Science has always served as an absolute for myself. Through strict, replicable, provable guidelines I find a sense of solace in understanding the broader world around us. For me, this has meant that improper science within media and games has always altered the amount of enjoyment that I received for them. Due to that underpinning, I have often failed as a critic of media to properly analyze the underlying themes beyond the scope of the story itself, instead turning to analyze the robust, and often false, science that breaks the aforementioned immersion.
Our discussions in class regarding The Einstein Theory of Relativity and Via the Time Accelerator then helped me become aware of the broader media context I was missing, and how as a result the notion, and human fascination, with time itself was something important to be analyzed. It wasn’t the actual scientific backing that opened the door into an explorative story, it was the thematic underpinnings relating to revolutionary scientific advancements that allowed people to dare to dream.
With this in mind, Einstein’s influence with the introduction of special and general relativity is the basis that then facilitated these imaginary gateways into scientific exploration. Sure, the science wasn’t completely sound, but it was just coherent enough that for the general population, it satisfied their need for justification.
I want to explore science fiction because the components that are central to its genre help the genre itself facilitate thematic narrative decisions. To begin, I want to generalize themes I feel are set in place with other fictitious genres, and extrapolate how their core questions influence their imparted morals.
Within the fantasy genre we see the question of “what can we imagine” – it is founded in the abstract and openly invites narratives that don’t ask for an explanation. By immersing ourselves in this genre, we step into a “magic circle” where we abide by whatever principles the author chooses to provide us. Historical fiction offers a different lens, now asking us “what could’ve been”. With a pre-established factual framework to operate within, we can explore alternate timelines that are baked into a rich, often blurry history. Realistic fiction offers us “what can be”, working within the present or near present to tell stories of everyday life, whether it is a more standard story or an abstraction of reality.
Science fiction, however, is truly an open ended question – for myself I feel that it asks “what could be”. But, in regards to the application of science, it ensures that there is a grounding in reality for its audience to springboard off of. This is important because of the affordance of plausibility, where each new discovery facilitates a broader understanding of not just the science itself, but the potential – albeit normally incorrect – trajectory of where we could go.
Now we can circle back to what we see within Via the Time Accelerator, as it is an extrapolation of Einstein’s introduced Theory of General and Special Relativity. Correctness aside, we see Frank J. Bridge craft a narrative that centers around two principles. The first is the application and explanation of relativity, and how it can be applied to facilitate time travel, namely solely introducing the theory that you can travel to time at any point. The second principle is the question of the future, and what the affordance of time travel allows people to imagine.
Bridge’s title suggests that the “Time Accelerator” itself is the facilitator of this journey, allowing Brockhurst, our main character, to take this adventure. Quoting the principles of physics, our narrator even correctly identifies the notion of a world-line, stating “A world-line is a continuous succession of point-events in a four-dimensional space; or, in other words, it is the path pursued by any particular body through space and time.” This seemingly minor inclusion has broader implications towards the audience, it given them a kernel of scientific fact to ground themselves within, so when Bridge’s continues to introduce more complex theorems, ideas, and “facts”, readers take them at face value.
Yet, moving into the second principle of future application, I feel Bridges uses the desolate city as veiled commentary towards the current world we find ourselves in. Particularly, when Brockhurst talks with The Last Man, he writes “Greed and avarice, lust for power, oppression of the weak and rebellion of the untutored – it is the same old circle over and over again. They rise, they flourish, and they fall.” As much as this serves as context to the futuristic world, it is also socially relevant commentary that Bridges chooses to elaborate on within his piece
This brings all the themes of the piece back to present, expanding upon the cyclical nature of civilization and extrapolating it within the future. Via the Time Accelerator, whether knowing it or not, incorporates loops in a variety of levels. In its application, it allows for the looping nature of time travel to facilitate its journey. In conversing with The Last Man, Brockhurst (and by extension the audience), are reminded of the cyclical, inescapable nature of civilization and humanity, one that we cannot simply seem to outrun. Back to the nature of relativity, our perspective is seemingly engrained by our experiences, and in some ways, it serves no more as the absolute truths to the patterns we see time and time again.
The application of science adds a plausibility to an abstract story within Via the Time Accelerator, however it is in the introduction of loops, whether aware of it or not, that truly imparts a truth found throughout our broader society as a whole. So, sometimes it is important to look beyond the scientific inaccuracies within literature, and instead focus on what the narrative is trying to impart with its question of “what could be”.