forward into the past (the idiot’s guide to time travel)

‘Chronocules’ by D. G. Compton (1970)

“We build a village, so we need a village idiot. Put him on the payroll.” (p. 22)

“If you do not believe in predestination, then you believe in free will…to travel backward in time is a philosophical impossibility…Consider a man who has traveled backward in time. Philosophically the future of the entire world will be known to him. How is such a man to behave?…If you believe in free will, how is life possible to such a man?” (p. 167-8)

The solution to that philosophical conundrum is to send traveling thru time someone who has no concept of either free will or predestination. The village idiot. That idiot, in the form of one Roses Varco exists only in the here-and-now or what will turn out to be “then and now”-at least for a short while in terms of his lifespan. The following paragraph appears twice on the novel’s final page-

“In the thirty-eighth year of his life, a man traveling back from time when the calendar said he would have been ninety-five died a few weeks after his eighteenth birthday.” (p. 255)

The novel’s main action is set in 1988 and tells the story of the privately funded, government approved Penheniot Experimental Research Village (P.E.R.V. – haha) . The somewhat remote but not totally isolated village of Penheniot was almost totally abandoned before it was purchased for the purpose of constructing a facility dedicated to developing time travel so an escape can be made by some individuals from a collapsing and decaying present day society. Within the village nudity is the norm and people engage in sex as often as they might text-message each other today. After repeated experimental failures with both inanimate and live subjects, some measure of success is achieved and Roses is selected as the next test subject simply because he is “expendable”. Roses is first sent forward 57 years by his lover (not your typical love affair) and then upon arriving in the year 2045 is sent back, (by my math to 1968 when Roses was 18) by his own 56 year old son, the product of a brief one time coupling between his time travel research assistant mother and Roses. All of this takes place in the last 24 pages of Compton’s book. The characters and their stories filling the previous pages are rich in details and well told by Compton. This is the final novel in the group of four I picked up a few weeks ago that I have read. Think I’ll seek out more of his work.

“In the race he was conducting with the outside world he rejected intellectually any detailed information as to how his opponent was doing. Thus he was always in an emotional turmoil, begging for something he claimed he was better without.” (p. 37)

“It was odd that nerve endings took so much longer to get bored than mind endings.” (p. 54)

“The idea of wisdom, wholeness from the mouths of children was as foolish as it was sentimental.” (p. 64)

“Any fool could make people jump and run to his shouting. To keep them tense and ready while he himself did nothing at all was a far greater refinement.” (p. 71)

“Nothing can be likened to massed placards: they bobbed up and down as only massed placards can.  The foolishness of placard words is never worth repeating.” (p. 191)

“It seemed likely that he would soon be able to move forward in time. But to what? The future he went to might contain anything. Or worse, nothing.” (p. 207)


About Marcus

Who me? Introverted, neurotic, self-absorbed, increasingly cynical observer of human nature and part time social critic in hiding. Most of my life spent avoiding growing up. The naive idealistic passions of youth have evolved into the eclectic eccentricities of adulthood. Northeast Florida small-town native, related to people I can't relate to. Simultaneously my own best friend and worst enemy. Politically and spiritually unaffiliated, my personal ideologies put me all over the map or off it completely.
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