Back to the Future

Time and Invented Worlds: Preliminary Thoughts and Questions

"Both time and place were changed, and I dwelt nearer to those parts of the universe and to those eras in history which had most attracted me. Where I lived was as far off as many a region viewed nightly by astronomers. We are wont to imagine rare and delectable places in some remote and more celestial corner of the system..."
- Henry David Thoreau

When I read this quote, I felt like it resonated with a thought that had already been floating around in my mind about invented worlds: It seems as if a lot of the invented worlds that people readily recognize as such involve shifts in time. I am, for the moment, thinking mostly about books and stories, thougmirror-dance.jpgh I plan on getting to other things. But I think that if you asked John Q. Public, or whatever you want to call [him], a science fiction novel would seem far more invented to him than a novel set in the here and now. That’s my immediate instinct – a novel like Mirror Dance, which is set in a time when humans have perfected space flight and colonized numerous other worlds (see cover at left), is more of an invented world than My Sister’s Keeper, which is set in the present. Fantasy novels, for some reason, are frequently set in the past or in a society that socially, economically, technologically, etc., resembles the past. That might just be that magic is a little more believable when the rest of the story is also far from present reality, but it might also be that time itself is important to invented worlds. And then, of course, there are more accurate historical novels, which also involve time shifts, though they're rarely associated with the above two genres.

I suppose one explanation of time shifts in invented worlds is that when we seek an invention, we immediately seek what is obviously an invention, not necessarily more subtle alternate worlds. The exception to this is perhaps those who seek particular worlds, like Chris McCandless or Tim Treadwell, rather than simply any invented world. Their desires were more focused, so the need to invent did not immediately lead to extremes. Maybe those who invent worlds or seek invented worlds in which time is a major factor are more aimless; their reasons are escapist, and so they seek to escape as far as they can without really considering where to. Maybe when people seek to escape to the past specifically, they are, as it is so often put, looking for a simpler time. In the present culture, human history so often seems to be discussed in terms of progress, the constant push for bigger, smaller, higher, more complex. Maybe people think that without all the complexity, without the constant pressure, they’d be happier. But that’s essentially an escapist argument, too – I want to get away from this time to a time that will (hopefully) be better.

For a number of reasons, though, I don't like the idea that escapism is the sole function of time shifts in invented worlds. What other functions are there? Do worlds invented in the future or the past or both have something in common with each other that they don't share with worlds invented in the present? I want to explore various invented worlds in which the time period is significantly different from the present to try to answer these questions, as well as any others I might come up with along the way.

The main reason I'm interested in investigating this particular issue surrounding invented worlds is simply that many of my own interests touch on it. I read a lot of science fiction and fantasy novels in my leisure time, besides being an English major and reading innumerable works from various time periods and genres for that. I worked at the Renaissance Festival for a season and attended it as a patron for many more. I've developed recent fascinations with the genre of steampunk and the Victorian goth dress style. I like to role-play. And now there's Second Life, in which I can explore all of these things within another invented world, and remake myself according to whatever world I happen to be occupying at the time. I've heard there are places in Second Life modeled after the settings of particular books and places set in particular time periods, in which you have to role-play a person from the period. Sounds right up my alley - now to the exploration.

If you have any questions or comments about this or any other related page, I'd love to hear them - please leave a note in the discussion tab.

Invented Worlds Explored:
The Renaissance Festival - The Rennies - Time Travel in Second Life - A Steampunk Philosophy - Dystopian Futures - Pretend - Second Life Art Galleries

Eng. 216 Syllabus
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