The Threads of Time by C.J. Cherryh
Genre: Science Fiction
Rating: 3.5/5 Rating
Here’s a paradox: straight-forward and confusing
About the author:
C.J. Cherryh is an American science fiction and fantasy writer. She used her initials early in her writing career in order to disguise the fact that she was a female science fiction writer. She is the recipient of the Hugo Award and the Locus Award, among others, and has had an asteroid named after her. This story was first published in 1978 in the Darkover Grand Council Program Book IV and later in The Collected Short Fiction of C. J. Cherryh.
It’s a fairly straight forward concept: traveling back in time and changing something past, will cause a ripple effect in the future. That’s what this story is. But, Oh. My. Goodness! did I get a headache trying to figure out if this was right and what was going on.
The qhal discovered the first Gate. It was already made, but they made copies. These copies let them travel not to just distant planets, but to distant years. All the way up until the End of Time, which no one as dared had the courage to go through. The only rule about using the Gates is that no one is permitted to travel back in a Gate once they have gone forward (to prevent any time paradoxes from occurring). The qhals in charge of this responsibility are called Agents, and they are permitted to travel forward and backward. It is a strange life Agents live, having no true home or time, and Agent Harrh is starting to miss spending time with his family.
6 page story; the fist page and a half are an introduction to the qhals, the Gates, the Agents, and how time-travel works. I knew what Cherryh was saying with the gates, time travel, paradox, protects – but the “End of Time” and when the “Now” was, that took quite a bit of effort to grasp those exact details and meaning.
The “Now” is how many years have gone by since the First Gate was discovered. This was what really gave me that head ache. Harry is from the year 1003 since First Gate. Makes perfect sense. But the Now, is currently the year 5045 since First Gate discover… How is that possible to know?
If time is continuous on one time line, and they have the ability to go froward and back, from any gate, to any time, then how could you possibly know when the real Now is? Every year since First Gate should be considered the Now. Unless I missed something from that intro paragraph, the only explanation I can think of that would give someone that knowledge, would be if each Agent had some type of time recording machine, separate from the effects of time-travel, and has been counting up since First Gate. So, even though Agents can travel from the discovery of First Gate to year 6000. Spend 3 years there, and then go back to year 1738 😛 . Even thought they are in 1738, this device will tell them that the “Now” is actually 3 years since First Gate. However, I didn’t see any such device, so how Harrh has knowledge of the Now is a mystery to me.
The actual story is about Harrh as he is home with his Wife and kids, and is reflecting on how – because of his job – he is missing a lot of time with his family, and how his wife has to tell people that he has to “travel” a lot for his job. This brings me to problem #2 that really racked by brain: if you can travel back and forward in time, how can you possibly be “missing” time with your family.
If I travel from 2015 to 2020, then yes I have missed 5 years with my family. However, if after I’m done with my Agent, time-mending work, I just travel back to 2015, and for all my family knows, I went to the market to go some milk. They have no idea I traveled 5 year into the future and stayed there for 2 years. To them, I was gone 20 minutes.
My solution to this is that somehow each Gate doesn’t take you forward or backward a certain number of years from where you are, or to a certain time, but each Gate is a doorway the is actually hooked up to the Now. Meaning: Gate A originally takes me to the year 500 since First Gate. But, if the Now has elapsed 10 years, that means that next time I use Gate A, it would take me to year 510 since First Gate. Difficult to wrap the brain around, maybe, but I could go with it, and it would explain why he has those missing years. Except, from what I can tell, this is now how the Gates works, and I’m pretty sure that theory opens up a whole bunch of other worm holes. Which I will not get into XD
Yeah, I seem to have gotten extremely distracted with time travel aspect of the story but that’s because figuring out how the time travel worked was my favorite part of the story. I’m pretty sure there are several holes in the Gate technology, but I enjoyed thinking and debating about the Gates technology and if everything matched.
Spolierific Speculations: (Highlight to read)
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I know I was very frustrated with Needle in a Timestack before (my review) because of the failure to explain or take into account how the time travel and butterfly effects it would cause, but that was because when you took into account the problems with how it was used, the story fell apart. In The Threads of Time, whether you can understand exactly if the Gates and Now make sense or how accurate they are, is completely irrelevant to the story. Cherry makes is clear that Gates let to you travel to different times, Harrh is an Agent who protects the Gates, and when something is changes in the past, it affects the future. The mechanics of time travel has zero impact with the plot. And the actual paradoxes that traveling into the past can create (aka the butterfly effects), that all made perfect sense to me and I really like how that played out in the story!
Obviously, I probably delved deeper into this story than most will, but that’s what I like to do. Anytime a story involves the butterfly effect, I can’t help my self! XD If you take this story at face value though, you should very much enjoy this.
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