Dispatches, thoughts, and miscellanea from writer Jon Konrath

Seven Days, time travel

More rain. I’m listening to Lizzy Borden – Master of Disguise, which is a very good album to have in the player on a dark and dreary day like today. It also reminds me a lot of my first semester of college for some reason, probably because I listened to it so much back then. The fall of 89 is on the very short list of semesters when the most change happened.

Before I get into this, I need to launch into an aside: Have you seen the show on UPN called Seven Days? The basic plot: the government has a time machine that can send a single person back seven days (called “backstepping”). So let’s say Sadaam gets a nuclear bomb and U-Hauls it to the superbowl and kills a few million people (which really isn’t a bad plan). So this secret division of the NSA would stap this guy in a giant machine, shoot him back a week, and now he has to go find Sadaam and distract him with some Asian hookers while he dismantles the nuke with a Bic pen and a book of matches, ala MacGyver. The special effects are on the moderate to shitty side of the scale, and sometimes the writing is a little too oversimplified for the scifi crowd – dumbed down for the action/adventure types. But it’s an interesting idea – sort of like Quantum Leap but grounded in reality a bit more. I’m not saying the technology is real, but they make this more like the government sending in the ATF or the Navy Seals, as opposed to a guy leaping all over the place and becoming different people. (But I liked that show, too.)

I have been studying a lot of scifi shows and movies about time travel, because I’m writing a book about it. So, I have some observations about the plot. I doubt anybody who reads this has seen the show, but maybe someone looking for Seven Days sites who is a big fan can answer my questions about the technical aspects or “time model” used by the show. I just did a search on UPN.com and found that the 7 is not spelled out in the title, and the main dude’s name is Frank Parker. It looks like it will be impossible to do web searches on “7 days” though because I will get hits on every calendar-type page on the way. On to my observations…

Okay, the first thing I can’t figure out: when Frank Parker goes back seven days, are there two Frank Parkers, or does he replace the old one? It appears from the one show I saw that they can also travel distance a bit with their machine. So, let’s say I am Frank, and I go back 7 days to the top of the Sears tower, but seven days ago, I was at a strip club. Does the me at the strip club vanish, or coexist? Doesn’t mean there are n+1 Frank Parkers, where n=the number of times he’s backstepped? If he replaces the old version of him, that would be a very interesting time model. It also eliminates gaffs like going back in time, robbing banks, fucking shit up, etc. because he is basically him. If I went back to 1947, I would not be me – the police wouldn’t be able to look me up and find me anywhere. If I go back to last Thursday, I’m still Jon Konrath – same fingerprints, same vehicle registration, same apartment, etc. If I knew I was backstepping in an hour, I could do a bunch of stuff that maybe wouldn’t happen, but I’m not sure – see next observation.

It appears that 7 days follows a destiny-based model, because (at least last night) some events happened exactly the same in both timelines. For example, the chief-type guy accidentally broke a tooth, which became a key plot point. Now, if it was a pure chaos-theory model, a butterfly in Nebraska could’ve completely thrown things off and the second time, his tooth wouldn’t break. But, if things always happen, how can a meddling time traveller do anything to throw off the process? In a 100% destiny model, no matter what he did, he wouldn’t be able to stop anything from happening. In fact, he might even cause them to happen. Imagine him backstepping to prevent the assassination of the president, and when he shows up, he tries to shoot the gunman, but instead accidentally shoots the president! So there’s some mix of destiny and freewill – maybe events are fixed by destiny, but an entity that goes through time has the ability to stop or supplement destiny and do their own thing.

When Frank Parker backsteps and then shows up at his office, everyone knows it’s him and that he has moved back to do some important work. They immediately listen to him and fall in line. Now they know that they put him back seven days, and they know all about his missions and whatever. This is a pretty smart way to do it. In most Terminator-type movies, they spend the first hour fucking with “oh my god! you can’t be from the future! you need to prove it!” crap. Of course, we’re not taking about 60 or 260 years of travel – they know the dude, and they paid to zap him back a week.

Also, their time machine is a huge basketball-arena sized thing with nuclear reactors and a few dozen operators, not a pocket-sized device that lets you zap all over. That means that time travel is pretty regulated to real missions, and you don’t have Biff going back in time to give himself a sports almanac or whatever. It’s not as cool looking as a DeLorean, though.

If I had time, I would start talking about all of the different, evil things I would do with a time machine. But I’ve gotta split – you’ll have to wait for the book.