Science in the Chronoverse: Chronotheory

In the last few posts, we’ve seen the step-by-step progression of science in the Tomorrow News Network universe (a.k.a. the chronoverse). And at each step along the way, we’ve gotten a little closer to the true nature of time, ultimately leading to the discovery that yes, time travel is possible.

Of course we can travel through time. Time is an illusion of our own creation meant to confuse the lesser species.

-Anonymous quote.

In primitive science, time was believed to be absolute, unchanging, and unchangeable. Thanks to general relativity, we know that time can be accelerated, and with hyperspace theory, we’ve learned that time can be reversed (certain restrictions apply).

But to really understand how time works, we must delve into the forbidden science of chronotheory.

The Structure of Time

The chronoverse is composed of filaments called temporal strings. If you like, you could think of these temporal strings as individual atoms or particles stretched out in four-dimensional space (i.e.: the dimension of time).

Temporal strings are known to weave together, sometimes getting tangled into knots. They’re also known to fray apart. The mesh-like structure these strings produce is, quite literally, the tapestry of history.

Technically I could lose my job for meddling with history. But it’s not meddling if I’m trying to fix the timeline.

-Talie Tappler.

But as any good chronotheorist will tell you, temporal strings do not sit still. They sway back and forth. They vibrate, sometimes by only a little bit, sometimes by a lot, with the resulting oscillations propagating forward and backward through time.

The Temporal Uncertainty Principle

The past is constantly changing due to the natural vibrations of temporal strings. This has been known to drive some chronotheorists insane when they realize that as the past changes, so too do their memories of it.

However, certain events in space-time are less susceptible to change than others. A historical event’s stability can be quantified as its chronological resistance, measured in temporal ohms.

Observation is key. The more a historical event is observed, the higher the chronological resistance becomes. By analogy with the uncertainty principle of quantum mechanics, which also depends on observation, this has come to be known as the temporal uncertainty principle.

The Tomorrow News Network

By an edict of the Galactic Inquisitor, chronotheoretical research is severely restricted. Nobody wants rogue time travelers running around meddling with history. This has led chronotheory to be known as the forbidden science.

However, the court of the Galactic Inquisitor recognizes that there is a need to reduce the amount of temporal uncertainty in the universe. Therefore, time travel is permitted for the purposes of observation only.

The most noteworthy time traveling organization is the Tomorrow News Network. T.N.N. employees not only go back in time to observe historical events; they broadcast historical observations in the guise of news reports, which are seen by billions upon billions of viewers throughout the galaxy.

Time travel is an inherently illogical activity—this use of it even more so.

-Mr. Cognis.

Although few outsiders realize or appreciate this, the Tomorrow News Network does more to protect and stabilize the space-time continuum than any other person or organization in the known universe.

Of course, protecting the universe means the Tomorrow News Network has made a few enemies. For now, those enemies shall remain unnamed. Trust me. Everybody’s safer that way.

You’d be surprised how small and simple-looking a functional time machine can be.

You’d be surprised how small and simple-looking a functional time machine can be.

Science in the Chronoverse: Hyperspace Science

I’m currently in the process of re-world-building the Tomorrow News Network series, and a key part of that is getting to know how science works in the T.N.N. universe (a.k.a. the chronoverse). Previously, we’ve looked at so-called primitive science and relativistic science. We now come to:

HYPERSPACE SCIENCE

There are countless stars in the chronoverse, each with its own collection of orbiting planets. On a select few of these planets, life has taken root. And occasionally, that life has evolved into intelligent life.

As the various intelligent species of the chronoverse venture out into space, they eventually learn, either on their own or from their neighbors, that it is possible to travel faster than light.

The science behind FTL travel is known as hyperspace theory, and the technology is called the jump drive.

Jump Drive Technology

When a spaceship engages its jump drive, the ship effectively blinks out of existence. It jumps to a place that is said to be “outside the universe,” a place beyond normal, three-dimensional space.

The ship then drops back into normal space, blinking back into existence at some new location. The greater the distance you want to travel, the more energy is required to make the jump. Other factors can also raise the energy requirements of a hyperspace jump (more on that in a moment).

The E.E.S. Valkyrie approaches Litho mining colony after dropping out of hyperspace.

The E.E.S. Valkyrie approaches Litho mining colony after dropping out of hyperspace.

But if we remember our general relativity, we know that space and time are inextricably linked. So when a spaceship jumps to a different point in space, it also jumps to a different point in time. Typically, a point in time before the time when it left.

Initially, hyperspace theory alarmed physicists on Earth. The mathematics of hyperspace not only allow travel backwards through time but make it a necessary consequence of FTL travel. What does this do to causality? What’s to prevent time travel paradoxes?

Chronomagnetic Forces

When you try to push two magnets together, either positive to positive or negative to negative, the magnets resist. They repel each other. The harder you try to force the magnets together, the harder they push back.

Something similar can happen to spacecraft traveling through hyperspace. A hyperspace jump from point A to point B doesn’t seem to be a problem, but when you try to return from point B to point A—a trip which could allow you to meet your past self—you encounter a strange, resistant force.

The harder you fight against this force, the harder it fights back. You need to put more and more energy into your jump drive, or your exit point from hyperspace will be deflected away from your intended destination. In many cases, you cannot overcome this resistant force no matter how much energy you use.

It’s as though your present self and past self magnetically repel each other. This is called the chronomagentic effect or the chronomagnetic force. It’s something hyperspace theory failed to predict and could not account for once it was discovered. It would seem hyperspace theory is (or was, or will be, depending on your perspective) an incomplete theory.

In the final post for this science in the chronoverse series, we’ll find out more about chronomagnetic forces, as well as chronological resistance and temporal strings. And we’ll find out how time can be manipulated, how history can be changed, using the forbidden science of chronotheory.

Science in the Chronoverse: Relativistic Science

I’m currently in the process of re-world-building the Tomorrow News Network series, and a key part of that is getting to know how science works in the T.N.N. universe (a.k.a. the chronoverse). Moving on from so-called primitive science, we now come to:

RELATIVISTIC SCIENCE

The term “light-speed engine” is something of a misnomer. Nothing with mass can travel at the speed of light, but it is possible for a spaceship to reach a significant fraction of that speed.

By the 25th Century, a trip from Earth to Mars would only take an hour or two. A trip to Neptune would take a few days, and a voyage to the nearest star (Proxima Centauri) could be done in about a decade. However, such journeys come with a cost.

The Price of General Relativity

In relativistic physics, acceleration through space is directly linked to acceleration through time. This effect, known as time dilation, was predicted by Einstein’s theory of general relativity all the way back in 1915.

Time dilation has its advantages. During long journeys, time flys by—literally! That decade-long journey to Proxima might seem like only a year or two for the crew of a time-dilated spaceship.

But the hard truth about space travel is that you can never truly come home. Brave, young travelers who venture out into deep space will likely return home, still young, to find that everyone they once knew has grown old or passed away due to old age.

For civilizations just starting to spread their wings, time dilation is a nuisance and a curse. It leads to a lot of painful goodbyes as people accelerate into the future, and it creates enormous challenges for maintaining a cohesive social order across star systems.

The Pauper’s Time Machine

However, relativistic time dilation allows for what’s sometimes called a pauper’s time machine. By pushing a light-speed drive system to its limits, wannabe time travelers can travel hundreds or thousands or even millions of years into the future.

Fleeing religious persecution, the Community of Cygni used “pauper’s time machines” to escape into the far distant future.

Fleeing religious persecution, the Community of Cygni used “pauper’s time machines” to escape into the far distant future.

Of course this method of time travel only allows you to travel into the future; it will not take you into the past. In that sense, the pauper’s time machine is not a true time machine.

To travel backward in time, you’d have to find a way to travel faster than light. And that’s impossible. Or is it?

In the next Science in the Chronoverse post, we’ll see how jump drives work, and we’ll find out why jump drive technology doesn’t cause time travel paradoxes.

P.S.: If this interpretation of general relativity interests you, may I suggest The Forever War by Joe Haldeman. Among other things, it’s a great story of time dilation and difficult homecomings.

Science in the Chronoverse: Primitive Science

When I originally wrote the Tomorrow News Network series back in 2012/2013, I sort of made stuff up as I went along. Which is fine. I had a lot of stories I wanted to tell, and sometimes a writer’s gotta do what a writer’s gotta do.

But now that I’m revising all the T.N.N. stories in preparation for a 2017 relaunch of the series, I find that I’m left with a bunch of continuity problems between stories. So I’m now trying to do the kind of consistent world-building that I should have been doing all along.

In that spirit, today’s post is the first in a series of posts about science in the T.N.N. universe (a.k.a. the chronoverse). Today we begin with what citizens of the chronoverse would call…

PRIMITIVE SCIENCE

Primitive science is what we modern humans think of as classical physics. It’s all about falling apples and the orbits of planets and moons. It’s about objects in motion, and electric currents, and waves of light (not particle-wave duality). Primitive science can give you combustion engines and airplanes, and maybe even computers and rocket ships.

But the most important aspect of primitive science, the one thing that defines it in the context of the chronoverse as a whole, is the illusion of absolute time.

Absolute Time

One second of time equals any other second of time. Every day, every hour, every minute… they’re all the same, progressing at a constant rate. Time never goes faster, never goes slower, and it certainly never turns around to go in reverse. At least, that’s how it seems from a primitive scientist’s perspective.

In the chronoverse, modern Earth looks like a fairly primitive planet, but do not be fooled by appearances.

When the Hykonians visited Earth in 1947, they were surprised to find a civilization already transitioning from primitive science to something more advanced.

When the Hykonians visited Earth in 1947, they were surprised to find a civilization already transitioning from primitive science to something more advanced.

First with Albert Einstein, and then with many others, humanity began to realize that our perception of time is relative, and that time can be affected by forces like gravity or acceleration.

Relativistic Time

By the end of the 22nd Century, humanity would develop its first so-called light-speed drive system. The name is misleading. Spacecraft still couldn’t travel at the speed of light, but they could come very close to it. As a result, relativistic time dilation (as predicted by general relativity) would no longer be a matter of abstract physics but an everyday reality for travelers all over the Solar System and beyond.

At this point, Earth and its growing number of colonies would have fully transitioned from an era of primitive science to a new age of scientific understanding. And with the illusion of absolute time brushed aside, humanity would have taken its first steps toward uncovering the secret knowledge of time travel.

Behind the Writing: Journalists in Time

To be honest, I’ve been procrastinating about writing this post. So far, I’ve told you about the inspiration behind my two main characters: Talie Tappler and Mr. Cognis. I’ve also told you how my favorite professor from college gave me the first half of a story idea.

But where did the second half come from? Unfortunately, that’s a more challenging thing to explain. There’s a part of the story—a crucial part—that’s not really my story to tell. So when we get there, I’ll skip over it.

My Day Job

I work at a small TV station doing video production stuff for the local news. A few years back, we had this reporter—nice, bubbly sort of girl—who felt like she kept covering the same stories over and over again.

Every row home fire, every drug deal gone wrong, every missing person case, every domestic dispute… 95% of the time, these stories ended the same way.

One day, this reporter dropped by the editing room, and we wound up chatting. She was having a rough day. Her assignment involved a local family. The details of what happened to this family, and what would ultimately happen to this family, are not mine to tell. Not in a blog post like this.

The important thing is that this reporter was almost in tears because she knew exactly how the situation was going to play out. She’d covered similar stories enough times. It was like she knew the future, and there was nothing she could do to change it.

Tomorrow’s News Today

My old English professor had suggested I write a book about journalists in space. Basically, my professor was telling me to write what I know. But the idea of reporters flying about on news shuttles, rather than driving around in news vans, didn’t excite me.

Journalists in space might be based on what I know from my professional life, but it didn’t encapsulate everything I’ve learned about the news business. There was something missing. Something critical that my reporter friend was hinting at.

What about journalists in time? What about a news agency that could, through the magic of time travel, bring you tomorrow’s news today? Could that work? It occurred to me that the rules of time travel (don’t interfere with history) have a surprising parallel with the rules of journalism (don’t interfere with your story). That felt to me like a concept worth exploring.

I’d have to let these thoughts percolate for a while. A long while. But between this conversation I had at work and the previous conversation I’d had with my professor, the seeds were now sown for the Tomorrow News Network series.

Behind the Writing: Journalists in Space

Writers hear this question a lot: where do you get your ideas? In two previous posts, I told you where the inspiration came from for two of my main characters: Talie Tappler and Mr. Cognis.

But those are just two characters. The original inspiration for Tomorrow News Network as a concept and as a short story series is a far more interesting tale. It begins with a conversation I had with one of my old English professors.

I’d been out of college for a year or two, and I’d landed a job at a local TV news station. News is a high stress industry, and truth be told, it does not pay well. I knew that going in.

What I did not expect, and what really took a toll on me emotionally, was how little time or energy I could spare for my own writing projects. Work left me so drained. I could barely string a sentence together. Writing a novel? That dream was slipping away fast.

My teacher listened to my worries, offered advice and encouragement, and as a sort of passing thought, suggested that maybe my experiences in the news business might sow the seeds of some future writing project. She knew I was in to science fiction, and she said she foresaw me one day writing an epic adventure about some sort of outer space news organization.

I think I mumbled something like, “Yeah, maybe.” But honestly that idea didn’t excite me. I mean, how would space news be different from regular news, aside from being in space?

Jy21 Space News Channel 10

Okay, I guess there’s some comedy potential, but not enough to carry me through a major writing project.

But as I said, this was just the beginning. I didn’t realize it at the time, but my favorite professor from college had just given me half of an idea. The other half would soon follow.

A Cog in the Machine

Last week, I told you about the inspiration for Talie Tappler, the morally ambiguous main character of Tomorrow News Network. She’s a journalist. She’s a time traveler. And she does not time travel alone. The original inspiration for Talie’s sidekick, the cybernetic cameraman Mr. Cognis, dates back to a much earlier period in my creative life.

My latest illustration of Mr. Cognis in his cybernetic exoskeleton.

My latest illustration of Mr. Cognis in his cybernetic exoskeleton.

It was high school. I had to write a short story for English class, and I decided I wanted to write science fiction. I was a nerdy teen; what else would I want to write?

I came up with a story idea about a man of the future, a man with cybernetic enhancements grafted to his body and his brain. Due to the laws and customs of his day, this man was forbidden from having emotions.

I named this man Cognis, because all too often he felt like nothing more than a cog in the machine. But this name had a double meaning, because Cognis was intelligent enough, cognitive enough, to question his lot and seek some deeper meaning in life. Which would lead him to “experimenting” with “illicit emotional simulation programs.”

I thought I was being clever, packing my page-and-a-half story with symbolic allegorical stuff, casting society as the bad guy, and making a not-so-subtle allusion to drug use. Just the kind of stuff my aging hippie of an English teacher would love, or so I thought.

As I recall, my teacher gave me a C, which was probably generous of him, given how pretentious and angsty my little story was. And that was the end. I never wrote another word about Mr. Cognis, the emotionless cyborg who got addicted to emotions. At least, not until I started developing Tomorrow News Network and realized Talie needed a cameraman: a cameraman who might, on occasion, meddle with history when he wasn’t supposed to.

Excerpt from “The Medusa Effect,” story #1 in the Tomorrow News Network series:

“You were feeling compassion, weren’t you?” Talie said. “Don’t deny it. Look, there’s nothing wrong with emotions. I have a whole bunch every day, but you have to use them responsibly!”

Cognis flicked a switch on his forearm, and a crestfallen expression formed on his face. “I’m sorry,” he said.

“Oh, turn that thing off,” Talie snapped.

And thus began a long and proud tradition in Tomorrow News Network of salvaging my old, abandoned story ideas.