The Task Of Presenting A Character For Whom Time Is Moving Backwards


The text evades the brunt of this difficulty by having Helen, the above mentioned character, not actually move backwards.  Heinlein’s travelers are forever and for all intents and purposes always facing forwards.  The issue is of orientation, and the problem is that we simply cannot imagine being oriented in reverse-temporality.  Conceptually when might think of a reality in which our sentences are written backwards, or shrink away, inverted and in reverse; or maybe they just stack up in between periods, smush together and pop out of existence instantaneously.  Regardless, when Helen pops into Times Square* in New York City, in relatively contemporary setting, only with her “time arrow [] pointing backwards,” she sees “two cops close to [her] running as hard as they could – backwards, away from [her]” (77).  She explains:

I was in a clearing in the crowd, but the ring of people was closing in o on me, all running backwards.  The cops disappeared into the crowd, and the crowd ran right up to me, stopped, and started to scream.  Just as that happened, the traffic lights changed, cars charged out from both directions, driving backwards.  It was too much for little Helen.  I fainted. 77

The scene is that of someone popping into the middle of a crowd, seemingly out of nowhere.  The people scream and run, the cops come to the rescue.  But it is obviously problematic: if Helen were to pop into a time-track and immediately begin moving backwards, wouldn’t she eventually – instantly, even – supercede the moment of her arrival?  How then, could she experience what happened what was to everyone else immediately after – but to her, just before – her arrival?  It would seem as though she actually arrived a few moments after her arrival – which to her should be prior to her arrival.  Luckily for everyone, Helen faints.  As Dr. Frost puts it: “I’m glad she got out in a hurry.  I’m not sure that human metabolism can be maintained in such conditions.”




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