January 11, 2006

Page 10

Some people believe that in addition to the traditional forward and backward
directions in time that it is possible to go sideways. Forward, of course, is
what we do every day - every second, we travel one second forward in time.
Backward is what we do in memory and in story, but not, so far, in person.
Sideways, sideways, now, is what we do when we imagine a different outcome for
an event or a set of events, all of the universes of what-if? Some scientists
speculate that what-if isn't just a fancy, that each time there is an event
that can branch two or more ways, that two or more universes fork off and the
event comes out each way in each universe.

Science fiction writers like to come up with all kinds of interesting what-ifs
about historical events and then write big elaborate stories about them. What
if the South won the Civil War? What if Hitler won World War II? What if
the Stanley Steamers didn't blow up quite as much and the gasoline engine
never took off? And so on and so on.

What if Scott had met Marty in 1984, or 1985, or even 1986 or 1987?

The first question any writer needs to ask about their what-if is, is it even
plausible? How could the South have won the Civil War? What could Germany
have done differently to win WWII? Sometimes, maybe, the what-if isn't so
plausible, but then everything else about the story has to be ironclad. If
you want to write a story about what if aliens invade Earth in the middle of
World War II, you had darn well better know everything there is to know about
that era, and then some.

Is it plausible for Scott to have met Marty at college? In truth, it's not
only plausible, it was almost impossible for them not to have met. CSU
Stanislaus only had about 5,000 students in the mid-1980s. It wasn't even an
official University in 1984, when they both enrolled - it was CSCS, California
State College, Stanislaus, and it only got upgraded in 1985 or 1986.

Moreover, the biggest impediment to their meeting - Marty's college boyfriend
- socialized with one of Scott's Computer Science professors and the prof's
wife. It turns out they were all Grateful Dead fans and went to concerts

Additionally, Scott and Marty both remember going to the Sacramento Railroad
Museum during college as part of a group. Marty remembers the person Scott
rode with - he was another member of the Grateful Dead fan circle of the time.
It's a virtual certainty that they were on that trip together.

Lastly, both Scott and Marty hung out at Mom's, the on-campus hangout joint,
on Fridays after classes. They probably sat there and looked at each other,
both too shy to break the ice, from the tables of their respective social
groups. They may have stood in the snack line together, bumping up against
each other's spaces and social inhibitions.

The next question, when designing the world of what-if, is what would happen,
and would it make a difference? If the South wins the Civil War, and makes
itself into a separate country, there are various possible consequences, such
as the United States and the Confederate States fighting on different sides in
World War I, that make still other things go differently. If, on the other
hand, what happens is that the South actually conquers the North, takes over
completely, and then the CSA goes on much as the USA would have historically,
there is a lot less story there because the what-if made no difference.

So, what if Scott and Marty had met in college? Would things have gone
differently? The answer is not just yes, it's heck yes. Even if all that
happened is that they dated for a couple of years and then split up, the
period of time in which they would have been involved with each other was the
same period of time in which both of them got into rather stinky
relationships. The barest minimum that would have happened is that they could
have saved each other those horrible painful years.

Much more likely is that they would have stuck together all the way through
Marty's college years. When Scott moved to Silicon Valley in the late 1980s,
he may very well have continued the relationship, albeit at a long distance.
When Marty graduated, she would have been open to moving to Silicon Valley
herself, and so they probably would have wound up there, together, getting
married and buying property together. When the Internet boom came along,
Scott would have been well-positioned to participate, and they probably would
have done very nicely indeed.

At the very far end of the spectrum is the story Scott made up for Marty in a
sentimental moment. In one universe, far away in sideways time, Scott and
Marty got together and became very successful and powerful. In fact, they
became so successful and powerful that they dedicated themselves to traveling
all over the multiverse, and everywhere they went that they found themselves,
they intervened in the flow of events so that their alter-egos of that
particular universe got together. And that's all they do - travel from
universe to universe, planting the seeds of new romances every which way.

Posted by scott at January 11, 2006 03:34 PM