Saturday, 13 April 2013

A Quincunx Of Ancient Trees

The characters in "Beep" by James Blish, living in our future, receive messages from several periods of their future. While Blish was expanding "Beep" into The Quincunx Of Time, he was also writing Midsummer Century (London, 1975). Thus, these works became connected.

Midsummer Century refers to "...a quincunx of ancient trees..." (p. 48).

Further, a message transmitted as a Dirac beep circa 25,000 AD in Midsummer Century is received in the Dirac beep in 2091 AD in Quincunx. The message is sent in this form:

"...so that all receivers [past, present or future] who might have any reason to care about the problem should have a record of it." (p. 86)

The receivers include the inventor of the Dirac transmitter, Thor Wald, a major character in Quincunx, referred to early in Midsummer Century, who draws inferences about the dimensional structure of time from:

a reference in this Dirac message to the projection to 25,000 of a personality originating in 1955;
a Dirac message, in both "Beep" and Quincunx, from a world-line cruiser travelling from 8873 to 8704 along the world-line of a planet in Canes Venatici.

This diptych is a worthy successor of HG Wells' The Time Machine. Blish said that readers of Midsummer Century would probably not realize that it had been written according to an old formula: the action must start in the here and now before quickly moving to an exotic location. Its hero, John Martels, the personality temporally transmitted to 25,000, begins his adventure in 1985 in a milieu of brain-drain, Pakistani immigrants, British "public" schools, new redbrick polytechnics, a class division between the two sides of a British bar, a First in astrophysics for a man with an "atrocious" working-class accent and a new radio telescope in an American University.

Like Wells' Time Traveller, Martels:

travels thousands of years into the future;
meets evolutionarily changed human beings in a paradisal environment;
spends some time in a museum.

Also like the Time Traveller, Wald expounds the theory of time as a fourth spatial dimension.

Just as we want to know when the Time Traveller went, we also want to know more about the future disclosed in the Dirac beep.

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