Return Of Bruce Wayne 2 was a bit good, wasn’t it?
Almost a fifth issue of Klarion in look, with Frazer Irving getting to draw lots more grumpy Puritans, albeit this time living above ground and human, rather than the Sheeda we now have an ‘infestation of Hyperfauna’ – Cthuloid monsters attacking from outside normal spacetime.
In fact, they’re attacking from *our* world.
The ‘archivist’ – and what a fascinating design that is, with a body reminiscent of the Green Man (or perhaps of Swamp Thing), but with something of the fractal around the outside, but with a head that’s equal parts upended-Skeets and Batmask – gives us a description of a ‘cube time’ (not to be confused with timecube) which is, I’m certain, Morrison’s original conception for what Waid turned into Hypertime. We have timelines crossing each other and interacting with each other (“Each track a new vibration, a separate universe, a superstring on a mighty fretboard”) , but as RIp Hunter says “As I’ve always expected, perpendicular to plane time must be cube time, from where we look flat”.
This actually makes sense, incidentally. The DC Universe timeline is, from our perspective, a literal line – the line our eyes follow as we go from one panel to the next. What is a timelike dimension for the characters in the comic is one of our spacelike dimensions, and we can view moments from throughout the DCU’s timeline next to each other (right now I’m looking at cavemen *and* at the last few minutes of the universe).
(If our universe is a two-spacelike-plus-one-timelike-dimension hologram, as some suggest, then we can infer some sort of analogy about the DCU – we perceive a nonexistent third spacelike dimension, while for them spacelike and timelike dimensions must be more mixed up, because they’re only perceiving two dimensions.)
Incidentally, I would be very surprised if, given the multiversal stuff plus the idea of storing all the information about the universe’s timeline at the end of the universe, Morrison wasn’t hinting at something like the Omega Point of insane/brilliant physicist Frank Tipler (an idea which in its basics is quite a neat bit of speculative physics, but which just can’t bear the weight Tipler tries to place on it, and which was also the basis for my favourite Faction Paradox novel).
So these monster attacks are incursions from our world – possibly incursions caused by the writer and artist to give more drama, elements that ‘shouldn’t be there’ in the story.
In fact, given Nathaniel Wayne’s claims that the ‘dragon’ comes from Hell, what does that say about our own universe? We’re certainly willing enough to see characters in the DCU go through horrible torments for our own increasingly apathetic amusement…
And we’re clearly, at this point, getting set up for Multiversity, and being reminded that to a large extent Morrison has been telling one huge story in his DCU work for well over twenty years now – Animal Man, JLA, Seven Soldiers, 52, Final Crisis, All-Star Superman and now RoBW all deal with characters attempting to fight back against authorial interference, with the fight against entropy (and again, saving all the information in the universe *at the precise moment of heat death* seems the ultimate rage against the dying of the light) and with the idea both that we can never comprehend any meaning in the universe *and* that it’s possible to impose a meaning onto the universe, even if that meaning is contrary to everything whatever gods there may be intend.
So here we have Bruce Wayne, still amnesiac, travelling to the very end of the universe in order to break the curse that’s been laid on his entire family by the woman he loves (though to be honest the Wayne family don’t seem to have been especially bothered by the curse, what with the whole fabulous wealth and so on). Cursed til the end of time, Bruce Wayne simply *goes* to the end of time, before carrying on with his mission. That’s what I call making your own destiny.
And all of this is just a few pages out of what is otherwise a totally different story, about nature worship coming into conflict with religious authoritarianism, about the power of love, and how people kill based on what appear to them the noblest of motives. It’s pretty standard third-generation-Crucible-photocopy stuff, but done by a writer and artist on top of their game (and Irving is absolutely in his element in the painted artwork of grim-looking Puritans, though less so in the superhero scenes, where his rather emaciated Superman and Rip Hunter look very little like the characters they’re meant to represent).
So how has Darkseid turned Wayne into a Doomsday Weapon? What do the eclipses have to do with all of this? Why the repeated images of Wonder Woman’s logo when she’s not, so far, appeared in even one panel?
I can’t wait for the next few weeks, with three more of Morrison’s Seven Soldiers collaborators providing art for RoBW while Irving moves on to draw Batman & Robin. Morrison has been hampered with bad artists for much of his Batman run, but whenever someone good – or even competent – has come onboard the results have been magnificent. I only hope DC editorial realise from the success of this series that creating a good comic takes more than just a good writer…
What then is time? If no one asks me, I know what it is. If I wish to explain it to him who asks, I do not know. – Saint Augustine
This post comes with a health warning – I am talking here about quantum physics. There is nothing more likely to produce wrongheaded drivel than this, of the “did you hear, right, there’s this cat and it’s in a box, and if you look into the box you go into another universe?” variety. Even most professional quantum physicists, once they start talking about what the equations actually *mean*, tend to start saying things which every other physicist will find ridiculous and unscientific.
So with that in mind, please assume that everything I say here is wrong. What I’m going to talk about here isn’t the truth, but rather a set of ideas put forward by a group of physicists including David Deutsch, Max Tegmark and Julian Barbour, as I understand them based on their explanations. These physicists are all people who are respected in their fields, but who are definitely in the minority as far as their explanations of reality go, so I’m not talking here about what reality ‘really is’.
But I *do* think that not only are these ideas interesting in themselves, they’re also an influence on the comics of Grant Morrison, which I’ve been talking about and will be talking about in this series. I suspect the idea of Hypertime has its origins in these ideas, which are expressed most fully in Barbour’s book The End Of Time, and most clearly in Deutsch’s The Fabric Of Reality. I’m going to oversimplify hugely here, but I’ll give a bibliography at the end of books which only oversimplify quite a lot…
One of the basic problems in physics over the last century or so has been an experiment that anyone can do at home, at least in its basics. If you shine a point source of light through a double slit onto a screen, you see fringes of light and darkness – interference patterns. These patterns are characteristic of things that exist as waves, like sound, but we know from other experiments that light comes in particles, which we call photons.
Now, when a lot of light is being shone through the slits, the explanation seems simple enough – all the photons travelling through the slits are interfering with each other – bouncing off the photons coming through the other slit, if you like – which is why we get the pattern. But this pattern also happens if we send *one photon at a time* through the slits – it builds up into exactly the same pattern as when we send lots through at once.
So how can a photon interfere with itself (no sniggering at the back there)?
Well, we have an equation – the Schrodinger equation – which lets us predict very accurately (but statistically) how many photons will land where. It doesn’t tell us where any given photon will land, but it does say that given x number of photons travelling through the slits, so many will land here, and so many there. The problem is trying to explain what this equation *means*.
There are several different explanations of it, but the two most popular are the Copenhagen Interpretation and the Many-Worlds hypothesis. The Copenhagen interpretation essentially says that when you send a photon through a bit of card with two slits, it sort of ‘smears out’ in space and time, and is everywhere it could possibly be until we look at it. When we look at it, it decides to be in just one place, and it’s never been in any of the others – it’s retrospectively only taken one of the paths it smeared out across.
The many worlds interpretation, on the other hand, says that in fact there are loads of different photons – as many as there are different paths the photon could take – but that we can only see one, the others being in separate universes. But the photons still bounce off each other, causing the interference patterns.
Now, as far as the maths goes, these two give exactly the same results – at present we have no way at all of distinguishing between them, so choosing between them is mostly a matter of aesthetics – whether you think it’s neater to say “if we look at something, it’s magically in just one place and we don’t know why” or “there are a near-infinity of actually-existing universes out there, most of which only differ by things like the position of one electron in a star fifteen galaxies away”. Neither of these seem especially neat or preferable to me…
But some of the physicists who favour the idea of a multiverse go further. They point out that, looking at these equations, there’s nothing to differ the past and the future from other universes. What we see as moving forward through time could just as easily be explained as a line ‘drawn’ through ‘neighbouring’ universes – those which are almost identical, except for small movements which are in line with the laws of physics.
So instead of time passing in a single universe, our experience of time could equally be put down to a contour that can be drawn through a near-infinite number of points in a multi-dimensional configuration space. That line wouldn’t have to go in any particular direction, so long as it was a continuous line – the laws of physics are (with a couple of possibly-explicable exceptions) time-reversible anyway.
So why do we have a sense of time going in one direction? Well, there are more ways of arranging things in a disordered manner than in an ordered manner, which means that there are more disordered universes than there are ordered ones. So if you draw a line from one universe (with enough order in it to have human beings who can think and write blog posts and so on) to another one very close to it (and therefore very similar), the chances are that the one next to it will be slightly less ordered. And the next one in the line will be less ordered again.
From this, then, we get a sense of direction – at any point, things are going to act in ways consistent with the laws of physics (because the universes next to us are those where particles have moved in ways it is possible for them to move), but overall disorder – entropy – is going to increase. So if we hit a cup with a hammer, we see it smash, but if we hit smashed crockery with a hammer, it doesn’t turn into a cup – because there are lots of ways to arrange those molecules into smashed crockery, but only one to arrange it into a cup.
But just because we’re experiencing one line, that doesn’t make it the ‘true’ line. There are a near-infinite number of ways to get to any universe, and a near-infinite number of directions it can go. That means there are a practically infinite number of those lines, all crossing each other. Every line that’s consistent with the laws of physics is a ‘universe’ just as real as our own – there is one ‘universe’ where every instant in its history up until the point at which I hit the next comma in this sentence is different from the instants in this universe, and where every instant going forward is different, but which overlapped with this universe at precisely that point and only that point. In fact (assuming this interpretation is true) there are an infinite number of such universes.
Now, doesn’t that sound to you like
Take a glass sphere studded all over with holes, and then drive a long stick right through the middle of it, passing exactly through the center of the volume. That’s the base DC timeline. Jab another stick through right next to it, but at a different angle, so that they’re touching at one point. That’s an Elseworlds story. Another stick, this one rippled, placed close in so that it touches the first stick at two or three points. That’s the base Marvel timeline. Perhaps others follow the line of the DC stick for a while before diverging, a slow diagonal collision along it before peeling off. This sphere contains the timeline of all comic-book realities, and they theoretically all have access to each other.
So for ‘comic-book science’, Hypertime is, if not actually true (remember, I’ve been throwing around metaphors, generalisations, and general fudging left, right and centre here), at least far less ridiculous than it sounds.
But there are some people out there who say that doesn’t actually go far enough – that it’s too conservative a picture of reality. Max Tegmark is one of them.
Tegmark wonders why the set of universes seems to be limited to those that are physically possible – those where the particles are in an arrangement that’s consistent with the laws of physics. He also wonders why it appears possible to describe the laws of physics mathematically, and he’s come to a conclusion that is unprovable – possibly even in theory – but is at the very least interesting.
Tegmark points out that if we can reduce the laws of physics to one equation (as some physicists hope) or a set of equations, then the multiverse described above is the set of all possible solutions to that equation. The multiverse is acting like what in mathematics is called a ‘formal system’ – in fact it *is* a formal system, from the point of view of mathematics (mathematically, if two things behave exactly the same way, they are the same thing) – it’s a set of rules, plus a starting point.
Tegmark wondered why that particular formal system would be the one that would be ‘real’, and he’s been unable to come up with any reason why our one would be ‘real’ but the others wouldn’t. Absent other explanation, he’s decided that our multiverse *isn’t* any more real than the others – that there are as many multiverses out there as there are consistent formal systems. So there’s a multiverse where the laws of physics are the same as our laws of arithmetic, and another one where the laws of physics are the rules of 2D Euclidian geometry. In Tegmark’s neo-Platonic (though he hates the term) view, numbers and triangles aren’t just abstract ideas – they’re things that physically exist, and are precisely as real as you or I.
And so if Tegmark is right, somewhere out there A. Square’s great-great-grandson is busily writing on his blog about these strange, bizarre ideas of Hyperspace that some geometers have been coming up with, where there’s a third spatial dimension…
A brief pop-science bibliography
Here’s a list of books on these subjects that should be comprehensible to people who don’t like looking at equations full of Greek letters. You can’t really grasp this stuff without serious study (and not even then, quite possibly – I’ve read original works by Dirac, Bell, Wheeler, Feynman and so on and still don’t have anything like a proper understanding) but these are all reasonable reads:
The End Of Time by Julian Barbour – a dense read, aimed equally at physicists and a lay audience.
The Fabric Of Reality by David Deutsch – gets far too speculative for my tastes, but a stimlating read.
The Universe Next Door by Marcus Chown – a good summary of the more extravagant ideas at the frontiers of research.
Quantum Reality by Nick Herbert – a very straightforward account of quantum physics.
New Theories Of Everything by John Barrow – a very dense read, on branes, M-Theory and all that stuff.
Programming The Universe by Seth Lloyd – a brief introduction to the field of quantum computing.
Timewarps by John Gribbin – a very 70s book (Gribbin, usually fairly hard-headed, talks here about stuff like past-life regression as a serious possibility) but my first exposure to these ideas. Gribbin’s later In Search Of Schrodinger’s Cat is the ‘canonical’ pop-science book on quantum strangeness.
The late-90s miniseries The Kingdom, by writer Mark Waid and various artists, was absolutely slated by fans when it came out, and is not remembered fondly. This is mostly because the story was billed as a sequel to the graphic novel Kingdom Come, written by Waid and painted by Alex Ross, but shared none of that story’s ludicrously overblown nature (I’ve always thought there was a huge amount of unintentional bathos to be found in Ross’ work – he clearly wants to portray superheroes as gods, at whose feet we should tremble in awe at their sheer majesty, but what he actually produces are Norman Rockwell pastiches featuring paunchy middle-aged men sucking in their guts while dressed as Superman or Batman).
But the main reason for the hatred of the (admittedly-patchy) series was that its storyline (actually a good one, which we will come on to in a bit) existed to introduce into DC continuity a concept called Hypertime. The existence of hypertime was the big revelation at the end, and was an idea that Waid took from his friend and frequent collaborator Grant Morrison. Rather than use the explanation Waid gave in the comic, here’s Morrison’s original conception for Hypertime, as reported by Warren Ellis:
It’s one of those things that’s difficult to capture on paper if you’re not the originator, I suspect. Firstly, it wasn’t set up to explain continuity glitches. That’s not its point, as described to me. It’s…
It’s Grant trying to describe a new physics for fictional reality. And it’s time considered as a volume. a three-dimensional artifact.
My recall is flawed. We were drinking heavily. There could be crucial mistakes in the following:
Take a glass sphere studded all over with holes, and then drive a long stick right through the middle of it, passing exactly through the center of the volume. That’s the base DC timeline. Jab another stick through right next to it, but at a different angle, so that they’re touching at one point. That’s an Elseworlds story. Another stick, this one rippled, placed close in so that it touches the first stick at two or three points. That’s the base Marvel timeline. Perhaps others follow the line of the DC stick for a while before diverging, a slow diagonal collision along it before peeling off. This sphere contains the timeline of all comic-book realities, and they theoretically all have access to each other. In high time, at the top of the sphere, is OUR reality, and we can look down on the totality of Hypertime, the entire volume.
Hypertime is a tool for the consideration of fictional reality.
I think that’s what he said, anyway.
That quote courtesy of travel.to/hypertime, a site that may well be down by the time you read this, as it’s hosted on GeoCities (RIP).
Now, whether Morrison or Waid intended this to be an excuse for continuity errors (and both are talented enough writers that I think they would shudder at the thought), this was how it was taken by the ‘linear men’ among the fanbase of DC comics, who are far more concerned that the story they’re reading be what really happened than that it be any good. They decided it was just the writers looking for an excuse to be lazy.
In fact, it was the latest of a long line of attempts by Morrison to make something useful out of the aftermath of Crisis On Infinite Earths. This series (and if you haven’t read it, Matt Rossi provides probably the best summing up you could find on the subject), while a great read (as far as mid-80s superhero epics go) was probably the most thoroughly misbegotten idea in the whole of comics history. It was decided on the basis of a couple of whining Linear Men that stories about parallel universes, where two Supermen from alternate realities team up to battle a third, evil, Superman, were not great, like you thought – no, they were confusing. “We don’t know which one is which!” came the cry, “the only way to tell them apart is that one is Superman, one is old Superman with grey hair, and one is evil and tries to blow up the world! How can you possibly then know which is the real Superman?!”
Now, rather than explain to these strange people that in fact generations of eight-year-olds had grown up perfectly able to understand these stories, DC decided to kowtow to their demands and spend a year’s worth of stories destroying every parallel world in all their stories, restarting the one universe that was left from scratch, and making sure the new one was consistent (for five minutes til someone cocked up, anyway). They also got rid of Bat-Mite, Comet The Super-Horse, Wonder Woman’s Invisible Plane, Aqualad, The Bottle City Of Kandor and many other things, on the grounds that they were far too silly to continue appearing in their stories about superheroes.
Morrison, much like myself, seems to think this was vandalism of the highest order, and has repeatedly tried to ‘undo’ bits of the damage Crisis wrought. His Animal Man would have been impossible without Crisis, being at least in part a comment on it (and I may have to do a post on Animal Man as part of this series, thinking about it…), his JLA: Earth 2 brought back one of the parallel earths that the Crisis had destroyed, and in 52 he and Waid (and their co-writers Geoff Johns and Greg Rucka) finally brought back a whole multiverse much like the one that had been destroyed.
But Hypertime (which never really got adopted by DC writers other than Waid, apart from one not-much-good Superboy story) is much more than bringing back the multiverse in disguise, it’s a great big one-and-a-half fingers (in deference to its transatlantic origins I’ve split the difference) up at the very idea of continuity. It’s also, once in a single story in a DC comic, absolutely embedded in that continuity – no matter how many reboots and retcons you have to get rid of it, all you have to do is say “Well, that was a different hypertimeline” and voila! Hypertime is back. (It’s the continuity-nerd equivalent of the GPL, ‘infecting’ every story any character touches – Spider-Man once met Superman? Fine – Hypertime obviously applies to Marvel ‘continuity’ too).
It’s a huge, huge help for imaginative storytelling, because by utterly getting rid of the idea of a single ‘real’ universe – even from panel to panel – it removes every restriction for the storyteller. They no longer have to worry about contradicting past or future stories – they’re all true or false on a case-by-case basis. If you’re doing a Superman story, you can bring in elements from the films, the TV shows, the radio shows, the books, the anti-smoking ads where he fights Nick O’Teen, whatever, and they all have equal validity, but what you do doesn’t tie the hands of any future creator.
All stories are true, and all are equally valid. The idea of a true continuity and ‘Elseworlds’ or parallel universes is as gone from storytelling, once Hypertime is admitted, as the idea of a privileged frame of reference is from the physical universe.
Now some people, including Matt Rossi actually, have criticised Hypertime by saying it’s all very well as a theoretical device, but it’s no good from a storytelling perspective – it’s not a usable story engine. I normally agree with Matt on these things – he’s a far more imaginative storyteller than I could ever be, after all – but it’s simply not true. Even allowing that the two plot strands of The Kingdom (supervillain goes back in time a day at a time to kill Superman over and over, and superheroes try to stop the past being changed and wiping out their present) don’t require Hypertime, plenty of plot hooks *immediately* suggest themselves:
Protagonist wakes to find everything in their life is exactly as it was, except their spouse has never existed in this universe, and no-one but them has any recollection of them. (Or better, they don’t remember them themselves, just a nagging sense of *something wrong* that they need to fix…)
Supervillain commits crimes in one hypertimeline then uses a device to bend the timestream into a timeline where they never committed the crime but still have the proceeds. (Yes, they could just do that anyway without the crime bit, but this is a supervillain we’re talking about – they always go for the non-optimal solution).
An attempted suicide who, no matter how many times he kills himself, finds himself in a hypertimeline where the attempt went wrong (because he’s no longer aware in those timelines where it succeeded), and decides the only way to kill himself is to destroy the whole wang-dang-doo-multeyeverse.
A psychic who can see the future but only of neighbouring hypertimelines, seeing disasters in which millions die preventably and being driven mad by inability to warn them.
And so on. Those aren’t necessarily *good* plotlines, but they took five minutes to come up with, from someone who’s not great at fiction – Hypertime is clearly a decent plot engine.
But is it good science?
At least a couple of people think so. Tomorrow, a look at The End Of Time by physicist Julian Barbour (also with reference to David Deutsch’s The Fabric Of Reality).
THIS IS AN IMAGINARY STORY (WHICH MAY NEVER HAPPEN, BUT THEN AGAIN MAY) ABOUT A MAN WHO CAME FROM THE SKY IN A BIG BLUE BOX AND DID ONLY GOOD.
IT TELLS OF HIS TWILIGHT, WHEN THE GREAT BATTLES WERE OVER AND THE GREAT MIRACLES LONG SINCE PERFORMED, OF HIS HIS ENEMIES CONSPIRED AGAINST HIM AND OF THAT FINAL WAR IN THE BLIND WASTES BENEATH THE MEDUSA CASCADE; OF THE WOMEN HE LOVED AND OF THE CHOICES HE MADE FOR THEM; OF HOW HE BROKE HIS MOST SACRED OATH, AND HOW FINALLY ALL THE THINGS HE HAD WERE TAKEN FROM HIM SAVE FOR ONE.
IN THE BIG CITY, PEOPLE STILL SOMETIMES GLANCE UP HOPEFULLY FROM THE SIDEWALKS, HEARING A DISTANT WHEEZING, GROANING SOUND.. BUT NO: IT’S ONLY A SAW, ONLY A MACHINE. THE DOCTOR DIED TEN YEARS AGO. THIS IS AN IMAGINARY STORY…
AREN’T THEY ALL?
I didn’t write that, it’s from here. I was actually googling to find the precise wording of the opening paragraph of Whatever Happened To The Man Of Tomorrow, so I could quote the first couple of sentences, but if you google “This is an imaginary story which may never happen” (without the quotes) that’s the first result involving the quote. One of those synchronicities…
There’s a long tradition in comics of ‘imaginary stories’, started by Superman editor Mort Weisinger in the 1960s (though someone will no doubt point me to an example from Pep Comics from 1939 or something), where stories that ‘didn’t really happen’ could happen – Superman could die, or marry Lois Lane, or split into red and blue versions of himself, or something else that could never happen in the ‘real’ comics, with no consequences – it was just an ‘imaginary story’, not a true story like all the other ones. This later became formalised in both the major comic companies as the series “What If?” in Marvel and “Elseworlds” in DC, where we could ask questions like “What would happen if Superman had landed in King Arthur’s time?”, “What would happen if Superman was adopted by Batman’s parents?” or “What would happen, right, if Batman had been a vampire? Wouldn’t that have been, like, just kickass?”
While these stories *could* have been an exciting and interesting thing to do – a way to tell stories about these well-known characters without having to dot the is and cross the ts and ensure they say nothing that contradicts anything in 70 years of already-mutually-contradictory stories, in fact they never were. In the DC Elseworlds stories, no matter what the premise, it almost always went the same way – everything would turn out exactly as it had ‘in continuity’, just with a different backdrop. Sir Kal would joust with the evil black knight Sir Luthor for the hand of Lady Lois, while his squire Jim Olsen looked on along with his aged mentor Sir Perry The White (I’ve not actually read the ‘what if Superman landed in Camelot?’ one, but I already know exactly how it would go). Meanwhile, in Marvel’s hands, the ‘What If…?’ question was always (for values of always that equal ‘quite often’) answered “the world would have ended”. What if Wolverine had had baked beans instead of tomatoes for his breakfast? – He would have broken wind and alerted the Skrulls to the X-Men’s presence and they’d have destroyed the world. What if Ben Grimm had bent over to tie his shoelaces? – A villain wouldn’t have tripped over them, and wouldn’t have been caught, and would have used his doomsday device…
In other words, what could be a way of freeing writers and artists from the creative straitjacket of continuity is instead turned into a way of reinforcing the primacy of ‘canon’. Things couldn’t be different, because no matter what change you make, no matter how major or minor, things still turn out exactly the same (DC) or the world would end (Marvel) so the only story that ‘matters’ is the mainline one. All is for the best in the best of all possible continuities. Hopelessly Panglossian indeed.
Big Finish also created their own range of ‘Imaginary Stories’ – the Doctor Who: Unbound range of audio stories – in the early 1990s, and for much the same reasons. Fans wanted to hear what it would be like if The Doctor was played by David Warner (the answer is exactly as you’d expect, which is a good thing), or “What if… the Doctor regenerated into a woman?!” or “What if the Valeyard had won?!!!!!”
These plays (which are all, incidentally, in the Big Finish For A Fiver promotion if you want to pick up some fun, cheap entertainment) were done at the time when BF were doing their best work, so they were pretty good, but that’s all they were – pretty good – with one exception, Rob Shearman’s Deadline, starring Sir Derek Jacobi (available here).
While the blurb for that story makes it seem like it’s an absolutely standard Doctor Who story, it’s anything but. In fact, it’s not a Doctor Who story at all, but a story *about* Doctor Who. Jacobi plays a retired writer, a once-prominent playwright who had descended to hack TV work (any resemblance of this character to prominent playwright turned Doctor Who writer Rob Shearman is, one hopes, purely coincidental given the life the character is living). Stuck in a nursing home, slowly losing his sanity, estranged from his family, he muses on where it all went wrong, deciding that the turning point probably came when a TV show for which he’d been commissioned to write, Doctor Who, was cancelled before it ever aired.
While there are many hilarious moments in the story , as one would expect from Shearman, “We have so much in common – we write, we have bladder control, and we’re lonely” being a prime line, the story is one of the darkest, most upsetting pieces of drama I’ve heard in a long time.
Every character is emotionally crippled and monstrous. Martin Bannister, the writer, destroyed three marriages in pursuit of writing which even when he was at his youthful best never had any humanity to it. Sydney, the journalist for the official Juliet Bravo Magazine (Juliet Bravo was a real British TV cop show from the early 80s, which had many of the same writers and directors as Doctor Who, especially from its third series when Robert Holmes’ protege/former Who and Blake’s Seven writer Chris Boucher was the script editor) is a parody of the sad anorak fan (one of the few missteps in the story – this character seems dislikeable because Shearman dislikes people like that, rather than through his own actions). Nurse Wright is a sad old spinster, desperate for a sexual relationship with her patient but turning violent when it looks like it might actually happen, and Martin’s son Philip has spent his entire life trying not to be anything like his father, but is exactly like him in the end, and so desperate to talk to him he fakes his own mother’s death just for an excuse to get back in touch.
Throughout this, we keep slipping into Martin’s fantasy world – the world of the Doctor, made up of Martin’s scripts for those first few episodes (all of which are *almost* exactly like the scripts for early or unmade Hartnell stories, but not quite as good), with Martin as the Doctor – where he can be a good person, and has a granddaughter whom he loves, and where he’s a hero and nothing ever goes wrong. Slowly his dreams start to leak into reality – that wardrobe seems bigger on the inside than on the outside, doesn’t it? And doesn’t that green stain look like alien footprints? – and he has to decide if, in fact, reality is all it’s cracked up to be – if it’s better to be the Doctor, or to be someone whose greatest achievement is that he wrote the fifteen least-popular episodes of Juliet Bravo.
Many of the themes in this story are very much of a part with Shearman’s earlier story The Holy Terror – the writer who harmed his son because of his obsession with his own work, and who retreats into a fantasy world, occurs in both, while the characters being haunted by ghosts of their past, and the thin borderline between reality and fiction, are recurring themes in all Shearman’s Doctor Who work.
Deadline is in an unfortunate position, in that Doctor Who fans are the only people who could really appreciate it, yet that conservative group are probably the least likely group to be able to understand what Shearman is doing. This is simultaneously a Radio 4 Play For Today about a dying writer’s relationship with his family and a genre ‘Elseworlds’ story. In fact, it’s an Elseworlds that manages to use this world as the world from which it departs, rather than the fictional universe it’s ostensibly connected to. Like those Elseworlds, it shows that if you change one thing – in this case, the broadcasting history of a forty-year-old children’s programme – almost nothing would have changed. But like the What If? stories, it shows that for at least one person, getting rid of Doctor Who would have been the equivalent of the end of the world.
In this play, Doctor Who is both the least and most important thing in the world, a pernicious, damaging influence and the one thread of happiness in the mind of a monstrous old man who hurt everyone he touched but himself more than anyone. It’s a bitter, twisted little play, full of spite and heartbreak, but also surprisingly touching. Well worth seeking out.
Tomorrow, Melmoth (yay, more stories about people on their deathbeds! Don’t worry, after that it’ll be superheroes).
Sorry there’ve not been many comics-related posts recently, but with the exception of the last issue of Batman, which I’m waiting to review until the end of the RIP storyline, there’s not actually been a comic worth writing about since All-Star Superman ended. There’ve been plenty of decent comics, in a sort of “this is quite fun, I suppose” way, but nothing that I’ve had anything to say about. I miss 52 and Seven Soldiers…
Of course if/when the Final Crisis related things get back on schedule, I’ll have a lot to say…
So I thought I’d talk about the different interpretations of quantum physics, the extent to which each of them appears to apply in the DCU, and why that leaves Hypertime as the only *actually consistent* interpretation of DCU physics.
Incidentally, when I talk about the DCU here and in other posts, I’m not talking about what’s officially ‘canonical’ as much as I’m talking about what comics I personally bother remembering. In ‘my’ DCU, no Batman story told between Alan Grant leaving and Grant Morrison coming on happened, 52 happened but Infinite Crisis didn’t, Morrison’s Doom Patrol happened but Byrne’s didn’t, and so on…
There are three major interpretations of quantum physics, which I shall now grotesquely oversimplify. All these interpretations come from a single fact, which is that the results of some experiments change depending on the results people look for. Richard Feynman once said that all quantum physics can essentially be explained by saying “Remember the double-slit experiment? It’s like that”, so I’ll talk in terms of that experiment (or, more precisely, a variant called the quantum eraser experiment ).
To oversimplify this a lot (the details are all wrong but the ideas are right – look it up if you want precision) – if you shine a light through a piece of card with two very thin slits in it, onto a screen, you get an interference pattern which can only be caused by light acting like a wave. However, if you put equipment in the slits to detect individual particles, then you get a *different pattern* which can only be explained if light is made up of particles, not waves. If you leave the equipment there, but turned off, it acts like waves again. Weirdest of all, though, if you turn the equipment on, *but don’t record the results*, or delete the results before you can look at them, it still acts like waves. In other words, behaviour of the light *in the past* is dependent on the information you know *now*.
This has been interpreted in a number of ways, but there are three interpretations that have received most publicity . The ‘orthodox’ interpretation is called the Copenhagen interpretation, and essentially says that everything exists in a fuzzy state until something observes it, which makes the universe ‘choose’ what has happened. The reason that, say, the Moon is there, according to this interpretation, is because people keep looking at it (or looking at effects it causes, like the tides). If everyone ignored the moon long enough, by this interpretation, it would go away.
More accurately, it says it makes no sense to talk about anything unless we can actually measure it. The advantages of this interpretation are that it’s parsimonious – it doesn’t require any new entities being created – and that it just takes the equations and experimental results absolutely literally. The disadvantages are that it means we can never talk about an objectively existing universe – that it denies even the existence of such a thing – and some argue that it gives an undeserved primacy to consciousness, making the universe depend on the existence of minds (though some, such as Heisenberg, would argue with this). Its detractors have characterised it as nothing more than solipsism, and it is most popular among those who think of themselves as pragmatists, who care more about the results than about what the results mean.
The best-known interpretation among the general public is the many-worlds interpretation of Everett, Wheeler and Graham, which posits that any time anything could happen in two different ways, the universe itself splits into two, with each universe being identical except for the position of one photon (or whatever). The advantages of this interpretation are that it fits all the known facts, that it does not get rid of an objectively-existing universe, that it’s easily comprehensible, and that it doesn’t make the fact of observation especially important. The disadvantage – and it is a substantial disadvantage – is that it means that in the time it took me to write this sentence, a trillion to the power of a trillion new universes were created, all absolutely indistinguishable from each other except that somewhere three galaxies away a photon hit a helium nucleus which in this universe it missed. To say the least, this seems to go against Occam’s razor. This interpretation is most popular among science-fiction fans and those who want the universe to be a more exciting and interesting place.
The third main interpretation is the hidden variable hypothesis, specifically the version advanced by David Bohm. This states that all the quantum results that look like they’re probabilistic are in fact deterministic, but controlled by some factor we don’t yet know. For various reasons that factor would have to be something ‘nonlocal’, which means in effect it would be outside of normal space-time, and it would quite possibly be impossible to measure. The advantage of this hypothesis is that it preserves a single, objectively-existing universe which isn’t dependent on our measurement, and that it suggests there’s an underlying order to the universe (the implicit assumption of most people). The main disadvantage is that it involves invoking something outside the normal universe which we can’t measure yet. It also has the disadvantage, as I’ve linked to a couple of times recently, that John Conway and another mathematician whose name I can’t remember have recently proved that the only way this can be true is if we give up the concept of free will altogether.
This interpretation is most favoured by both ultra-fundamentalist materialists who are very convinced that a totally deterministic, objectively existing measurable universe must exist, and by religious/mystical people who see the implicit order or hidden variable as being a manifestation of the will of God (although the God being talked about is not usually the god of the Abrahamic religions but some more Eastern concept like the Tao, or the Deist Nature’s God). In fact this description is rather like the description in C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters of the universe as seen by God.
All of these interpretations (plus others such as the transactional and relational interpretations, which are very close to one or more of the above) seem equally valid in our world (I just typoed that as equally valis…) and make the same predictions for every experiment we’ve thought of. So which of these hypotheses appears to be correct within the DCU?
Firstly, we appear to be able to dismiss the Copenhagen interpretation out of hand – there’s never been any mention of it in any DCU story I’ve read. However, there is an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ thing going on in the DCU, where if a character stops appearing in comics, after a while they just stop existing (like all the recent Supergirls). But that’s stretching a metaphor. We’ve never seen any evidence of the DCU behaving in a Copenhagenist manner.
[EDIT - RAB in the comments (and read the comment in question, it's a good'un) has pointed out that Limbo from Animal Man could be interpreted in a Copenhagenist way. He’s also linked to this post, which is a rather good reaction to the reintroduction of the multiverse in 52 and ties in with a lot of this stuff).
So we now turn to the many-worlds interpretation. This *has* been brought up before, in things like Peter Milligan’s rather wonderful ‘Schrodinger’s Pizza’ storyline in Animal Man (which really needs reprinting at some point). But while the DCU does currently have multiple universes, these seem to be strictly limited, and the differences between them are macroscopic rather than microscopic in nature. And also, apart from the Hypertime stories (which I’m removing from consideration here because that would be to presuppose the conclusion) most stories involving alternate realities, such as the recent Booster Gold stories or Rock Of Ages have involved an ‘incorrect’ timeline being created which is then fixed. So there is more evidence of this than there is of the Copenhagen interpretation, but it still seems fundamentally wrong in the DCU, where timelines can be altered.
Finally, there’s the Hidden Variable hypothesis. This is the one used by Grant Morrison in Animal Man, and Matt Sturges has recently used it (very much in passing) in Blue Beetle. It also fits the facts in that there *is* something outside the DC Universe affecting it – namely the various writers, artists and editors who work on the stories (unless you consider the infant universe of Qwewq to be part of the DCU of course). It seems the best-fitting of the various interpretations in many ways, and is also the one (of those three) that would allow the intelligent universe that Grant Morrison seems to be pushing for (with the hidden variable here being the DCU’s own sentience). However, as I’ve explained before, in the context of the DCU this would ultimately mean that Darkseid wins, and we all know that Darkseid doesn’t win.
So that leaves a combination of elements from the different interpretations – especially the last two – as the only way forward. It is my contention that Hypertime fits the bill, and is thus the only way to actually make sense of the various different, conflicting stories that have taken place in the DCU. More of this later, including how this ties into information theory…