‘Danta in Black’ has appeared in Chappy Fiction’s ‘Time Travel Tales’ anthology, edited by Zach Chapman. It’s now on Amazon (Kindle and kindling formats) and will be available from other book sellers shortly.
The antho consists of twenty stories, including New York Times best sellers and authors who are Hugo and Nebula Award nominees and winners, and I’m pleased to have my work appearing in the same volume.
‘Danta’ is the longest short fiction piece I’ve written—at 7500 words, verging on novella length—and when I connected my apocalypsometer to a print out, the needle jumped around all over the place, so I can’t say whether it’s apocalyptic or not, but unsurprisingly, it’s about time travel.
I love time travel stories, I have a shelf filled with time travelling novels and anthologies, so before I come to ‘Danta’ I’m going to say a little about the genre itself.
time travel in speculative fiction
There’s debate about exactly when the first time travel story appeared, but it was over a hundred years ago, and I suspect some publishers think time travel has had its day. But zombies, vamps, orcs etc. are still alive and kicking (in a sense) and I see a place for time travel as well.
However there are a couple of things I’d change about the time travel genre if I were the Overlord of Speculative Fiction.
Firstly, I wouldn’t include time travel forward (into the future) in it at all. My reasoning is that forward time travel is not really distinguishable from sleeping in—Sleeping Beauty or Rip Van Winkle—or from suspended animation, revival after death, cloning and so on, and it makes the genre too vague.
One way to see that time travel into the future is quite different from time travel into the past comes from the Bilking Paradox. An example of the paradox would be if I somehow managed to travel backwards in time and slipped an oral contraceptive into my mum’s tea. I have no idea why I would do that, I don’t see myself as a particularly evil person, but if I did then I wouldn’t exist, so I couldn’t travel into the past with the contraceptive (or explain the Bilking Paradox).
Leaving aside the question of whether a hypothetical paradox is really a problem—I don’t think it is—there’s no suggestion of a paradox with time travel forwards, so it’s less ‘speculative’ from that point of view.
The second change I’d make adds to the time travel genre. There are some concepts in spec fic which are not usually thought of as ‘time travel’ but which probably should be included. To see why, I’ll start with the question of who, or what, does the time travelling. Is a police phone box, a DeLorean or H G Well’s gentleman Time Traveller actually needed?
The answer is ‘not really’ because you can easily set up the Bilking Paradox just with information coming from the future to the past. For example, someone who received the information could act to alter events in such a way that the information was changed, and then you have the paradox.
To get information travelling backwards in time, I could use my futuroscope (patent pending), but any method of seeing the future, even a crystal ball or a pack of Tarot cards, as long as it’s ‘accurate’ within the fictional world, is a form of time travel, and could be used to set up the usual time travel contortions.
Even without the forward direction, the time travel genre is both broad and complex, and I think there’s plenty of scope for original spec fic ideas, more so than many other genres. Sorry, zombies, I still love you.
back in black
Coming to the story itself, one source for ‘Danta in Black’ was Jeff VanderMeer’s remarkable Veniss Underground, and another was my own investigations of time travel. My time travel research relies on computer simulation. I don’t have an actual time machine yet.
Finally, ‘Danta’ was influenced by my past experiences as an epilepsy sufferer. Almost all of my stories have been influenced to a greater or lesser extent, and I hope to write something about epilepsy and spec fic in the future. It may take a while, because I can only travel forward in time at a speed of one second per second.