Not to Mention Camels and Time Travel


Last night I decided to start notes on a time travel story. I have wanted to write one forever. And I mean forever. If God begat his only Son, in the same instant he begat my desire to write a time travel story. I just happen to move a lot slower.

Anyway I went to the always knowledgeable about all things sci-fi and consulted John C. Wright’s blog for a post on time travel stories. I came away with a list of books (the book above is not one of them, but more on that later) that included The Man Who Folded Himself by David Gerrold


And Keith Laumer’s Dinosaur Beach

dino beach

The Man Who Folded Himself is available and easy to find. I opted for the kindle edition as I try to keep my book space from spilling out unto the streets and overtaking the planet. Dinosaur Beach is not in print nor in eBook form (although I did find a copy at Baen books as a freebie), but then most everything Laumer wrote is out of print. But the Baen one is merely an online text file. I’ll take a hard copy, thank you.

I decided to go to a different Half-Priced Books than the normal one I go to. Their science fiction section was depressingly small and they had none of what I was looking for. But, stuck in the very bottom corner of the L section I see the words Not To Mention Camels – I think I saw it exactly like a cyborg would see a human target.

Holy Findacus! A Lafferty book just sitting there. I say, ladies and gentlemen, I have not had the pleasure before except at the specialty trade at NORWESCON. I am willing to shell out the money for Lafferty books. I look at the price – $15! Fifteen dollars for a freaking Lafferty book? A quick look on Amazon tells you the starting price on that is $25 and you could have jacked up the price to $40.

Talk about not knowing what you have. They should have put that behind the glass case and waited for a Lafferty collector (like yours truly) to waltz in. Forty bucks? I would have shelled out up to a hundred just for the pleasure of finding it on a book shelf.

Later on the wife and I are dining at the Claim Jumper and I am going over the book while we wait for our food.

And then the insult. On the fore-edge of the book, top, side and bottom, is stamped North Bend Ore. Public Library, and stamped over that is the word in black ink DISCARD.

Discard? DISCARD?!


This is why the science fiction book shelves are full of Piers Anthony (have nothing against the guy) R.A. Salvatore, and countless, endless multitudes of Star Wars, Star Trek and video game tie-in books.

Yes, the shelves also are stuffed with Tolkein. Although I have to wonder how stuffed they were before the movies.

Why offended, oh Bob? Here is why. With all the countless science fiction and fantasy books out there and newer ones pushing out the older ones all the time, I think it is important to keep a certain number of authors up there. Yes, I know, I know, it is a business like any other. If it doesn’t sell, it goes to hell.

But certain authors should be preserved. It should be a duty, yes, a duty to keep alive certain authors. To keep them alive artificially despite the disinterest of the vast number of numbed readers (whether numbed by the nihilistic drudgery of contemporary literature or numbed by Michael Bay science fiction and fantasy).

It is an offense that I can find almost no New Wave authors in bookstores. There is always dreck in any genre and most voices should be subject to the fate of the market. But we don’t do this to movies, why do we allow it for books?

And an author like Lafferty, no less? Particularly the unique – as a unique voice is an rare achievement – in any field. Take the first sentence of Not to Mention Camels:

Pilger Tisman lay in the article of death.

Pure Lafferty. First, the name of the character screams Lafferty, there are no Robert Swansons or David James in Lafferty books. Even the names are play. The other two main characters in the book are Pilgrim Dusmano and Polder Dossman. Taking all three into account I have no idea what the allusion may be or the reference, but there probably is one.

Anyway, I guess if no one checked it out of the library for 5 years, they have to make room for new comers. It is a shame though, it is a shame.

So to the no person that made it this far. I am starting to plan out a time travel story. I like to read up on certain, key, past books before I commit to any certain idea just in case I am treading on clearly broken in paths. And it never hurts to bounce in the opposite direction of someone else’s ideas, or to put them through a kaleidoscope and the cuisinart.

Hell, if one watched the Star Wars prequels and constructed a movie by doing the opposite of every decision of George Lucas they would create a masterpiece.

I don’t pay as much attention to movies when detailing a sub-genre because science fiction movies tend to trail behind the ideas of written fiction by up to 30 years.

Usually if it is just a story I will just go for it. But time travel is a sticky affair, there are generally accepted rules that cannot be broken (if you want the audience to accept your story). Leaving broken strains is a major boo-boo. A timeline left hanging will leave you left hanging.

Another reason is illustrated by the following. Let’s suppose you were a writer of mundane fiction and your most far-out story was a bored office clerk decides to spice up his boring existence by suddenly throwing in with the local carnival and traveling the country. You have never cared about science fiction before and never even seen Star Wars. But one day, say, you do and you are enthralled. I’m going to write a super neat-o space book! you say.

And so you hit the paper. Man, are you going to be surprised at how far they’ve already gone. Faster than light travel? That’s your idea? Try again. Man is attacked… by space aliens! For real, dude?

I haven’t read that many time travel stories because there aren’t that many out there. Now before the nobody that is not reading this objects, there is a distinction I am relying on.

There is time travel tale where the time travel is merely a device for the story to get the character from point A to point B. The archetype of this is H.G. Wells THE TIME MACHINE. The machine takes him to the future, but we do not deal with time itself, with the ramifications of time travel, the paradoxes. Usually time travel is merely a device for staging a romance narrative.

In the movie Star Trek 4 is an example of the time travel as device. They need a whale to save Earth from an alien probe searching for whales. There are no whales in their time, so Spock comes up with the idea of whipping them around the sun to snag a whale from 1980’s California coast. They get the whale and whip around the sun again and save mankind when they dump the whales (was it one whale or more? I can’t remember) in the future ocean and they start to answer the whale probe.

Likewise in Superman 1 (the Christopher Reeve version) when Lois Lane dies near the end of the film and an anguished Superman whips furiously around the sun until it reverses its orbit and goes back to where he can change things to save Lane.

Now, if by doing this, Superman were to discover that by his actions he has opened a new timeline that has, say, an evil Superman now roaming the streets, that would be a time travel story of the second class.

The first type of time travel story is not really a time travel story. It is merely a device to put a character in one situation and into another – or, effectively, to put them into another world. A thing that could be done by a number of other devices. But it seems to be its own sub-genre even though parallel universes and wormholes would seem to serve the same function.

Now a book that postulated thousands of wormholes scattered throughout the cosmos and men travelled by these means, but the wormholes serve the same purpose as an American Airlines flight to Singapore, then it would be in the same class as the first kind of time travel story, a device for the story.

If the book would explore the ramifications of such means of travel and the plot moved by the causative effect of using the wormholes (such as the danger of their opening up dangerous parallel universes) then you would have a story of the second type.

That is the type of story I am interested in. I like multiple timelines and multiples of the same character. And the most basic of these rests on the question: what would you do if you met yourself?




2 responses to “Not to Mention Camels and Time Travel

  • sylvietheolog

    “Was it one whale or more?”
    It was 2 whales, soon to be 3, because the female was pregnant. (Star Trek 4 happens to be a favorite of mine among the series.)
    Also, the characters discuss about the possibility of reordering the future when Scotty offers an engineering manager to pay for a Plexiglas wall (for the whales tank) with the formula for transparent aluminum. Dr McCoy takes Scotty apart and warns him. Scotty dismisses the objection by saying: “How do we know the man did not invent the thing?”

    • bensira587

      Ah, thank you, it all came back to me. It’s been a while since I have seen the film. And you are right, they do touch upon the second type of time travel scenario, albeit mostly in passing.

      Call me common… although I like #4 the best for me is still #2 Khhaaaaannnnn!

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