Seeing Time

Kage Baker first tried to sell a novel in her late 20’s.

We worked on it together. It was an enormous book, made even larger by the fact that part of the plot called for one character to periodically spend several pages telling stories to another character. The size, and the convolutions of two  plots intertwining like a DNA helix, were among the reasons that it bounced around publishers for close to 4 years but never sold. People wanted to buy it, but it was like nothing they had ever seen, and they couldn’t figure out how to market it.

It also didn’t help when the (revered and famous) editor who was then reading it abruptly died. Kage’s novel was among the books that languished on their sadly abandoned desk while the publishing house got its bearings. Once the manuscript was returned, Kage threw her hands in the air and then threw herself into trying something completely different. That turned out to be In The Garden of Iden.

And the rest is history. And history rewritten, history with the serial numbers filed off, history invented, reinvented, stirred into a cauldron spiced with legend and myth and finally trotted out on the stage in a novelty corset to sing vaudeville tunes. Kage got the bit in her teeth, and ran wild through the ages of the world for the rest of her life.

Somewhere around the beginning of Iden (which we always called Mendoza’s Book, regardless), on a fine summer morning, she turned to me and asked “How do you envision Time?”

“You mean – the passage of time? The past, the future?” I sought clarification.

“No, the fabric of Time Itself. The whole temporal construct.” Kage twisted her fingers in her hair, making Moebius strips in it. “How do you see it?”

“Um – I don’t think I do,” I was forced to admit after some thought. “I see the year in a very specific way, but not just … Time. Do you?”

“Yep. How can you not think about it?” she demanded. “Don’t you want to know where you are?”

“Well, I do know where I am.”

“Oh, screw you.” And Kage waved one hand in the air (I remember very clearly how the other one, the left one, was now knotted into her hair.) and said, “Time is … a huge hollow cylinder with ridged sides. Rotating. It goes up and down as far as you can see, and somewhere out of sight the ends connect. But it’s so huge that wherever you are it looks like a straight tower. And you can follow the paths up and down like staircases, or trudge around in one place. Or you can jump from one ridge to another …”

“Most people think it goes past like a road or a river,” I observed.

“Nope. Time is vertical,” stated Kage. “Location is horizontal. And if you can adjust for both directions, you can travel in time.”

We sat there for a few minutes. Outside our living room, the Hollywood Hills – composed entirely of remembered time – loomed golden, studded with red-roofed houses, and the concrete pads where older ones had slipped and fallen downhill.   Kage extricated her hand, and the strands of her hair snapped like glass threads in a witchball as she did – Ping! Snap!

“Okay, that’s good. Thanks,” Kage said briskly and began writing furiously.

I had no idea what precisely had happened, although it became apparent pretty quickly. It ultimately ran on for, what, a dozen books – technically, there are 8 in the Company series as Kage originally planned it; but extras have crept in. And there you have Kage’s recipe for time travel.

Just remember, Time is vertical and Location is horizontal.Keep that in mind and you’ll be fine.

But be careful. If you get them backwards, I think you get the Tunguska Event.

Witch balls. See the fine threads of glass inside?