The Dangers of Time Travel

The recent film Start Trek: Into Darkness has sent Dr A and Dr H back to the original series.

It’s many, many years since I watched some of these episodes, so the turn of events in All Our Yesterdays (Series 3, Episode 23) took me by surprise.

Spoiler alert! I’m about to give away the plot, so don’t read on if you’re currently working your way through a Star Trek box set and don’t want to know the twist in the story!

On travelling down to a planet threatened by immanent destruction from a supernova (all in a day’s work) Kirk, Spock and Bones accidentally travel in time, becoming trapped in the planet’s past (Kirk in a period akin to the 17th century and Spock and Bones in a forbidding Ice Age).

During their stay in the past, Spock starts to display some unusual behaviour.

The vegetarian, unemotional, non-violent Vulcan engages in the following activities:

Eating meat

Kissing beautiful women

Attacking his shipmate

Bones saves his skin, however, by pointing out to Spock that by travelling back 5,000 years, Spock has in fact devolved to become like the Vulcans of the time – meat-eating, violent, uninhibited “Barbarians”.

This is an aspect of time travel (already riddled with dangers) that I hadn’t previously considered. The whole idea of cultural evolution/ devolution is highly problematic, but what if you devolved physically as you travelled back in time? Imagine travelling back 2 million years and finding yourself transformed into Homo habilis. How would you manage the technology to travel back to the future? Would you, in your new state of being, want to?

Spock, faced with leaving the beautiful stranded Zarabeth (who will die if she leaves her icy prison), only returns to his own time because Bones cannot leave without him. The Vulcans have become a lot more civilised over 5000 years, but they certainly have a lot less fun.

Dr H

Screencaps from Trek Core

Thanks also to Fresca of l’astronave for reminding me of all the reasons to love Star Trek.

Teen Fiction: After the Snow

I have been reading After the Snow by S.D. Crockett.

While my short story, Deer, toyed with the idea of a new ice age, Crockett works through the implications and outcomes of such severe climate change. Her novel is set in a near future, in a Europe caught in the grip of snow and ice. The action focuses on teenager Willo. His father is a ‘straggler’ – a man who has chosen to live in the hills of Snowdonia, growing and trapping his own food rather than living in the city under the government’s harsh, restrictive regime.

Speaking in a slightly distorted English (Russell Hoban’s Ridley Walker seems to have had a lasting impact on dystopian narratives), Willo takes us on his journey from the day when he finds himself alone on the mountain – his father, stepmother and siblings having all disappeared.

The interest for Prehistories lies in the first section of the book, set in the mountains. Given the task of setting traps and catching wild animals for food, Willo has run half wild. He has stitched a dog’s skull to the hood of his jacket and talks to the dog as if it is his spirit guide.

Willo’s father, and possibly Crockett too, suggest that by communing with the dog spirit and by spending too long alone in the high mountains, Willo has become too wild, too much an animal. And yet the moral centre of the book lies with the people who are close to the land, who can survive by trapping and gathering food from the wild.

Willo has found a cave up on the mountain, past the “Big stones all sticking up out of the ground like teeth. All in a circle.” This cave is where he offers up the skulls and spirits of all the animals he’s caught and killed.

Deep in these caves lie a secret – a space filled with cave art. Willo takes a girl, Mary (who he’s saved from starvation) to see the pictures. Here she is describing the cave:

‘”There are hares- two hares standing up next to each other. There’s a goat like it’s been carved into the rock. And a deer, it’s got antlers, and a beast wi’ big hairy shoulders.”

Cave Deer-002

  Willo describes ‘the sweep of the ceiling opening up in lines and smudges like it been a grassy plain alive with animals.’

 Willo, and Crockett, are making a connection between the past and a future past. Through his connection with the landscape and his hunter-gatherer lifestyle, Willo has gained sympathy with the people who roamed the hills and mountains in prehistory.

The idea of future pasts in literature, of post-apocalyptic societies less technologically sophisticated than those who come before them, is something I’m keen to write about.

The focus of my interest is on Ridley Walker by Russell Hoban, Gay Hunter by J Leslie Mitchell (Lewis Grassic Gibbon) and  the Mortal Engines series by Philip Reeve, in which people and archaeologists are excavating the (sometime dangerous) technology of past societies. If you know of any other examples, please let me know.

Dr H

Deer by Xanitose

Deer

I wrote this short story after reading a report about the increasing number of deer in the UK. The particular wording of the report made me wonder if the planet was fighting back against global warming…

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Deer

There are now more deer in the UK than at any time since the last Ice Age. (BBC News, Thursday 7th March 2013)

It started with the deer.

Here in Britain their numbers had been increasing for years, but this was a sudden explosion. They were a nuisance. They nibbled their way through crops and ate young saplings. They over-spilled from the countryside and found their way into parks and gardens where they trampled floral displays and infiltrated playgrounds. In the end, scientists suggested a cull. But the strange thing was, as fast as they killed them, the deer kept coming.

The next thing was the trees.

With all the deer stripping bark and trashing tender saplings, you would have thought that there’d be fewer trees. Instead, there were more. Willow and hazel trees grew thick along the banks of streams and rivers. Ancient strains of oak tree sprang up in the middle of shopping centres. Birches, spruce and pine cracked roads and paving slabs; they grew with tremendous speed.

What was really strange was the way they attacked the new buildings first. Glass-fronted office blocks, modern estates – even those with mock-Tudor timbers or Georgian-style pediments – the trees went for them. Their strong roots riddled the foundations with cracks, let in water, encouraged subsidence. Branches thrust through windows, cracked roof tiles, blocked ventilation points. Soon buildings all over the country were being declared unsafe. People were moved into temporary housing.

Then the temperature fell. It was ironic, because global warming had finally been accepted as fact, but day after day the temperature kept dropping. The scientists checked their books and their graphs, and insisted that the next ice age wasn’t due for another 1,500 years. The climate begged to differ. People died in droves – of hypothermia, of failed crops, of frostbite and exposure.

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I was so cold, I remember looking longingly at a photo of an Inuit hunter wearing polar-bear-skin trousers. They looked so cosy. You might think it cruel, but polar bears are no longer endangered, what with the expansion of the polar ice and a ready new source of food (i.e. humans).

The real shock, for those of us still at a distance from the growing ice caps, was the return of the wolves. For some people in mainland Europe, wolves and even brown bears were something they already lived with and knew how to handle. But in this country, we were clueless. We did all the wrong things. The inevitable has happened – herds of farm animals (and more than the occasional farmer) have been lost to packs of hungry wolves. In a country this small (and getting smaller) it is hard to avoid them.

File:Yellowstone Wolves.jpg

The UK population is looking thin. Scotland is deep in permafrost and in England our major cities have been choked by vast, tangled forests. The power grid has been brought to its knees – though there is a lot of firewood. Large numbers of people have moved south, to France, Italy and into Africa. A reverse migration.

My family? We decided to stay. I never thought it would actually be useful to have an archaeologist as a father, but it turns out that his knowledge of flint technology and Mesolithic survival techniques are useful after all. We now live in a sort of wooden tent, with woven, wicker walls and a clay floor. There is a fire going all the time, and plenty of venison on the menu.

I do miss television and computers and iPods and going to the cinema. I don’t miss cars or homework or extra maths on a Friday afternoon.

My friends (the ones who stayed) are keen to learn about hunting and tool-making. My parents have set up a sort of forest school, and my mum’s obsession with all things Hugh-Fearnley-Whittingstall has finally paid off. She is collecting edible mushrooms, making nettle soup, smoking fish, stockpiling berries and generally keeping everyone well fed.

As global disasters go, it could have been worse. It’s better than one of those futures in which the whole planet is covered in water, or everyone is enslaved by mindless, gun-toting, humanoid robots. To my mind, we got off lightly.

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My best friend, Marc, is worried that the ice will keep moving south – that we will have to migrate or else start building igloos. He’s not keen on snow. But I’m prepared. I am already gathering a team of huskies and learning to handle a harpoon. And I’ve still got my eye on a pair of those polar bear trousers.

Dr H