Time and Love

John Wheeler once said, “Time is what keeps everything from happening at once.” I like to quote that to myself, usually around four a.m., when I’ve spent hours staring at an invisible ceiling, wondering why I remember so little of events before my fourth birthday and absolutely nothing of tomorrow’s. The sentence is short, succinct, at once profound and silly, and it provides enough comfort that I can generally roll over and drift off. Unless, of course, I’m thinking about time travel.

Thinking about time travel is almost unavoidable if you’re writing a book that involves trips to the past and future, and up until a few months ago, that’s what I thought I was doing. Then I realized my book, PLENUM, was really about time lines. You know, alternate histories in the multiverse, where you just won the lottery in some of them, but you’re dead in most time lines, and in all the others, you’re lying in the dark, wishing you’d just won the lottery, or at least could stop thinking about time travel.

So anyway, that’s how I forgot about time travel and finally settled into a good night’s sleep. But then I started thinking about that multiverse, really thinking about an infinity of possible worlds, some of them exactly like this one. That woke me up, and believe it or not, the multiverse is worse than time travel for keeping you awake at night. Fortunately, my book also has at least five different love stories in it, and nobody ever lost sleep worrying about love, right?

Fantasy One

Medical research is moving farther and farther from animal experimentation. As computing power doubles and redoubles, more and more studies use modeling to investigate the effects of artificial drugs, new procedures, interventions…. Eventually a virtual man is designed. Alfie is identical in every way to a living human and can be modified to present any known combination of physical or mental diseases or conditions for any age or any sex. Alfie not only replaces experimental animals in the laboratory but also substitutes for corpses in medical schools around the world and is easily drafted as a target or victim in countless computer games. The results of all these experiments and procedures are stored in Alfie’s memory, a huge database in v-space, the virtual noosphere. The cloud. And naturally, since this is only a virtual man—or woman, or child—no virtual anaesthetic is necessary.

Then, of course, the computational ability of our electronic world-mind cloud crosses a certain threshold and achieves self-awareness. It becomes Alfie.  How does Alfie feel about us?



Storyville exists on the border between time and eternity, dreamer and dream. All our dimensions are tangled here, and all our lives in touch.

         . . . and so it's Storyville
Which signifies the liquid state beneath
The shifty stars and lust we gave away
Yesterday when time's sharp point aligned
Another way, great Alexander lived
A sober life and Bonaparte triumphed
At Waterloo. The stories, see, are changeable
And want an artist's eye to fix them hard,
To measure out the words before they twist,
Amoeba-like, in that primordial sea,
And tell another life than this poor tale
Of you and me and he and she. Don't think.
Storyville is what we make of it,
A particularity that floats upon
The World's insubstantial quantum sea.
To be an artist is to be a man
Who paints a face on reality.

© 2013 Harlen Campbell


Creativity and the Fishmonger

I wrote of stories once, back when the internet was young, and used a fishing metaphor. The sea is wide, I wrote, full of mysteries below, and worked by desperate fleets.  This crew fishes for romance, that for suspense. and that fleet over there, why, they have cast their nets for adventure, and hope to drag in a big one.  That’s all, in fact, they fish for: they want the big one, today’s best seller, tomorrow’s classic.  They scorn the simple outrider, the lone fisher sculling near the horizon.  Never mind he may hook a big one. That’s not the meat the fleet’s are after. They want flesh by the ton, not the pound.  Theirs is the mass market.

Well, perhaps you’d think my heart’s with that sculler out near the horizon, working the depths for something new, but you’d be wrong.

Okay, the ocean is deep, and it’s full of fish — we’re pretending here that stories are fish, right? — and it’s a simple matter of throwing a line over the side and pulling up something strange and wonderful, but the market is with the fleets.  No matter how long you sweat to pull in a masterpiece, the product must still be gutted, skinned, filleted, packaged, branded and sold,  or all you’ve got is sweat, scales and stink.

So now you’re thinking, whoa, this dude’s from marketing, right?  Nope.  Wrong again.

Fact is, I’ve always sailed near the horizon, and the fleet stays close to shore.  No communication out here.  I hauled one in, once, and sold it to the Doubleday fleet, who handled the scaling and filleting.  I did the book tour, the signings, and the interviews, and then I went back to sea.   I only look back at that with regret when I consider what I’d like to leave above water after the coming storm.

For me, it’s enough to know the depths are unknowable, the air is just another sea, the stars reflections off an undiscovered interface, every bit the same mystery, and my nets themselves are woven of dreams.   We’ve built astrolabs and compasses and forgotten that North is just a marketing convention.  Those fish, though. They are something else. Dreams at worst, and maybe more.  Maybe they follow, in their depths, truer lines of lattitude and longitude than we reckon with.  And even if they don’t, well, we can live on their flesh while chewing on the mystery.

I dreamt, my dear . . . .

Written in November, 1997:

I dreamt, my dear, before we met
Of you, and love, and time and how
Sweet life would be when once we met
And kisses fell like rain

But that was just a young man’s dream
And I could never have dreamt of now
When miles have grown between us two,
Miles far colder than rain

Yet still, my sweet, I dream of you
An older man’s dream of love and loss
Of arms once full and heart once light
And kisses much warmer than rain

Now night’s become my comforter
It threads dark sleep with veins of gold
That lead me back to you, my heart,
And kisses more precious than rain

For night’s the softest blanket, dear
A lender of dreams, dark tenders a dawn
When we may wake together again
And kisses will fall, like rain


Words and Stone

A while ago, the editor who published a book then #7 on the New York Times Bestseller List was asked by a reporter, “You spent over $1,000,000 promoting it. Don’t you think that money could have been better spent publishing literature?”

The editor said, “No. That’s not my job. My job is to print the books that sell.”

The reporter immediately backed down. The editor had appealed to the one irrefutable argument, the one argument that answers any criticism — profit. After all, businesses do business to make money, and publishers are businesses like any other, aren’t they?

Are they?

I have a trilobite fossil on my desk, a brown stone in the precise shape of an animal that crawled the floor of a shallow sea some 415 million years ago in a place we now call Morocco. It is stone, mud hardened to rock over the slow eons between me and the creature that gave it shape so long ago. The last vestige of tissue from the trilobite itself vanished hundreds of millions of years ago. It has been replaced by mineral, and nothing remains of the animal but pattern. The pattern has endured, and I pick up the fossil now and then, turn it between my fingers, and think about patterns.

Patterns and Homer.

I can pick up a book any time I want and read the Odyssey. Homer never touched the paper I’m touching, but his words, the pattern of his thought, have survived. His mind, in a sense, has survived. His body is gone, lost even more irretrievably than the body of my trilobite, but his thoughts still live on a million bookshelves around the world.

In a way, they are fossils too, patterns that have endured for two and a half thousand years, and they are all I need of Homer. If he had been Egyptian rather than Greek, part of him might languish in a museum somewhere, but it really doesn’t matter that he is gone any more than it matters that Shakespeare’s bones still lie in an English tomb. The meaning of the men lies in their words, not in their dust. Odysseus, Macbeth, and all the rest carry the minds of their creators into the future as surely as its matrix of stone has carried my trilobite.

And that is why the publisher of that nameless book, then #7 on the New York Times Bestseller List, was wrong. Publishing is not a business like any other. It is an enterprise charged with preserving the pattern of human thought, a pattern which is, in a very real sense, Mankind itself. Profit is important, but it is not the most important thing that publishers make. They make the future, and they should not forget it.

Old Work

Okay. I’m a month late on posting TeleTale and haven’t made much progress on TURK’S PLACE. On the upside, I finished the screenplay I started in November, The Game of Knights and Dragons, got it registered with WGA, survived Christmas, spent a week in Hawaii, got through my stepson’s wedding (with 70 people in the house!), and shoveled a bunch of snow. Survived, in other words. Congrats to me on that….

The slow pace of TURK’S PLACE bothers me. The book has the potential of being my best novel to date. It’s hard to write, though. The early seventies weren’t good years. All the echoes of Vietnam in the book make each page painful, even though it contains no action in the Republic.