urban Realism either. Since this is a work of fiction and one that's playing with the trope of urbanism.
Comedy is not really a genre of fiction itself, but I proudly claim that this book is funny. I'd also claim it is Literary, but usually the critics refuse to bracket Literary together with comedy these days, despite the august examples of Flann O'BrienKingsley Amis and Samuel Beckett. But these days comedy books seem to be marketed as bathroom reading and light and disposable. Which is a pity, because there's a huge difference between a stand-up comic making an audience of people laugh out loud in an auditorium, armed with gesture, expression and comic physical movement and an author extracting a voluble guffaw from the reader purely by the words printed on the page. I don't know if this novel is laugh out loud, but hopefully it's at least sputter your cup of tea while you're drinking it funny.
I have always described myself, a tad reluctantly it has to be said, as a Literary Fiction writer. But I've always felt that label simply swept up all the works of literature that don't fit neatly into other categories. Jane Austen wasn't writing Chick-Lit, DH Lawrence wasn't writing Erotica, Ernest Hemingway wasn't writing LadLit or Action and GK Chesterton wasn't writing Police Procedurals or Detective Thrillers (or even Theological Detective Thrillers). They were just writing FICTION!
"Time After Time" is consciously my most mainstream commercial book to date. It doesn't paint word portraits like many literary novels. It doesn't have huge swathes of description also favoured of the literary genre. But it does possess quite a radical narrative structure, because it deals with time hopping and alternate versions of reality. So that will probably get me kicked out of the Literary Fiction club too.
Sob, will no fiction genre offer me a home for this book? 


I hated Physics at school. Even though I loved Chemistry.
Partly because the Physics teachers weren't cool, in their creased corduroys and pipe tobacco scarcely concealing their body odour. Chemistry teachers seemed normal even ranging to cool. One of them played a high level of Minor County cricket.
Then there were the classroom-labs themselves. In Chemistry your head could sink to the surface of the bench where your eyes would rest on the exciting potential contained within the bottles of acids and alkalis ranged there. In Physics, what did you have as an equivalent? Gas taps for bunsen burners, which was odd since I don't remember ever doing an experiment involving heat in Physics. Oh yeah, there was Boyle's Law I think...
So probably it came down to the fact that I understood Chemistry, whereas Physics I couldn't make head nor tail of. I could never get to grips with solenoids and circuits because I had no idea what electricity or magnetism actually were. Where they came from. And I could never get past that incomprehension of first terms. The only part of Physics I understood was radioactivity and let's face it, that's chemistry anyway!
My destiny was clearly headed down the path of Arts curricula rather than Sciences, but was advised by sciency older cousins to continue with Physics to exam level rather than Biology. I was happy to duck out of Biology before I had to take up a dissecting scalpel, so I took their advice.
But then I had to confront the same conundrum as before. A complete dearth of understanding of the subject. I was advised by the same cousins that both curriculum and exam exactly mirrored the very good textbook, Abbott's Ordinary Level Physics 4th Edition. They counselled me, all I would have to do is learn the textbook from cover to cover (except the radioactivity section, cos I understood that).
And so I did. Like times tables and Latin suffixes, I learned every page by rote. Still didn't understand a single blasted word, but I could regurgitate it in an exam. I achieved a bang middle of the road unspectacular Grade B and took my path down the Arts subjects English & History and promptly forgot every bit of Physics I had committed to surface memory. They wouldn't let me do Chemistry without either Physics or Maths, so my third A-Level was the lamentable pseudo-science that is Economics which I hated then and now looking at Governments and Bankers, doubt that it is any kind of credible academic discipline whatsoever.
After University, somewhere along the line I started reading the odd bit of popular Science. I really can't remember how I developed an interest, but it could just have been down to Stephen Hawking, whose book "A Brief History Of Time" was a real best seller that adorned bookshelves (probably unopened) up and down the land. I stumbled my way through it and gleaned very little understanding. But I continued plodding along with Richard Dawkins and Steven J Gould, about 2 or 3 titles a year max.
I had a trans-Atlantic flight and decided to give "A Brief History Of Time" another go for its duration. This time I grasped most of it, until the String Theory stuff right at the end which made my head feel like it was full of spaghetti. Or string. From that point on, Physics held less fears, though I couldn't claim to understand all of it . But Stephen Hawking had cured me of my antipathy towards Physics through his wonderful writing. Complicated thoughts expressed with crystal precision and unafraid to offer a metaphor to aid understanding. 
For in my reading as a layperson, it struck me that science was full of metaphors. Precise mathematical and algebraic formulas may describe various physical laws of behaviour, but when scientists come to try and render it in words to help us see it, their language gets quite symbolic and metaphorical. For example, Schrödinger's Cat weaves a wonderful thought experiment about cats locked in boxes containing poisons. But this exercise in logic is neither meant as a practical experiment, but more importantly, nor is it meant as a proof, unlike the quantum mathematics it relates to. It is actually meant as a rebuttal to an interpretation ("The Copenhagen Interpretation") of Quantum Theory. It was meant as a reductio ad absurdum of the cat being both alive and dead in the box, until the observer opens the box to determine which of the actual two states the cat is.  The same thing happens with "The Butterfly Effect" in Chaos Theory. The idea is not that the flapping of a butterfly's wings can cause a storm on the other side of the world, rather it is illustrative of how even a small change of starting conditions can yield significant variations which explain why something like long-range weather forecasting is so unpredictable and unreliable. To me it's interesting that whatever the maths say, these two metaphors, of a flapping butterfly and an incarcerated cat, are not themselves hard and fast proofs, but rather fanciful flights of symbolic thought and metaphor.
Scientists are making rather wonderful advances in trying to unpick the mysteries of physical existence. They're on the trail of the fundamental building blocks of matter (The Higs Boson), Field Theory, the Human Genome and theories of mind. And with all these exciting new ways of conceiving, come metaphors. The scientists have stolen a march on us artists and writers in conjuring up new metaphors such a String Theory or the nature of subjectivity as new Virtual Reality technology allows us to experience somebody else's body. I don't really understand why writers haven't stepped up to the challenge and embraced all these new bodies of knowledge, precisely because they are so rich in symbolism and metaphor. If science is trying to unpick the nature of the subjective, the objective and how the observer influences what he observes, then why aren't novels also using putting in such ideas in our narrative structures? I honestly believe it's long overdue for writers to start trying to reclaim some of the territory currently occupied by scientists. We don't have to be overly well-versed in scientific understanding, merely come armed with a sense of curiosity. "Time After Time" represents my contribution to such a task. On the next page is an extended fictional riff on "Schrödinger's Cat".


Yes, that Barbara Windsor! Playing a similar role as Max Brod did for the works of Franz Kafka.
Technology's a wonderful thing isn't it? Upgrades, greater speed, power, memory, yada yada yada. I started my writing career in the old fashioned manner, penning my first stage play in ink on lined paper and typing up the finished version on an Olivetti portable. My first automated aide d'ecriver was an Amstrad word processor, with green monitor screen that made you feel queasy when you stared at it for too long.  

When it finally died, I only had what I printed up in hard copy, since although I had back-ups, I moved on to an AppleMac computer and there was no compatibility. I think the word processing programme was called Apple Write and eventually that was supplanted by newer programmes. I still have most of my stage plays backed up on this format, completely inaccessible to modern day programmes. Try and open them and you get a whole load of gobbledygook.

One of the plays I wrote received a rehearsed reading at the Young Vic Theatre studio directed by Philip Hedley. The reading was commissioned by the then fledgling The Arts Catalyst, a body looking to bring art practitioners together with scientists in collaboration to make new works of art. I'd attended a session at the Soho Theatre with 4 scientists including Professor Heinz Wolf and an embryologist which was handy for a play I was then honing for a performance run at the Southwark Playhouse. I sent Catalyst another play and this was the one they organised the reading for. But nothing further developed, as Catalyst went on to bigger and better things such as arts performances in zero gravity and I left theatre behind as my twin boys arrived in the world and kyboshed the ability to hang out at theatre bars night after night!

And there that play would have died. Archived on a programme I could no longer access. Without any hard copies during the various house moves attended on giving birth to twins. But some years later, through the post I received a copy of my original script. With a note from Barbara Windsor saying that as she was having a house clear-out, she had come across my script and was returning it to me. Her then partner, now husband Scott Harvey had been one of the actors in the rehearsed reading which is why she had a copy of the script lying around her house. I can't remember the exact chain of transmission, but someone had told me during the rehearsed reading arrangements, when contacting Scott, Barbara had answered the phone and summoned Scott to take the call with a "it's about that strange play!" I can die a happy man now that I've had my work described by Babs Windsor as "strange"!

So I was finally reunited with my play thanks to Barbara Windsor's kindness in recognising a playwright might need a copy of their own script rather than just throwing it in the bin. And though it was when I was no longer looking to have my work staged, waste not want not and in time I came to a decision to turn it into a novel...

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