Reader Response: Pebble in the Sky (conclusion)

It closed almost as strong as it opened, though this bears in mind the very opening, in the science lab in Chicago, an almost throw-away scene where Something Bad Happens that sets up the rest of the story, but is never explained, or, indeed, even referred to again. That was a neat chapter, and I wish the rest of the book had been more like it.

The close was much stronger than the beginning of the story with the tailor who could just as easily been sliced in two himself rather than the rag doll. By the end of the novel one thing after another was happening. Reasonable-sounding things, from a narrative point of view, yet from the point of view of the characters, totally unreasonable. It’s not exactly that nobody was listening to each other, as nobody could quite believe that people on the other side of the issue were saying the things they were saying.

And then, after all the talk-talk, lectures, arguments (as opposed to disputes), there were scenes of torture, interpersonal vengance with violence, and a covert, unauthorised, hypnotically compelled military mission with the effect of resolving the Problem while leaving the Plot untouched. And the resolution came on quickly, in the context of the book. Of course, it had to come on quickly since there was this deadline looming. The Villian had only to keep people talking until the deadline passed. Or so he thought, never reckoning on the possibility that the Mind Reader could actually Read Minds, despite the fact that he had, himself!, been under pretty severe Mind Control.

But it all seemed so reasonable during the reading. Very Michael Crichton-y. So, am I glad I read it? Of course I’m glad I read it. It’s one of Those Books… actually, it’s just a part of one of Those Books. I’ll have to read the entire Foundation/Empire/Robot saga to really have read it. Kind of like the remaining three Lensmen books or the Known Space books. I may not be overly impressed with any given part, but I look forward to being able to look back on it, to see its over all form. I’ll judge then if it was actually time well-spent.

Reader response: Pebble in the Sky (part 2)

So things have picked up a bit. Quite a bit, to be honest. A plot has emerged, and is unfolding apace. At this point it has been revealed the intent and scope of the Earthling Government, though the details haven’t been fully revealed. However, there are still too many lectures, though there seems to be a pattern to the writing style.

When elite characters talk, even to one another, they still tend to lecture to one another. Any plot development is more like a schematic of a story rather than the story itself. There’s a conversation between the high minister of Earth and his secretary. There’s a discussion between the archeologist and the high minister.

On the other hand there’s a really good discussion, from a plot and character point of view, between Schwartz and the old farmer over a chess game. Now, there is a lot of hoopde-hoo about the chess game itself. It’s neat, in a sort of abstract way, that Asimov uses an actual high-end chess match as the background for this conversation. It signals seriousness of purpose that the author would put an element into a story which works for those knowledgeable about the element to unravel. However, it remains the case that thus far Asimov’s prose contains a lot of stilted interjections demonstrating either the intelligence of the author (or injecting that intelligence into the charaters) or making unnecessary clarifications of pronouns and antecedents (clarifications better made by revising the prose).

Nevertheless, the plot, as it is unfolding, is an interesting one, and the characters, when they’re allowed to breath without Asimov pushing them around with his descriptions of their actions, are sympathetic. I care about them, what’s going on, and what’s going to happen. I look forward to seeing what’s next.

Pebble in the Sky initial thoughts…

So. Inspired by a question over at TrekWeb about the best order to read the Empire/Foundation/Robot books, I’ve decided to finally give this a go in the order of initial publication. Last night I started reading Pebble in the Sky, and got about three chapters into it. I expected a larger book, and I expected something different from what I gotten so far from the story.

Which isn’t to say I had any very solidly-formed expectations. Such expectations as I had were formed, I’m sure, twenty-odd years ago seeing a line of thick sci-fi paperback novels packed on the shelves in the basement of a friend. This visual, along with some modest discomfort at the idea of reading something purporting to deal with a galactic empire and something called a “foundation” probably kept me from these books all this time. It was just too much. I knew Asimov was a Big Deal Author, and had enjoyed “I, Robot” but just wasn’t ready for what I expected to be a big commitment. Then for years and years I just didn’t have much tolerance for fiction.

Like any of that matters.

So, here are my initial thoughts. Given the publication history, I’m going to assume that Larry Niven was profoundly influenced by Asimov, since I felt like I was reading something by the author of Ringworld. Early this year I re-read All the Myriad Ways, and last month read Ringworld. When I wasn’t reading Asimov twenty-odd years ago, I was reading a bunch of Known Space stuff, but I don’t think I ever read Ringworld.

Again, so what? So what is this. This sort of science fiction, maybe it has a category name, is like reading a lecture punctuated with bits of insider knowledge masquerading as levity. I found this especially true in the opening chapter when the tailor tries to figure out if his experience is a dream. Also, the initial conversation between the archaeologist and governor smacked of the Author Lecturing. Possibly the information needed introduction when the book was initially published.

On the other hand, maybe not. In the second chapter we are introduced to the world and culture of Earth in the future. This was done through characterization and dialog, and done effectively. As a reader I felt immersed in a world I didn’t understand, but which was effectively introduced and by the end of the chapter I felt both that the plot had advanced in a meaningful way and the world had been illuminated somewhat.

More when I’ve read more.

Star Trek’s two timelines

Abstract: The author originally posted this at TrekWeb (link defunct 2018/01/02). The author takes the position that the continued existence of the original Star Trek time line is plausible within Star Trek canon, and that the argument that the events shown in the 2009 movie necessarily mean the original time line has been (narratively) obliterated is hokum. Word count: ±800.

Quote from StillKirok:
It’s clear that the intent was to have them be the same people. So it’s the same universe, overwritten. The movie itself shows that, has no differences in time travel than with previously established canon, and the only “hope” for the prime universe is comments that were clearly meant to appease hardcore fans but have no backing in the movie itself.

This business that the general principle of time travel in Star Trek is that it always endangers the previous time line is hokum. Call it overwriting, obliterating, replacing, throwing in the trash, what-have-you. It’s still hokum.

Sometimes, like in “City on the Edge of Forever,” it appears to. Appears to. Our heroes lose contact with the ship and the Guardian tells them what’s what. And they accept it because it’s consistent with their experience. Then they go back in time, figure out that when McCoy–off screen–prevented the death of Edith Keeler things changed, and that to fix them they have to let her die. Then, having let her die, they all get to come home, and things are fixed.

This interpretation–that a change in the past obliterated our heroes’ present, and that they fixed things by their actions in the past–relies on an assumption that the Guardian gave an accurate assessment of the situation.

On the other hand, we are faced with the time travel story in the movie called The Voyage Home. In that movie our heroes go back in time and make–on screen–at least four significant alterations in the time line. And these don’t include the incidental interactions the characters have (into which category I’ll even put the “Chekov’s arrest and surgery” subplot).

The first is when McCoy and Scotty give transparent aluminum to that 20th Century engineer. This is an incursion of advanced technology into the past. In the new movie the mere implication of advanced technology is enough to make major changes in the technology and design of things in the new time line. What changes in the future time line might happen with transparent aluminum available so many, many years before it was supposed to be? McCoy and Scott briefly wonder, but leave it to the side with a glib, “how do we know he didn’t invent the stuff?” We don’t, of course, know that he didn’t invent the stuff, but it’s a change in the time line even if he was ‘supposed’ to invent it when it appears on his Macintosh computer fully-formed in the late 1980s rather than as a result of years of development.

The second is when McCoy gives the dialysis patient a pill and she grows a new kidney. This is another example of the Edith Keeler problem. What was that woman ‘supposed’ to do as a dialysis patient? What will she do now? What changes to the time line might her no longer needing dialysis cause? How about the fact that she grew a new kidney? Might this lead to the early discovery of McCoy’s organ-growing pills? What changes might this early discovery cause?

The third and fourth changes occur at the same time, and are essentially additional examples of the Edith Keeler problem. Our heroes remove from the time line Dr. Taylor (#3) and the whales (#4). What might these beings not do now that they were ‘supposed’ to do before? It might be argued that the whales can’t affect the time line. I’d respond that clearly humpback whales (generally considered) are very important or that probe wouldn’t be there looking for them in our heroes’ present. It’s therefore possible that any individual whale might be important to the ‘proper’ unfolding of the time line, even if that importance is largely invisible to humans.

Yet, with all of these alterations to events–and remember that these aren’t ‘merely’ interactions with 20th Century people which could be shrugged off; these are actual material changes in the flow of events, changes caused by our heroes–when our heroes go home they end up… home. They even manage to pop out within a handful of seconds of when they left. The initial crisis for which time travel seemed a reasonable solution continues unchanged. There is no alteration in the time line. None.

My point isn’t that, within Star Trek stories, time travel cannot cause an existential threat to the time line, but rather that within canon there appears to be ample evidence that mere alterations in the time line do not necessarily cause the obliteration of the original time line. And the fact that our point of view changes (including both our POV as viewers, and the POV of our characters)–we were following one time line and now we are following a different one–does not have any implications for the continued existence (or not) of the time line we were following in the first place.

All we can say for sure is that, sometimes, time travel causes our heroes to become disconnected from their home time lines and that sometimes it does not. Because that is all we’ve really seen–on screen.


On ‘science!’ On ‘fiction!’ On ‘science fiction!’ Now dash away, all!

Abstract: The author originally posted this at TrekWeb (now defunct 2018/01/02). The author takes the position that demanding a lot of science in Star Trek misses a lot of Star Trek. (Word count: ±1,000 words)

Quote (from TrekWeb member Cylykon):
If the “future” is that Star Trek is to be written by those numb-nutz, Orci and Kurtzman, from now on, then I don’t think I’ll accept it at all. They’ve already aptly demonstrated that they have less of a grasp of the “science” in “science fiction” than the writers for Space 1999. I wish I could personally thank Andre Bormanis for doing one hell of a job for keeping the “science” in “science fiction” for “Classic Trek”.


I don’t know about insisting upon a high degree of emphasis on ‘science’ in the ‘science fiction’ of Star Trek as the sole (or even most important) criterion for judging good Star Trek. A science advisor, even one who’s a good fiction writer, is potentially always hamstrung by both the ‘science’ part of ‘science fiction’ and by the needs of the ‘fiction’ part. We, as viewers (readers, consumers of the product), have to choose what level of plausibility we require to enjoy what we’ve been presented with. It sounds like you, Cylykon, require a very high degree of scientific backstopping for Star Trek, which is fine. I find most of the science and technology presented in Star Trek most of the time to be minimally plausible in terms of the science. In terms of moving a story forward, if the technology does what is needed to maintain the dramatic tension or propel the narative, then I’m OK with it, pretty much no matter what.

Faster-than-light travel? AOK. Beaming? I’m there. Tricorders? Communicators? Magic wands in the kit bag of the ship’s medical officer? You betcha. I’m OK with what the technology does, but I don’t really care about the explanations for how it works, because I expect that if current or future real-world technology does the same things (has the same effects), it will do it for different reasons than the scripted drama offers me today.

But, in any case, I never really thought that the science in Star Trek had to do any of the shows’ heavy lifting. Star Trek, for me, has never been about the science; it’s been about the people. And this is especially true of the Classic Trek Kirk-Spock-McCoy stories. It’s been a while since I watched the original series, but I don’t recall it having a terribly strong grip on science. (Engrams?) Spock’s extra eyelids was a pretty good example, I think, of pretty good science in Star Trek. No doubt there were others.

In Star Trek: The Motion Picture the characters talk about how V’Ger fell into what “they used to call a black hole.” In the new movie Nero and Spock also fall into a black hole. It seems Star Trek means something different by the term ‘black hole’ than our current science does; my understanding is that if something ‘falls into a black hole’ then it doesn’t come out–not on the far side of the galaxy, and not in the past. And I’m perfectly willing to accept that the use of the term ‘black hole’ in both movies was a MacGuffin; in neither movie does the story hinge on the real-world science of ‘black holes,’ it hinges on our heroes’ response to some other problem made possible by the ‘black hole,’ whatever a ‘black hole’ in the movie actually is.

Similarly, in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home we get our lecture on time travel from Dr. McCoy, and it’s more of a sketch of a lecture at best, but it keys into an episode from the original series–it may be bad science, but at least it’s consistent. In this movie, our heroes travel back in time and make at least four significant changes: they take someone into the future (even if she wasn’t ‘supposed’ to have descendants, who knows what else she was ‘supposed’ to do, and our heroes didn’t even ask (not that I’d expect the Klingon computers to be any help)– it’s the Edith Keeler situation revisited); they take two whales into the future (possibly not significant for human history, but clearly the whales have something going on, or else there wouldn’t be a probe looking for them; George and Gracie’s absence might have a significant effect on the time line); Dr. McCoy gives an old woman a pill and she grows a new kidney (again, the Edith Keeler problem presents itself even aside from the odd science of McCoy keeping a ready supply of organ-growing pills handy, and the odd narrative mechanic of him having such a supply at this point in the larger multi-movie cycle; what was that woman ‘supposed’ to do as a dialysis patient that she won’t do now?); our heroes introduce transparent aluminum (the incursion of advanced technology into the past; this is one of the explanations for why the technology in the new movie’s time line is significantly different from the original series’s technology, so we might expect a significant alteration of the time line from this event alone). Yet, with all these interferences with the flow of events (and with only a passing nod to the fact that they’re interfering when McCoy and Scotty talk about the aluminum–after they’ve let the cat out of the bag, by the way), when they return home, our heroes find themselves in an unaltered time line.

My point isn’t to nitpick the science in these shows and movies (though it might be to poke a little on the ‘time travel is fraught with existential danger to the time line’ threads we’ve seen so much of here at TrekWeb lately). My point is that the storytellers pick the level of scientific verisimilitude they need to tell the story at hand. But if the science is going to get in the way of the story, it seems to be let go. (And I realize that TNG and DS9 certainly have a better grip on the science than the original series; but they also suffer from the ‘critique of technobabble.’ For me technobabble isn’t just a term for bad or made-up science, it’s a term for relying too much on science of any sort in order to keep the viewer oriented within the story or to keep the story moving.)

And here’s the science-y reason why the story tellers have to pick their level of scientific verisimilitude: real-world science is always going to outstrip the story science. In ten years much of the science in any given story will be outdated from the point of view of the viewers. And if not in ten years, then eventually it will be. No matter how good the science is, unless it’s both firmly settled, and easy to present to a layman, eventually it’s going to be wrong. Or misguided, or incomplete. Which is to say implausible as science. So the storyteller’s first obligation is to the story, because if the story is good, I think most viewers will be willing to give the science a pass, like I do with the ‘black holes’ and the changes in the time line business from the above examples.

If someone can tell a good Star Trek story with good science, then great! I’m all for that. But to hold that Star Trek is somehow harmed–or that the writers are somehow failures, or that the fans have been presented with a disservice–by the presentation of otherwise entertaining stories with, at best, questionable science seems to ignore a major thread in the way Star Trek has done stories from the very beginning–after all, even “The Cage” relied on interstellar telepathy as its MacGuffin.

Take care

Alternate, alternate, and how do I get there from here?

Abstract: The author contends, at great length, that alternate time lines have always been a part of Star Trek. Any perception that time lines could be obliterated was a misunderstanding on the part of characters and viewers caused by the story telling needs of the writers. (± 3,000 words)

Ooba dooba, over at TrekWeb there’s a simmering foldorol about the original Star Trek time line and its existential relationship with the new time line established by this year’s movie. In broad outlines, does the new time line obliterate the original one? (There are various terms: old/new, original/alternate, Shatnerverse/Abramsverse, Prime/New, Prime/Alternate, and on and on. I’m just going to say original and new for now. Incidentally, I’m aware that the term ‘Shatnerverse’ is more narrowly applied to the Star Trek stories written by William Shatner.)

So. Has the new time line obliterated the original one? In a certain, very important sense, I think the answer is “probably.” It seems to me the likelihood of any future movies being set in the original time line is vanishingly small. It also seems unlikely that any potential future TV series will be set in the original time line. I think that the owners of Star Trek will want to direct the production costs for any new movie or TV series toward a proven product line, and right now the new time line is successful and the original time line isn’t. At least not as regards movies and TV.

But, more interesting to me is this question: has, within the context of the story, the new time line as obliterated the original time line? And what could that possbily mean for a fictional place? Some fans say, yes, absolutely, the Prime time line is gone, baby, gone, and that’s the way time travel works in Star Trek. Changes to events in the past mean the characters’ present becomes something unrecognizable. Exhibit A: “The City on the Edge of Forever.”

The production team of the new movie have apparently gone on record asserting that the original time line is still in place. This indicates that the first set of fans is mistaken about something more fundamental than a failure to “suspend disbelief and trust the storyteller.”

A second set of fans says, look, obviously the original time line is still out there, they’re still publishing novels and comic books in it. Perhaps more powerfully, the online game published a graphic approved by Paramount showing events in the original time line, including events subsequent to the departure of Nero. At this point the debate can break down into highly nuanced discussions about what it means to be cannon. Over in the Star Wars fanbase, there’s a hierarchy of cannon which could be applied to Star Trek. I’m not going to do all that homework.

And anyway consider Exhibit B: “Parallels.”

What I’m interested in is the kind of story mechanics involved in an effort to reconcile these differences. I think it’s possible, but it relies on fan speculation and the building of a tower of references.

So, let’s assume that what we’ve seen is right, that both Exhibit A and Exhibit B show how reality works for Star Trek. In the one case, a change in the time line caused Our Heroes to be cast up on the shores of reality with no home, and, for that matter, no way to get there even if they had one. In the other case, Our Heroes encounter a plethora of copies of themselves, more or less, with minor-to-major differences amongst them. Though we really only have to look at the fact that the Mirror Universe is out there.

I don’t know what “out there” means. If space-time is a 4 dimensional construct, and there are alternate versions then they must be “stacked,” if you will, in some construct of at least 5 dimensions. Seems I’ve heard that guy on Nova talk about super string theory needing 11 dimensions. I don’t know. It doesn’t matter, we’re talking about fiction here. So imagine each of these alternate realities occupying its own book in a library. Chuck Jones did a cartoon about it once. Characters can visit one another’s books. Also, I’ve seen some discussion in the context of Star Trek about the differences between alternate time lines, alternate realities, alternate universes, and alternate dimensions. I suppose there might be differences, but I’m not convinced there’s a real difference between any of these distinctions. So I’m not going to bother with them.

Back to the issue at hand. We’ve seen both versions of how the world works for Our Heroes; as fans we’ve seen it. But, here the thing, we’ve only seen it as Our Heroes have seen it, and they’ve only seen it as the writers have let them see it. So, the writers have been having Our Heroes perceive time travel in a certain way… in a linear way dependent upon their own narrative. “I’m Commander Riker of the Federation Starship Enterprise, and yesterday was the last day I shaved.” Each character–no matter how mind-bendingly complex the time travel story is, no matter how odd the changes are, no matter how difficult or easy it is to correct the time line subsequent to those changes–each character only perceives those changes as a sequence of events that take place one after the other. Even Archer’s experience, whatever that ultimately was, during the Temporal Cold War story took place as a series of events with a beginning, a whole lotta middle, and an end.

And we, as viewers, followed that story. All we, as viewers, ‘know’ about how the world works in Star Trek is what we’ve seen. Which is to say what we’ve been told through the beliefs and actions of Our Heroes by the writers. And there have been a lot of writers, each of them mainly trying to tell a good story at the moment of telling. As viewers, we have taken upon ourselves the task of constructing a Theory of How Time Travel And Alternate Realities Work In Star Trek. It’s a subset of continuity or cannon. So now we have been presented with a definitive statement that seems new. How can it be fit into the Theory?

So here’s the thing: Exhibit B tells us that in the Star Trek world there’s a whole lottalotta that we don’t see, and almost never see. Our Heroes, understandably, get all worked up about “changing the time line back.” What they perceive as destruction of their time line is more like a dislocation; they’ve lost contact with their home. They can’t see it, so, from their point of view it’s gone. (Exhibit A.) And in fan discussion there’s been a lot of speculation about what it would take for Spock Prime to do just that. There are some known ways for Spock Prime to time travel, but what we’ve now seen is that every change in the time line creates a new time line. I’m moving firmly into the realm of fan speculation, here, and I’m going to rely on a non Star Trek sci-fi source here: Larry Niven’s “All the Myriad Ways.”

In that story, Larry Niven presents the argument that for every possible outcome of a situation, every possible outcome actually happens, creating an alternate time line. The plot of the story depends on the discovery of a way to move between the alternatives. What’s noted in the story is that when someone is moving between alternatives, then that someone goes to every alternative–a decision is made and every outcome actually happens.

Back to Star Trek. The current writer’s don’t have any motivation to have Spock Prime “fix the timeline.” From Spock Prime’s point of view he either can try to fix things or he can make a home for himself in the new universe in which he finds himself. Obviously, in the first place, in order for him to do it, some writer’s going to have to come up with the story for it. There’s no reason to expect this. Some writer may want to do something with Spock Prime, something major, or even minor, I suppose, and may feel a need to address the issue of why Spock Prime either a) doesn’t want to–or b) is unable to–“go back and fix things.”

I’ll throw a couple of things out on this. Maybe Spock Prime doesn’t want to “go back and fix things.” He’s old, maybe even old for a Vulcan, almost certainly old for a Vulcan/Human, and certainly old for a Human, even in the future where Our Heroes are able to live a very long time. Maybe he’s seen enough, or done enough, or feels (yes, feels) that he can do more good (however that could possibly be gauged) by staying where he is and doing whatever he’s going to do there. Maybe he feels this new reality has as much existential right to be as his home reality did, and thinks that if the original was wiped out in favor of this new one, that may be regrettable, but doesn’t want to wipe out the new one, either. Or maybe, like the viewers, Spock Prime understands that the original one is still out there, somewhere, and he’s just left it and it’s as OK/messed-up as it was before he got sucked out of it. So he might just as well stick around where he is now. Where he is now is almost certainly more comfortable than the Romulan underground he spent so much time in back home. Maybe in the new timeline he’ll decide to attempt Romulan/Vulcan reconciliation again.

Or maybe he can’t go back. We, as viewers, don’t really understand how time travels actually works. I mean the math and stuff. We’ve seen it work, of course. We’ve heard characters discuss it as if it’s not much more difficult (compared with space travel), than, say climbing Mt. Everest (compared with a walk across a town square). You know, doable if you know what you’re doing, but not something to undertake lightly. Maybe one of the rules in time travel and going back where you came from is you have to do it the same way. Maybe you need to be dealing with the same mass. Maybe you need to do the return trip before the trail goes cold–within a few days, say. Maybe the technology available to Spock Prime isn’t up to the task of initiating a one-way trip to the future. (To this last one, Spock Prime is ‘returning home’ but is the Jellyfish up to the task structurally? Does it have the computational oomph to do it? On and on.)

Any one of these things would be enough to keep Spock Prime where we left him, and it’s up to the writer of Spock Prime’s future to decide what’s what. Maybe the writer even decides that Spock Prime wants to fix things, is technologically able to, and (from a plot point of view) even succeeds. What does that mean for we viewers who are curious about the Theory?

Not very much, I’ll contend. The new movie has presented us with a robust and flexible understanding of alternate time lines within Star Trek storytelling. Again, I’m going to lean on Niven here. Under Exhibit B and in the new movie we are given this view that there are a lot of possible time lines, that they all really exist from a story point of view, and that it’s possible to move between them. As noted above, it’s up to any given writer to determine if it’s possible for any given character to move between them, or even be aware that the alternates actually exist. At this point there’s no reason to think Spock Prime is aware that they exist, though it’s possible, since he was active after the events in Exhibit B. But it doesn’t really matter.

Something Niven proposed is that every instant options occur, and that every option actually happens, so that every instant, no matter how small your units of time are measured, an infinity of alternate time lines are created. In his story one can travel between them, leaving behind a beacon so one can get ‘home’ at the end of the trip. Since, while one is travelling decisions are still being made back home, when it’s time to return, there are an infinity of options, all of which are the ‘right’ one. And since choosing which one to go home to is a decision, one actually goes ‘home’ to all of them. Maybe in Star Trek it doesn’t work exactly like that. Maybe only “big decisions” branch the time line. Maybe characters are limited to time lines in some way related to their own histories.

But the point is, I think that even if Spock Prime were to succeed in his desire to ‘fix’ the time line, or prevent the death of George Kirk or the destruction of Vulcan, he would only do so within the context of another newly created time line. His home time line would still be out there, the time line created by the events of the new movie would still be out there, and now another new time line within which Spock Prime managed to prevent whatever harm was done by Nero in the new movie.

So Spock Prime apparently cannot undo the creation of the new time line, but he might have an adventure attempting to. Now the question is: is that a good story? In Exhibit A, the adventure hinged on two things, the challenge of fixing the time line and the discovery and healing of Dr. McCoy. The moment of crisis was Edith Keeler’s death. Our Heroes perceived the creation of a new time line as a problem to be solved, because they were unable to get home. And they perceived the condition of Dr. McCoy as a problem because he is a beloved friend and colleague. In Exhibit B the problem was the headaches involved with having a bunch of Enterprises zipping around, and the headaches implicit in the bunch of time lines suddenly without their Enterprises. In both cases the problem has more to do with Our Heroes’ perceptions of outcomes to changes in the time line than with the changes themselves. The time line isn’t broken, it’s natural for it to branch under certain (currently unknown, even to we viewers) circumstances. In Exhibit A, it’s “we can’t get home, but we can attempt to solve that problem by changing something in the past.” In Exhibit B it’s “there are too many Enterprises here, we have to get them home and lock the door behind them.” But all those alternatives are always out there, and they’re still out there after the adventure. It’s just that now Our Heroes are comfortable with their circumstances again, and time travel and adjusting events in the past was the way to get there.

And some have pretty critical things to say about this, like over at The essential argument here is that, if every thing that could happen does happen, then there’s no narrative tension. There’s no reason to be invested in these characters or their dilemmas because it could just as easily be a different story. Another problem articulated from this view is that it makes our POV characters less human, because when they encounter their counterparts we viewers aren’t as affected by their deaths because it’s just the death of a copy, and if there are an infinite number of copies out there, why get so worked up? We’ll see the character again. Who worries too much about the 250th copy from the photocopier if it gets jammed and thrown out? Nobody, of course.

This is an understandable position, and TV Tropes shtick is to take a hard line on the things is goes on about. Which is great. I think the gimmick can get worn if the story in question is a running story (like a TV series) and this business of moving among alternates is central to the story. On the other hand the alternate story over in the Star Trek comics called “Last Generation” gives us every reason to care, while still knowing it’s not Our Heroes… except, if you find the story well done then they are Our Heroes, and what happens to them affects us without diminishing how what happens to Our Heroes in the Prime time line affects us.

What about making the continuity too complex? What about over-saturation of the market? What about the lessons of Crisis on Infinite Earths? Ack! Gadzooks! And Good Grief!

I don’t know. What about them? If the story is well done, then I don’t think all of that matters. It may be that DC made a mess of trying to clean up a mess. But that may be an execution thing. If the story telling isn’t good, you’re not going to get a good story. If one relies too heavily on a story tool–universal crisises, travel between alternate time lines, all-title-cross-overs, then, sure, things are going to get complex and difficult to follow, and maybe even unacceptable to the consumers. But in small doses, with the steady hand of a good editor, none of these story telling tools are bad.

So, here we are, almost three thousand words gone from our lives, and where are we, actually? I don’t think the Prime time line is gone, baby, gone. I don’t think fiction works that way. It’s still out there… all those books, TV shows, movies and so on. They still exist, and always will. And as long as the copyright holders are willing to pay writers to keep telling stories, it will continue to develop. I don’t think that the fact that the Prime time line still exists violates cannon. To the degree that it might seem to, I think it’s just an expanded understanding of what we’ve seen before. We’re being asked to look at what we’ve seen before in a new way. It’s not necessary that we like it, but that doesn’t mean it’s inconsistant with what we’ve seen before. Unreliable narrators and characters who don’t know the full truth are hardly innovations now. It’s always the job of the writers to tell a good story, but there’s nothing inherent about alternate time line stories that precludes telling an affecting, moving, thrilling story.

Thanks for your time.


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