Thursday, June 9, 2011

Time-Travelling: A Storytelling Paradox?

The last week has been kind of crazy--I was out of town with my fiancée for the weekend, and although I was supposed to leave for home in Canada right after that, I've been delayed due to an attempted break-in on my van. Fortunately, precious little was taken (though I've been on Bricklink for a week hunting down replacement parts to the handful of figs I was taking back to Canada), but in attempting to hotwire the van, they damaged the ignition, and I've had to wait for parts to get that fixed--not a hugely expensive job, thankfully, but a week's delay. Meanwhile, it's been in the upper 90 degrees Fahrenheit (so the 30+ range Celsius) and humid in Boston, which has utterly drained me of the desire to do a whole lot of anything.

Consequently, I've spent a whole lot of time on TV Tropes, and this has recently got me thinking about LEGO stories, and why I write the way I write. To start this off, I've posted a map below of my LEGO world, as it appeared in 2003 or so, back in the days of my old "LEGO Books." It is not the world of Grandfather's Tale or even Aquazone Breakfast News, but it is still more or less valid for the ongoing mental legendarium in my head that derives from the old LEGO books.

The first thing that you should note about this map is that you have Castle realms on the top, separated from the "Wild West" by a chain of mountains (the "Wild West" is actually in the northeast), which is north of Legoland (Town and related themes), with the Ninja in a landlocked region in the centre, and the Pirates on the southern coast. The Aquazone are offshore to the west, and although the Space themes have no part in this map, they are part of the same world--only millions of light-years away on other planets.

The reason for this mass-smushing together of themes is the fact that I used to like having games where figs from one theme could interact with another. Adventurers were particularly popular for such games, but the Xtreme Team, Alpha Team, Arctic Adventurers, Wild West cowboys, Space explorers, and many others all partook of this at one time or another. What's more to the point is that I could never quite bring myself to use time-travel as a means to do this.

"But wait, Formy!" says the sharp-eyed reader, "isn't there a Time Mountain on your map? What's that about?"

Well, actually, that's about the Time Cruisers--who were incidentally another frequent inter-theme visitor... they just rarely got to time-travel. While I had no real problem using the Hypno-Disk to transport the Time Cruisers from Legoland across the continent, into outer space, or even into a completely different world (I recall they went to Narnia a few times), I just couldn't bring myself to use it to travel through time--at least not very often.

The issue, I think, is that even as a twelve- or fourteen-year-old, I had a conceptual problem with the idea of time travel, and after having acquired a degree in Philosophy, I still have a problem with it. Why this was a major problem for me playing LEGO is more difficult to explain, but I was that sort of kid: I didn't have the slightest problem with 2 Black Knights taking out a 15-man Fright Knight/Bull Knight alliance, or with Wild West cowboys crossing the mountains to find the Black Falcons--to say nothing of imagining the Aquazone as an underwater civilization fuelled by hydrolator crystals--but I couldn't do time travel.

The funny thing is that time travel stories are among my favourite ones in science-fiction (or, as they like to call it more broadly, "speculative fiction").

At the heart of my problem with time-travel is the fact that I have a fairly strong conviction that humans have free will. This follows logically from being a Catholic, and even as a thirteen-year-old, I knew that "if we have free will, then the future is not determined." To put this as a logical argument:

A. If we have free will, the future cannot be determined.
B. If the future cannot be determined until it has happened, it cannot be visited until it has happened.


C. If we have free will, time travel is impossible.

Well, time travel to the future, anyway... but while it might be less thoroughly reasoned out on my part, it always seemed to me that if you can't travel forward in time, it makes little sense to be able to go back. Part of this intuition no doubt has to do with the fact that most time travel stories tend to depict travel in both directions--but unless there is some sort of "meta-time" time going on, then if you can't travel to the future from the present, you can't travel to the present from the past, since from the past's perspective it would be the future.

And that, in a nutshell, is why you can swim the LEGO River from the land of the Townies to walk to the Imperial Armada, and why the Hypno-Disk can cameo in last week's Aquazone Breakfast News as a trans-LEGO-verse zapper, but will never function as a time-travelling device.

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