ALL YOU ZOMBIES, ROBERT HEINLEIN

Time travel makes my brain go “eek.” This is a compliment. Not many things make my brain do back flips and somersaults. Time travel is an impossible concept I cannot understand because it is inherently incomprehensible. Therefore, I love it.

This review contains spoilers, so if you’ve never read this, you might want to stop now and allow yourself to be surprised.

I first read this story by Robert Heinlein long ago as part of a compilation of his classic short stories. After all these years, it remains on the top of the heap of time travel tales. I couldn’t remember its title, so it took me a while to find it. It is called “All You Zombies.”

Heinlein All You Zombies

In a strange infinite loop, a baby girl is mysteriously dropped off at an orphanage in Cleveland in 1945. “Jane” grows up lonely and dejected, not knowing who her parents are, until one day in 1963 she is strangely attracted to a drifter. She has a brief passionate relationship with him and becomes pregnant.

The stranger disappears.

During a weird and complicated birthing, Jane’s doctors discover she actually has two complete sets of sex organs. With her life on the line, the doctors change her from female to male. Jane is now a man. Then …. a mysterious stranger kidnaps her baby leaving Jane a man and childless.

Depressed, lost, he becomes a drunk and a drifter. He eventually, meets a young woman in a bar, who he impregnates during a brief affair. The story contains even more complexities, involving the Time Corps and a bartender. Throughout, everything continues moving forward and backward in time.

Read it, and get your own brain in a twist.

The story is a paradox, impossible yet structured with its own internal logic that you can neither reject nor accept. At which point, my brain goes “Eek!!” Jane is everyone. Everyone is Jane. She is her family: tree, trunk, branches and roots.

I found this amazing diagram on the Heinlein Society’s web page. They have lots of other cool stuff too and if you’re a fan, take a look. You won’t be disappointed.

all-you-zombies-heinlein-time-twisterThe circular logic combined with the impossibility of the sequence where the same person is mother, father and child forever in an infinite loop — the snake eating its tail — is deliciously mind-blowing. You can get it for your Kindle from Amazon for $1.25, or as part of an anthology of Heinlein short stories. There are several listed on Amazon, new and used.

Heinlein did much of his most creative writing in these early short stories. His later novels are better known today, especially Stranger In a Strange Land. The short stories have been forgotten by many people, but are well worth your time. Most were written for the science fiction fanzines — newsprint magazines that were the primary outlets for sci fi until the genre broke into mainstream literature in the 1960s. Not only Heinlein, but all the classic great science fiction authors started their careers writing for the fanzines.

I’ve read many hundreds of time travel books and stories over more than 50 years of loving science fiction. But this one, this story, has stuck firmly in my brain as the ultimate paradox where the past, present and future come together.

All You Zombies is my favorite for good reason. It’s unforgettable. I promise you will never forget it either.

TIME TRAVEL, PARALLEL UNIVERSES & THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT – ELLIN CURLEY

I am fascinated with the concepts of time travel, parallel universes and the Butterfly Effect. Fortunately for me, there are several TV shows today that deal with these things. One is Timeless and another is The Flash. The Flash is a Marvel comic based series in which the hero can run so fast that he can bend time. He can move both forward and backwards in time. Timeless follows a government team of time travelers who have to keep going back in time to prevent the ‘bad guy’ from messing with major past events and drastically changing the timeline.

In both of these shows, each trip back in time results in an altered present. In each, a seemingly random individual who is important to one of the main characters, is either dead in the present or was never born and no longer exists in the present timeline.

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This brings up the Butterfly Effect, a theory popular with time travel enthusiasts. The theory, mostly used in science, states that a small change can result in a large, unrelated change down the road. In everyday life, this means that unimportant decisions, like whether to go out to dinner or eat in, can lead to very different ‘storylines’ in your life.

There is both a movie and a play that depicts the parallel universes created by a minor life decision. The movie is “Sliding Doors” from 1998 and stars Gwyneth Paltrow. It tracks the different careers and love lives that the heroine would have if she a) catches a particular subway train or b) misses the train. For example, if she catches the train, she also gets home in time to catch her boyfriend in bed with another woman. If she misses the train, she also misses this tryst. Her life takes very different paths depending on that fluke of timing.

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The play was a musical called “If/Then”, starring Idina Menzel. The show follows the heroine’s parallel lives if she either chooses to go to lunch with friend ‘A’ or if she chooses to go to a play with friend ‘B’ instead.

Interestingly, in both the movie and the play, the heroine ends up with the same ‘love of her life’, just at different times in her life. Her career paths diverge but I think most people like to believe that some people are ‘destined’ to be together. The Jewish concept of ‘Beshert’ says that every soul is a half soul and that there is another person in the world who is their perfect ‘other half’. So in time travel shows, many aspects of life are allowed to be affected by chance. But we don’t seem to want to accept that chance can also change the big things in life, like true love.

TimeTravelSome time travel writers have a different theory. They talk about the fact that the past ‘resists’ change. Rather than believing in the Butterfly Effect as it relates to time travel, many believe that at least the major events in history are more predestined and less susceptible to change. It might seem easy to keep a major past event from happening, especially if small changes in the timeline can eventually result in big ones. But time writers feel that events, like WWI, the assassination of JFK, or the sinking of the Titanic, will find a way to take place no matter how hard you try to prevent it. You might want to read Stephen King’s brilliant book “11/22/63” about attempting to go back in time to prevent the JFK assassination. It was also made into a mini series, but the book is much better.
I guess it is easier to accept the idea that relatively small things, like the details of an individual’s life, are changeable and not ‘meant to be’. Maybe this is because on a small scale, cause and effect is more linear and knowable. On the other hand, historians are still arguing about the multiple and interrelated causes of the Civil War.

delorean time machineMy grandfather was hit by a truck and killed when he stepped off a curb too soon at the age of 88. I used to obsess about what led him to that exact spot at that exact time. I used to imagine the tiny things he could have done differently that would have gotten him to that spot even a second earlier or later.

For about a year after that, I would imagine each time I reached a curb, that it could be my last moment on earth — if the stars were so aligned. Maybe this is the root of my love for some of these theories.

THE ANNUAL GEORGE R. STEWART-JIMMY STEWART CHRISTMAST POST

Annual George R. Stewart, Jimmy Stewart Christmas Post


If It’s a Wonderful Life can be a tradition at Christmas, why not this post from a year ago about the connections between that great film and George R. Stewart?  So here it is, with only minor editing to bring it up to date.

But it has a bonus at the end – a radio interview with one of the stars, who was – of course – doing charitable work in the Central Coast area when Tom Wilmer of local PBS station KCBX found him:

It’s A Wonderful Story


This is the time of year when most of us watch the classic Christmas movies.  A Christmas Carol with Alastair Sims, Miracle on 54th Street, A Child’s Christmas in Wales,   (An almost unknown gem, produced in Canada, starring Denholm Elliot); and, of course,  It’s a Wonderful Life.

Here in Arroyo Grande, the local theater,  owned by a man who loves movies, shows one of those classics each Christmas. The admission is a can of food or a toy, to be donated to those in need – in the spirit of the movie.  …To see such a film on the big screen, surrounded by local neighbors of all ages – to see how the children love the film – it is a reminder of what we’ve lost.  Now we watch movies on TV, but usually alone, and always less intently – a kind of digital sampling of the films.  Like a CD, we miss much when we do that.  But in the theater watching Miracle on Thirty-Fourth Street  we missed nothing.  And – how long since you’ve experienced this? – the audience clapped and cheered when the judge decided that, yes, Kris Kringle was indeed Santa Claus.  It was a fine traditional twentieth century American Christmas experience.

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For most of the people I know, It’s a Wonderful Life   is the Christmas movie.  So those who are George R. Stewart fans should know about the connection between that classic film and GRS.

George R. Stewart was raised in Indiana, Pennsylvania, where his mother’s family lived.  His maternal grandfather, Andrew Wilson,  planned to be a teacher, and even helped found a school nearby (which would become the prestigious Kiski School).  But he couldn’t earn enough to support his family; so he went into the mercantile business.  He  had a hand in a hardware store there, owned by another Stewart.  That Stewart’s son was James Stewart, also born and raised in Indiana.

George and Jimmy looked alike.  With all the similarities in family history, geography, and physiology, you’d expect they were related.  But they  shared only one possible distant relative.  And they lived in different worlds, in Indiana.  The George Stewarts went to the middle-class Presbyterian church on the flats; Jimmy Stewart and his parents went to the upper-class Presbyterian church on the hill.  GRS went to a public high school out west, Jimmy to a prestigious private school in the east.

Still, the lives paralleled in remarkable ways.  GRS and his family moved to Pasadena; he went to Princeton; and after marriage moved his family to Berkeley, California.  Jimmy went to Princeton, then moved to Pasadena; and spent his life in Southern California.  GRS wrote books, two of which were filmed.  Jimmy made films, like that grand Christmas classic we all love.   GRS worked at the Disney studios for a time, an advisor to Walt himself.  Jimmy worked at many studios, creating characters and stories that touched the hearts of millions.  Ironically, GRS did not like the media, and apparently did not attend movies often, if at all.

Their paths apparently never crossed.  GRS and his family left Indiana for California in 1905, when he was 12.  That was the year James Stewart was born. Out west, nothing in their interests or their work brought them together.  Since the film we now consider a classic failed in its initial run, it is unlikely GRS would have seen it even if he did go to the movies.

Yet, in this Christmas season, we should remember there is one thing they shared; and thanks to the film, we share it with them:  The experience of life in a small American town in the early 20th century.  Like a trip to Disneyland, a viewing of It’s a Wonderful Life enfolds us in such a place.  For a time, we walk the streets and meet the people of the town and the time where both boys grew up.

Please follow the rest of the story at: The Annual George R. Stewart, Jimmy Stewart Christmas Post

PERI REED IS BACK IN “THE OPERATOR” – KIM HARRISON

THE OPERATOR, by Kim Harrison is now in bookstores everywhere.

There are some authors who deserve to be in bookstores. Kim Harrison is definitely one. Her books should be proudly displayed in glass windows along with stacks of hardcover volumes — with life-size images of the smiling author. And the air rich with the heady scent of “new book” and fresh ink.

So, while you read this review, pretend you are in the bookstore of your dreams or maybe your childhood. In one of those old leather chairs, tucked in the corner. With a little table and a standing light by which to read. I’m going to hand you the book. It’s new and the binding crackles when you open it.

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Kim Harrison, whose series “The Hollows” produced a long run of best-sellers, has a new series. The first book in the Peri Reed Chronicles was released in 2015. That was “The Drafter.” It introduced a dystopian near-future world without magic, but with technology indistinguishable from magic. A science fiction thriller that feels real and now.

Science it may be, but there are people who are born with a genetic ability to use it. Such people are called drafters.

Drafters can manipulate time. Not like traveling through a wormhole or time machine. More like making a precision adjustment of as much as 45 seconds, or as little as a blink. Just enough time to undo a fatal bullet or catastrophic error.

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Kim Harrison

Drafters are special, innately (genetically) able to manipulate time. To correct it. But there’s a price to be paid for having power over time. A drafter can’t keep two timelines in memory, so all memories from a banished (corrected, altered, changed) timeline will be lost to the drafter a few seconds after the changed timeline replaces the original. Usually a drafter works with a partner. An anchor who can replace a drafter’s missing memories and patch the timeline. The relationship between a drafter and his or her anchor is deeply intimate. Not something most people could understand.

Peri Reed is a drafter. She used to work for the ultra super secret (and thoroughly corrupt) government agency known as OPTI. Now, she’s free and alive — and trying to stay that way. Peri has lost many memories. Years worth of memories. Some memories have been replaced by false ones. Some are just gone, leaving holes in the continuity and fabric of her life. She wants her memory back, but not if the cost to get them is going back to work for OPTI — or any other agency. How to win freedom and control of her life? Regain her memories without selling herself to whoever makes the best deal?

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Reed isn’t just any drafter. Peri is the drafter. The best ever. Which is why everyone wants her — and she wants none of them. Yet, she needs help. There’s no way she can reconstruct her past without assistance from at least a couple of the people hunting her. Dare she trust anyone?

Everyone is making her an offer. Everyone is lying.

The Operator is not merely good. It’s a great read set in a dystopian future world. Fast-paced. Elegantly written with an underlying ironic wit and refreshingly natural dialogue. The plot and characters are layered. Complex. Everyone has a secret agenda. Behind that are more secrets and even darker agendas.

In The Drafter, Peri and the gang had promise.

In The Operator, they fulfill that promise. Peri is brave and brilliant, dangerous and vulnerable. Passionate, with scary, lethal fighting skills. She’s had bad relationships. Lost everything that mattered to her. Made terrible life choices. Lives in a brutal world of danger and duplicity through which she must navigate alone, or depend on treacherous people with dubious motives.

If you love science fiction thrillers and are tired of reading the same tired stories, this will be a treat. This is a fresh story with an intriguing, original plot, full of Kim Harrison’s wonderful writing to sweep you into another world.

THE OPERATOR by Kim Harrison is be available on Kindle, paperback, limited edition hard cover, and on Audible.com. It is a great book, one of the two or three best I’ve read over the past few years. Exciting. Action-packed with a complex twisting plot I dare you to guess.

Every clue Ms. Harrison drops is a real clue. The characters are mad and complicated, embodying his or her own mystery. Not only is “The Operator” worth reading, it’s worth reading twice.

 

MAGIC IS LOOSE IN THE WORLD

“Nothing is certain anymore. Nothing. Chaos is king and magic is loose in the world.” That was the conclusion Robert A. Heinlein drew at the end of his two novellas, “Waldo” and “Magic, Incorporated.”

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I have always wanted magic to be real. Over the nearly 7 decades of my life, I have had to accept that if magic exists — magic in the sense of spells and witches and wizards — I don’t have it. But perhaps it is time to redefine magic. Maybe magic isn’t a coven chanting at the new moon or spells cast by wizards. Or amazing feats by creatures born in myth. Magic is everywhere, loose in the world.

Super moon through the trees - November 13, 2016

Super moon through the trees – November 13, 2016

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Even my favorite magic — time travel — is real. We all travel through time, but we march not to drums, but to the beat of our hearts. My time travels have shown me a transformed world where technology has created what no one imagined or dreamed.

Is that not magic? And if we cease believing, will that magic disappear?

PHOTO CHALLENGE | Magic

I participate in WordPress' Weekly Photo Challenge 2016

I participate in WordPress’ Weekly Photo Challenge 2016

TO DOOR OR NOT TO DOOR. ALWAYS A QUESTION.

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Overwhelmed by a pervasive sense of unreality, I was barely surprised to see the door.  No ordinary door, but clearly a door to another time or dimension. Because in all the books I read, there’s always a door suddenly appearing and on the other side, it’s another time, another place, another world … and it’s always exciting.

Except when it’s 1347 and you arrive in England along with the Black Death. Ouch. That would be really depressing. And quite possibly … final.

So … do I go through the door? Just stand here like a wuss and prove how completely cowardly and indecisive I really am? Maybe I should go home first to gather supplies. Stop by the doctor, get inoculated against plague … they have that now, I hear. Take a supply of medication like broad spectrum antibiotics.

And bottled water.

Plus, a horse and cart. That would be useful, a horse. Especially the cart. I don’t suppose a cell phone would help much …


Then, the door was gone. Oh well. Missed it again. Next time I’ll be ready.

THURSDAY PHOTO PROMPT | SUE VINCENT