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Alice and the Time Machine
A Tale inspired by Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland

Alice and the Time Machinemachine

By Victor Fet

First edition, 2016. Illustrated by Byron W. Sewell. Portlaoise: Evertype. ISBN 978-1-78201-156-9 (paperback), price: €10.95, £8.95, $12.95.

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    “Mr Wells has a time machine that allows him to travel backwards into the past.”
    Alice giggled. “That’s very funny, Mr Darwin. It sounds like something Mr Dodgson might dream up in one of his fairy-tales.”
    Here, a fourteen-year-old Alice, an apprentice to Charles Darwin, meets Mr Wells who arrives from the end of the century to discuss some urgent and disturbing issues related to Alice’s Adventures with its alleged author, as well as illustrious scholars of past, present, and future.
    “We should not wait for a future shock-wave that would pollute our time, pushing its fear and madness back against the flow of the River Times! We will try to steer the Ship of History, which seems to be going nowhere.… “Time seems to be seriously OUT OF JOINT—and if we wish TO SET IT RIGHT, let us make plans to save the world!”
    This book is dedicated to the 150th anniversary of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and the 150th birthday of H. G. Wells.


    In one of the most often quoted passages from his religious and philosophical autobiography, the Confes­siones written almost 1700 years ago, Saint Augustine says of the nature of time:
    Quid est ergo tempus? Si nemo ex me quaerat, scio; si quaerenti explicare uelim, nescio.

    [What, then, is time? If no one ask of me, I know; if I wish to explain to him who asks, I know not.] (XI.14)

    And yet Augustine then proceeds in the remaining 18 chapters of Book XI to demonstrate at some length that time itself does not exist because the past is no longer and the future is yet to be. Even the present has neither space nor duration—the present moment immediately becomes the past when we contemplate it. And yet, since we talk about time, Augustine next asks whether time exists only in the present—through memory of the past and prediction of the future. Finally, he inclines toward the conclusion that time must be a “distention” or “protraction of the mind”. He analyses, again at some length, what happens when he recites from memory a psalm and what we must mean by “time”.
    Ita carmen, ita pes, ita syllaba. Inde mihi uisum est nihil esse aliud tempus quam distentionem; sed cuius rei, nescio, et mirum, si non ipsius animi.

    [And so for a poem, thus for a foot, thus for a syllable. Whence it appeared to me that time is nothing else than protraction; but of what I know not. It is won­derful to me, if it be not of the mind itself.] (XI.26)

    In the end, he sees the mind “stretched out into tempo­rality, into an apparent successiveness of events.” This idea of the successiveness will have some echoes later.
    Now no one, not even his harshest critics—and there have been and continue to be many, would accuse Augustine of writing science fiction, not even in his De Civitate Dei, but his conception of the distension or stretching of the mind may provide a way of looking not only at time but also at time travel, which even if it does not necessarily involve the mind or soul, is itself a central theme in the context of the genre of science fiction.
    Let’s then proceed with the idea of time travel itself, which is one of the main conceits of the present book by Victor Fet. It first may be worth noting a few classic historical examples of that “travel”. Some science fiction literary scholars claim that time travel in the tradition of Indo-European literature may date back to the story of Kakudmi’s daughter Revati, a girl of surpassing beauty, in the Hindu epic the Mahābhārata of more than two millennia ago. Revati and her father journey to the court of Krishna’s brother, Lord Brahma himself, to find out who would be suitable to marry her. While Brahma listens to the music being played by the Gandharvas—the gods’ musicians and singers—they wait silently until Brahma speaks to them, whereupon they learn that 107 ages of man have passed since they arrived and all their friends and possible suitors are long dead. The story ends happily, a fact that is not always the case in time travel narratives, and Revati is promised in marriage to Vishnu, who is sojourning on earth in the form of Krishna.
    Of course there are many other examples of fictional characters venturing out of time, usually into the past, from Odysseus in the Odyssey to Vergil’s adaptation of that motif in the sixth book of the Aeneid, down to Dante’s Divine Comedy. Poor Rip Van Winkle snoozes through time and even Alice herself, it might be argued, escapes into Wonderland time [e.g., think of Time in the Mad Tea-Party] and Looking-Glass-land time [remember for example the White Queen who lives backwards!].
    At an even more fanciful extreme of fictional time travel, the early 19th century Russian author Alexander Fomich Veltman wrote in 1836 the novel Predki Kalimerosa (‘The Ancestors of Kalimeros’), in which the narrator travels back to fourth century BCE via a hippogryph, no less, a sort of ani­mate time machine of great horse power, in the hope of finding out what made the ancient Greeks such great leaders—a recurrent Russian desire. The narrator arrives at the camp of Philip of Macedon (the father of Alexander the Great), meets Aristotle, and has several other adventures before concluding “that people of all times and places are the same, and it is the laws of history that can turn them into heroes.”
    A more modern narrative of time travel in reverse can be found in the 1983 Alice Lengter Tilbake (‘Alice Longs to Go Back’), by Norwegian science fiction innovator Tor Åge Bringsværd. In this fairy tale, Alice, now an elderly woman, longs to return to the magic of Wonderland. Guided by two children, herself having been rejuvenated, she finds her way back to Wonderland and sees her old friends, including the White Rabbit, now sporting a very long beard; but she discovers to her dismay that it is now the Land of No-No, where fairy tales are forbidden!
    Precisely a hundred years before the appearance of Brings­værd’s book, however, the Oxford philosopher and logician, Francis Herbert Bradley, in his 1883 Principles of Logic described time in a way somewhat like Augustine’s suc­cessiveness:
    We seem to think that we sit in a boat, and are carried down the stream of time, and that on the bank there is a row of houses with numbers on the doors. And we get out of the boat, and knock at the door of number 19, and, re-entering the boat, then suddenly find ourselves opposite 20, and having then done the same, we go on to 21. And, all this while, the firm fixed row of the past and the future stretches in a block behind us, and before us.
    The idea of time as a stream of course can also be found in Isaac Watts’ paraphrase of Psalm 90 “Our God, Our Help in Ages Past” published in 1719 in his book The Psalms of David Imitated in the Language of the New Testament. The antepenultimate stanza of his Psalm 90 reads:
    Time, like an ever rolling stream,
    Bears all its sons away;
    They fly, forgotten, as a dream
    Dies at the opening day.

    The twentieth-century French philosopher Henri Bergson joined the succession of thinkers who considered the problem of “time”, which for his part he understood as a construct of subjective experience. “A newborn baby,” according to Bergson in his Time and Free Will, “would not experience time directly; he would have to learn how to experience it.”
    In 1895 the greatest science fiction novel of time travel to date appeared—The Time Machine by H. G. Wells, and set a standard for the idea of time travel that would last, as you can see, more than a century. Like Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, it has never been out of print.
    Wells does not tell the reader exactly what his time machine is:
    “Now, it is very remarkable that this is so extensively overlooked,” continued the Time Traveller, with a slight accession of cheerfulness. “Really this is what is meant by the Fourth Dimension, though some people who talk about the Fourth Dimension do not know they mean it. It is only another way of looking at Time. THERE IS NO DIFFERENCE BETWEEN TIME AND ANY OF THE THREE DIMENSIONS OF SPACE EXCEPT THAT OUR CONSCIOUS­NESS MOVES ALONG.”
    And his description of his model time machine is not too detailed:
    The thing the Time Traveller held in his hand was a glittering metallic framework, scarcely larger than a small clock, and very delicately made. There was ivory in it, and some transparent crystalline substance. “Now I want you clearly to understand that this lever, being pressed over, sends the machine gliding into the future, and this other reverses the motion. This saddle represents the seat of a Time Traveller.”
    R. H. Hutton, literary editor of The Spectator, pointed out in his 13 July 1895 review of The Time Machine that:
    The story is based on that rather favorite speculation of modern metaphysicians which supposed time to be at once the most important of the conditions of organic evolution, and the most misleading of sub­jective illusions… and yet Time is so purely subjective a mode of thought, that a man of searching intellect is supposed to be able to devise the means of travelling in time as well as in space, and visiting, so as to be contemporary with, any age of the world or future, so as to become as it were a true “pilgrim of eternity.”
    And interestingly a letter published in Nature in 1885, and signed only with the single initial “S”, had anticipatorily raised the idea of time as a fourth dimension:
    What is the fourth dimension?… I propose to consider Time as a fourth dimension… Since this fourth dimension cannot be introduced into space, as commonly understood, we require a new kind of space for its existence, which we may call time space.
    Science fiction scholar Paul Kincaid observed of the time machine idea specifically that:
    The time machine allows not movement in time (we already live in time, and a novelist has always been able to set a story in any future or past), but trans­position in time. It has introduced to science fiction the facility of anachronism, of looking at any one period through alien eyes. As such, it may be the most archetypal device in the genre.
    And Roslynn Haynes commented on Wells’ anticipation, as it were, of Einstein:
    Apart from its powerful imagery The Time Machine is conceptually intriguing. Wells analyzes the idea of a time dimension, and once we accept the fantasy of travelling through time, he forestalls any philo­soph­ical objections. This is the more amazing when we consider that he originally wrote it seventeen years before publication of Albert Einstein’s Theory of Special Relativity, the first scientific paper to address the concept of time as the fourth dimension. The descriptions of the machine’s departure and arrival are wholly consistent with Einstein’s illustration of the two clocks, one stationary and one moving.
    Finally, Peter Nicholls claimed that “Wells in The Time Machine seems to have used the simplest of all models of time, in which it is seen as a river. The Time Traveller goes further and further downstream into the future.” In 1900, the great novelist, and no mean critic, Henry James wrote to H. G. Wells to express his admiration for The Time Machine and said “You are very magnificent.”
    In Victor Fet’s novel his time machine, which he calls “the Macchinetta”—not to be confused with a coffee machine of the same name, which had not been invented at the time in which he sets his he novel—is an improvement over the Wells’ Time Machine in that it can transport/transpose two people rather than just one.
    Victor Fet, the preeminent biologist, scorpion researcher, poet and translator, includes in this book more science than one usually finds in science fiction or other novels. He brings together, the well-travelled H. G. Wells himself, Charles Darwin, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (that is, Lewis Carroll), John Dalton, and—mirabile dictu—Alice Pleasance Liddell—the Alice of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland!
    In his seventy-second year, toward the end of his long life, Augustine wrote in his Retractationes (we might translate that title as “Reconsiderations”) of his earlier Confessiones “What others think about these things is a matter for them to decide. Yet I know that they have given and continue to give pleasure to many.” It is hoped that Alice and the Time Machine will give you as much pleasure reading it as Victor Fet had in writing it and his friends have had in reading it.
    —August A. Imholtz, Jr.

HTML Michael Everson, Evertype, 73 Woodgrove, Portlaoise, R32 ENP6, Ireland, 2011-09-21

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