I covered this a little bit on the Acknowledgements page, but here’s the full, uncut version of how No Time: The First Hour came about.
It started with Audrey Niffenegger, and started with The Time Traveler’s Wife. I grew up on Bill & Ted, Doc & Marty, the Doctor and time travel episodes of Star Trek same as anybody. Until Audrey came along, time travel in science fiction was conventionalized – an adventure plot, the danger of paradox, the terrible knowledge of the future. The most original development, arguably, was Bill and Ted’s most excellent insight that you can totally stuff your pockets with the things you really need once the adventure’s over! Excellent!
But then Audrey turned it on its head – Henry DeTamble doesn’t interfere with historical events, because he’s locked in an eternist framework from which there is no escape. There’s one small paradox. Henry does plenty of running, stealing, and fighting, but that’s not the focus of the story. The focus is the strange relationship between Henry and Clare*…and time travel is a force that both brings them together and separates them. Time travel becomes a metaphor, not for history, cause and effect, or prophecy, but for the emotions inside a long-lasting relationship. It is an inexorable tragic force, like age and how people change once they’ve been together for years. Audrey didn’t approach her time-travel book like Star Trek or Back to the Future…she came at it completely differently.
And I started to see the possibilities. My tiny little mind started to crack open to the light.
Then I read the Continuum RPG, and my mind fucking exploded.
Continuum, the Aetherco RPG from the late 1990s, is the greatest time travel game you’ve never heard of. Like The Time Traveler’s Wife, Continuum assumes a perfectly eternist universe – where the Twin Towers are always falling, somewhen. And Continuum thinks through all its implications – you enter into a society of time travelers (spanners) locked into an eternal Time War that they know they’ve won, but know must be fought. It takes a degree in theoretical physics to effectively wield the Time Combat rules.
I’m not going to lie, Continuum was a big, big influence on the world and society of No Time. No Time basically started life as a reinterpretation of Continuum – specifically, one where the Continuum and the Narcissists are perfectly matched, a Temporal Cold War out of Star Trek rather than a chillingly prescient terrorist hunt.
Along the way, I started a story called Music Girl based on some ideas I read about adapting Michio Kaku’s work to tabletop RPGs. Kaku and scientists like him enjoy playing with the dimensionality of time, really digging into the concept of the fourth dimension. Things would look more comprehensible up there, the way two dimensional worlds (such as the figure above) make perfect sense as long as you’re looking in three dimensions. Three-dimensional shadows would be cast. You could have perfect hair, because your head is now a hypersphere.
I still have the physical printouts of all the fourth dimension notes I made for Music Girl. Scrawled along one page like Jack Torrence’s moonlighting as a ghostwriter for Philip K. Dick are the words “LISA IS LISA-SHAPED LISA IS LISA-SHAPED LISA IS LISA-SHAPED.” Because if I study enough fourth dimensional physics I become all Roscoe’s Not Here, Man.
So, while I was cheerfully filing the numbers off of Continuum, I realized that the only way to do a time travel story properly is to build it from the ground up. Like …from the very laws of physics. How does time work? How do paradoxes work?
I wrote up a document that I am exceedingly smug about. It outlines how Gooch’s universe works. It’s an exceedingly elegant system…one very different from the rules that govern the Continuum. Superficially, the Eternists and the Continuum are similar. But all you have to do is scratch the surface and keep your eyes open…and, as Will Howe could tell you, there are things in the fourth dimension, Horatio, undreamt of by your philosophy.
All very fine intellectual games, but not a story.
When I have a setting or a scene, but no characters, I ask two simple questions that Orson Scott Card taught me:
- Who hurts?
- Who has the freedom to move?
My character wouldn’t be a general of the Time War. I was sick to death of those stories. Nor would I have some hackneyed Terminator Twosome duke it out for the girl.
No…I wanted something subtler, something classier, something more in the tradition of Le Carre or Hammett…
A detective, of course! A hardboiled gumshoe, a marginal figure on the edge of time traveler society. A real Harry Dresden type, waging his lonely crusade to protect us mundanes from the superpowered who mistake themselves for ubermenschen. Chandler’s The Simple Art of Murder came back to me:
[D]own these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. The detective in this kind of story must be such a man. He is the hero, he is everything. He must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man. He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honor, by instinct, by inevitability, without thought of it, and certainly without saying it. He must be the best man in his world and a good enough man for any world. I do not care much about his private life; he is neither a eunuch nor a satyr; I think he might seduce a duchess and I am quite sure he would not spoil a virgin; if he is a man of honor in one thing, he is that in all things. He is a relatively poor man, or he would not be a detective at all. He is a common man or he could not go among common people. He has a sense of character, or he would not know his job. He will take no man’s money dishonestly and no man’s insolence without a due and dispassionate revenge. He is a lonely man and his pride is that you will treat him as a proud man or be very sorry you ever saw him. He talks as the man of his age talks, that is, with rude wit, a lively sense of the grotesque, a disgust for sham, and a contempt for pettiness. The story is his adventure in search of a hidden truth, and it would be no adventure if it did not happen to a man fit for adventure. He has a range of awareness that startles you, but it belongs to him by right, because it belongs to the world he lives in.
Why would he stick his neck out for us levelers and plebians? Ah, of course…where there is the time traveler, there is also the time traveler’s wife. What a woman she would have to be! Someone who, herself not time-active, nevertheless can hold her own.
And every Holmes must have his Moriarty.
His opposite number in the Time War…wait! Their own private, little Time War. Their careers are consumed with each other, bound up with each other in ways Moriarty and Holmes never were. The arrival of my time-active Moriarty puts into motion the inexorable eternist machinery to start my Holmes’ career, and vice versa. Their Time Combat is but one battle of a vast and eternal Time War, like a pair of Vietnamese snipers with a vendetta in 1971…but a tale to tell, nevertheless.
I’d run across ticket2write’s Guide to the Twelve Chapter Mystery years earlier, so I dug it up again and proceeded to lay out a plot. At this point, Gooch was little more than a sketch, Rachel and Maria subplots. Hell, I didn’t even know who the murderer was. But I hammered out what I wanted to cover in each chapter, broke it down and shook it out.
Then I set it aside for over a year. It would take a series of massive shocks that nearly destroyed me to make me finally dig it out and put flesh on Gooch’s Quixotic bones…
…which is where we pick up next week. 😀
*Sidebar: I think I am very strange, because when you ask me to picture the ideal romantic couple, I picture Leto & Jessica Atreides, Gomez & Morticia Addams, and Henry & Claire DeTamble…rather than more conventional choices like Romeo and Juliet or Elizabeth and Darcy. By sheer coincidence, my main couple are (mostly) happily married and in their thirties…