Sunday, May 16, 2010

Idea Garage Sale: Time Gypsies

I want a good, reliable, low-impact method of time travel.

Yesterday I drove up to Belton to get my signed copy of Clovis Archeology, watch a presentation on big game hunting among the plains cultures, and schmooze other archeology fans. I was coming out of the restroom, planning to leave, when I saw a poster for the musical Hair, the cast recording of which happens to be in Moby's CD changer right now, and thus discovered that the West Gallery was hosting a display devoted to the year 1968. So I popped in and looked around.

I was all of 7 and living in small-town Iowa in 1968, so from one point of view I missed a lot of it. But of what year is this not true? If we have time we have no money, if we have money we no energy; our freedom is circumscribed in different ways at different times of our lives, and the opportunities of which we can realistically take advantage are limited by choice as well as distance, alertness, and responsibility. I wouldn't have worn a mini-skirt if I'd been old enough; but the postcards advertising the various gigs of musicians scattered about the displays made me sigh for chances that will never come again. Who knew Chuck Berry and Steve Miller ever played together? And it probably cost - what, five dollars? Less? - to get into the venue!

Sure, I'd visit the Pleistocene and Civil War Texas and, if possible, warn certain people of certain things; but I'd also see in their prime the artists I missed, or never got to see till age began to take an audible toll - Aretha Franklin when she could dance "Dr. Feelgood" without losing her breath, Gordon Lightfoot before the years stripped layers from his voice, the Supremes before Diana Ross took off, Buddy Holly (speaking of warnings; but he wouldn't listen to me, why should he?). I might or might not go to Woodstock, but the question with the Beatles is not Whether but Which Performance?

That's probably why the title "Time Gypsies" appeals to me. I envision a society of people with caravans that travel the time roads; tied to earth but not to the solar cycle. They would interact with hundreds of different time periods during their own lifetimes; not freely, no, but their opportunities and regrets would be different from those of us tied to linear time. Children would be given names inspired by the particular period they were born in. My protagonists would be male/female twins named Mac and PC; PC would tell people her name was short for Pamela Christine or Prudence Charity or whatever, as appropriate to when she was at the moment. They would vacation on beaches not yet approached by homo erectus as it spread across the globe; do menial labor in Babylon in exchange for small coins that could be traded for a period of luxury in 20th century New York; possibly they would collect unfortunates lost in the cracks of history. Maybe not all the Jews who vanished without a trace in Europe from 1933 to 1945 went into the furnace; maybe Virginia Dare was rescued from whatever fate befell Roanoke colony.

As a vehicle for wish fulfillment, this premise is a gold mine. As a viable novel, not so much. There'd have to be a sizable community of these people, at least 200; or they'd have to recruit new genetic material from around the timeline to prevent inbreeding. Their vehicles and other tech would have to be able to blend in with any time period. They'd have to carry a wide variety of outfits (interdimensional closet space); and they'd have to have a reason for being who and what they were. What is their economic base? What life goals does this lifestyle serve? Most of all, what do Mac and PC want, that this lifestyle doesn't provide?

I could go a number of ways on this. I absolutely refuse to have one of those time travel set-ups in which history is "supposed" to happen a certain way and the people who can move in time manipulate the fabric to put it "right." History, the way I experience it, is a vast complex interaction of physical laws, contingency, accident, and free will. The notion that one track of history is "right" (ours; with all its genocides, petty stupid wars, industrial pollution, unsustainable agriculture, and so on) but can be messed up and corrected by small actions of individuals is self-contradictory at best, morally revolting at worst.

Maybe the Time Gypsies are parasites leeching off the energy and innovation of linear time; and Mac and PC are the ones who realize that something's wrong with that paradigm, that it's unsustainable. Maybe one of them gets stranded because the time roads can be ridden but not steered, or they learn that some underlying principle of their tech is wrong and this has bad effects on - somebody. Maybe there's two sets of Time Gypsies with opposing goals, and their conflict plays out in the fields of linear time, to everyone's detriment.

I don't know. None of it seems to work somehow. But if I ever see a book with this title, I will pick it up. 'Cause it's a great title!


  1. Oh, Peni, I wish you could write that book(s)! What a fascinating idea. I particularly love that you wouldn't have your characters put things "right."

  2. Yeah, well, I might figure out how to do it someday. But the whole reason I'm doing Idea Garage Sales is I have more ideas than I can develop in my lifetime (as do you, I know).