So, It’s Not Exactly About Time

Kage Baker, when queried about her choice of subject matter, always replied that she had not intended to write about time travel. It just sort of happened.

What she intended to write was full-blown, fairly high fantasy: heroes. High Priests. Demons and acrobats. Blacksmith gods and fire goddesses, gardener-shamans whose feet did not press the grass they trod. Water babies. Her very first novel, which took 4 years and 1,000 pages and will never see the light of day lest she curse me from a cocktail bar in the Uttermost West, had all those. Well, it had, like, one from each category.

But when she sat down to deliberately write something she could sell, what happened was Mendoza and Company, he he he. Kage got side-tracked by all those fascinating stories in the actual real news, about Lazarus species and Lost Cities and OOP-arts*, and time travel was the natural result. The cyborgs are in there to give the Company a staff, and because Kage was  intrigued with artificial life.

It helped that she did not believe in linear time. Linear time, by Kage’s standards, was a social convention, an act of agreed-upon faith, and an artifact of having most of our sensory equipment on one side of our heads. Time’s arrow flies forward, she decided, because we do not have eyes in the backs of our skulls.

Sir Arthur Eddington came up with that phrase, the Arrow of Time, in 1927. He assigned it 3 primary attributes.:

1. It is recognized by consciousness. (Not by Kage Baker’s …)

2. It is  insisted on by our reason, which tells us a reversal of this arrow’s direction would produce nonsense. (See #1 and Kage Baker)

3. It makes no appearance in physical science except in the study of organization of  individuals, where the the arrow indicates the direction of entropy: ie, the increase of randomness.  (Kage Baker didn’t think individuals were ever inherently organized in the first place.)

She also believed that everything happened simultaneously. I told her Einstein did not agree, and quoted the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics. Kage pointed out that Einstein also didn’t think quantum mechanics was a viable explanation for sub-atomic activity; I observed that her ideas about quantum mechanics had all been derived from the novels of Sir Terry Pratchett …

At this point, she generally claimed that she had a preternatural personal certainty about Time and I couldn’t prove it wasn’t true. Which was, actually, inarguable; and besides, her ideas were paying the rent and buying me yarn. And as our personal time went on (or wherever the hell it was going), I found that it really didn’t bother me which way it was headed, and I relaxed about the whole thing. Until Kage’s own Time ran out and wore off, and I was stranded on the empty ledge of the Moebius strip she had constructed of Eternity.

Putting the sorrow to which flesh is heir aside, I have come more and more to subscribe to Kage’s version of Time. Any variation we think we see in its progress or direction is the result of personal point of view – literally. The same laws of physics apply to all of us, but what you perceive of them all depends on where you stand: which is one of the key tenets of dear old Einstein’s Relativity Theory, anyway …

A newish study of really accurate clocks – strontium clocks, which use the oscillation of changing energy states in strontium atoms as a “tick” – shows that this particular plank (pun intended) of the Relativity Theory is indeed accurate. The Laurentz variation is unviolated, time dilation works, and relativity is still, you know, relative. Check it out here:

This would please Kage. Not that she would understand it any more than I actually do, but she would comprehend the visceral truth of the situation – which is, her concept of Time was Right. Or at least, Not Wrong.. As long as she could summon enough bright light to dazzle the reader, her point of view was valid. For a storyteller, that was bottom-line Truth.

On purely practical levels, this was how she construed that her system of Time Travel did, at least, work on paper. Many a civic building project hasn’t had that much certainty going for it …  she liked to be sure  that her Universe had logical rules. In her own mind, at least. Just to be careful, though, she always declined to explain the process to the many, unnervingly intense correspondents who begged her to tell them How It All Worked. She said she didn’t want to be responsible for the results if her gut feeling turned out to work.

Kage liked a dose of spirituality in her physics.

And come to think of it, so did Einstein.



  • Out Of Period Artifacts. Things like gold chains inside lumps of bituminous coal, or wet-cell batteries in Baghdad.

About Kate

I am Kage Baker's sister. Kage was/is a well-known science fiction writer, who died on January 31, 2010. She told me to keep her work going - I'm doing that. This blog will document the process.
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2 Responses to So, It’s Not Exactly About Time

  1. Medrith says:

    Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana. (Stolen from ny brother George, who stole it from, I think, Groucho Marx)


    • Kate says:

      That’s a ancient and honourable joke! It goes back through vaudeville, music hall, and I think Plautus’ Pseudolus. It may even be on a cave wall somewhere …


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