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David Porter » Articles at Suite 101 » The Space-Time Continuum: How Fact Meets Fiction to Make Faction

The Space-Time Continuum: How Fact Meets Fiction to Make Faction

 Faction: De Lorean Time Travel Car - WillMcC

To write creatively, factual knowledge is added to make ideas work. To make pure fact accessible, some fiction is called upon. Faction is the mixture.

A writer exploring an imaginary space ship needs to have facts to hand to make the fiction believable and interesting. When a drama or docudrama is made, people may know what a certain person did at a given time, like a crime, say, but not what was said before or afterwards. The artist adds the invented words to make the known facts believable and interesting to an audience.

Faction is not confined to science-fiction, it’s widespread in literature, drama and film. To take one illustration: people know the bare bones of what occurred when a young French girl received a vision to lead her soldiers against the English, ending in her being burned at the stake. What she said to anybody is not recorded, but in the 1999 movie Joan of Arc, writers Andrew Birkin and Luc Besson wrapped fictional dialogue round the handful of facts to make drama, just as all writers have to.

The Fourth Dimension

By consensus, the space-time continuum is in fact a mathematical model combining time and space as if they are parts of the same whole. If the space around people and things is in three dimensions, then the continuum is the 4th dimension. But it has been a useful piece of faction for many years.

This notion began with American writer Edgar Allan Poe (1809-49), in 1848 when he said in a cosmology essay called Eureka: A Prose Poem, that ‘space and duration are as one’. Finnish Poe expert Petri Liukkonen writing on Poe’s life said: ‘Poe was not concerned with any specific scientific concept but mostly explored different realities, one of the central concerns of science fiction ever since… Poe usually dealt with paranoia rooted in personal psychology, physical or mental enfeeblement, obsessions, the damnation of death, feverish fantasies, the cosmos as source of horror and inspiration’.

US commentator David Grantz said that Poe in fact made a number of startling ‘modern’ discoveries ‘of current theories of the formation and destiny of the universe and the symbolic presentation of those theories in MS Found in a Bottle and A Descent into the Maelstrom’. In fact, Poe postulated the existence of black holes in space.

HG Wells: Original Time Thinker

English author Wells wrote in his novel The Time Machine (1895): ‘There is no difference between Time and any of the three dimensions of Space except that our consciousness moves along it. Scientific people…know very well that Time is only a kind of Space’.

Wells, regarded as the ‘father of science fiction’, produced fictions with some elements of fact (to make faction), such as The War of the Worlds (1898); Anticipations (1901), imagining the world in 2000; The Invisible Man (1897); First Men in the Moon (1901) and The Food of the Gods and How It Came to Earth (1904).

Other writers used time machines, such as CS Lewis’ Cosmic Trilogy of Out of the Silent Planet (1938), Perelandra (1943) and That Hideous Strength (1945) which described space travel to other planets, while his later Narnia stories had a magical transition into another dimension, dispensing with science altogether and relying on fiction and Christian allegory.

JB Priestley experimented with the writing of time twists and theories. He wrote several plays in the 1930s and 40s, each tackling a different time theory: Dangerous Corner has characters exposing dark secrets only for the play to restart at the end, so the revelations can be avoided. A theory of simultaneous time was published by JW Dunne in An Experiment With Time. Priestley used it in Time and the Conways.

I Have Been Here Before was built on Ouspensky’s theory of ‘eternal recurrence’; Johnson Over Jordan about trials in the afterlife and An Inspector Calls about a suicide yet to happen. Whether such theories work as theatrical events is open to debate, but again, some scientific fact or theory has to be wrapped up in fiction to make it work for an audience.

Not fiction, not faction, but theoretical fact, mathematically provable came in 1905, when Albert Einstein published his Special Theory of Relativity, which, as explained by David M Harrison from the Physics Department of Toronto University in 1999, proposed what he called ‘spacetime’ as the essence of special relativity, two aspects of a unified wholeness, which he continued to develop during his life.

The long-running British TV series Doctor Who uses an old-fashioned police box, ‘The Tardis’, as a time travel machine. On the outside, it’s an upright box big enough to hold 2 standing adults; inside, it’s as big as it needs to be to represent the flight deck of a space liner. The whole concept of the periodically rejuvenated Doctor, one of the universe’s ‘Time Lords’ is a mash of fact and fiction.

Hitchhiking Back to the Future

The space-time continuum was the device through which the car and train travelled forwards and backwards through time in the Back to the Future movie trilogy (1985 and onwards). The fictional premise was that something past could be altered drastically enough to make a new future, accidentally or on purpose.

The Time Traveller’s Wife, novel (2003) and film (2009), exploited a unique time travel conceit: a medical/psychological condition at the mercy of which was the central character, rather than a deliberate act of time manipulation.

Douglas Adams’ Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy and sequels in radio play, novel, movie and gaming incarnations (1978-92), as well as being wildly inventive comedy parodying science fiction and being perfect examples of faction, gave to the English language a bit more: ‘a freak wormhole opened up in the fabric of the space-time continuum’.

These factions also gave the world, ‘life, the universe and everything’; the ‘ultimate Answer to the Question: 42’, and the ‘ultimate Question: how many roads must a man walk down?’ There is little more joyous in literature than a piece of juicy faction, marrying cold hard truth and grey half-truth, imagination/invention with something scientific.

First published on Suite 101, 25 August 2010.

Photo: Faction: De Lorean Time Travel Car – WillMcC

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