So I am watching the premiere of Farscape in order to get the background before trying the series, and I had a thought I had never had before regarding science-fiction and the concept of time. The characters kept using ‘alien’ units of time, and it occurred to me that I have never really contemplated how they quantify time in this sort of show.
We all know how we measure time, and here are a few alternatives, but how do most science fiction shows treat time? How would yuou measure time if you were a fiction writer? Is a reconceptualization of how time is measured and treated be an integral part of any science fiction?
The series is certainly worth your currency. You’ll be hooked after the first arn, if not in the first few microts.
Here’s the thing about “Farscape”: It’s either pretty good, or it’s awful. Seriously, if you watch it more than a few times you’ll run across an episode that makes you wonder what the hell kinda scam the producers were trying to pull.
Many fans of the show were baffled by the network’s decision to cancel it. What they missed was the fact that in its last season it was just uniformly awful, all the damn time.
I give you fair warning.
Well, there’s always “Star Wars,” where a parsec somehow becomes a unit of time …
I’ve thought about your time question before in the context of fantasy RPG’s, and it always seemed that hours and minutes were too rooted in folks’ perception for there to be any net gain in coming up with newfangled nomenclature. Even renaming the months of the year is a bit of a drag.
I’ve often seen “Galactic Standard” days, hours, etc. used to give a little authenticity to our conventional terms–Jack Vance, I believe, does that, and I think Asimov as well.
Farscape was the coolest in Scifi since the original ‘Star Trek” series. Sure, there were a few really bad episodes, but on the whole the DVD is worth buying. You’ll enjoy some of the best special effects, odd creatures, and stage sets found anywhere in broadcast media.
Of course, the scotch will help some as well.
The problem arises from applying our units of time, some based on our particular planet’s motion in our particular solar system (days,seasons,years), and some quite frankly arbitrary (there is no compelling reason for 24 hour days as opposed to 16 hour ones). Applying these measurements to other planets or life styles (I hear the naked mole-rat men of Lambda Slaughter are neither diurnal nor nocturnal, and don’t even understand the concept of “days”) is a recipe for failure, not to mention foment. The solution is agreed upon conventions to be hashed out by representatives of those needing common time. Local populations will keep local time and inter-planetary government and business (and no doubt military) will keep “space” time. Space time needs units very short to very long, and can be easily based on anything with a known fixed duration. We ourselves rely on vibrating crystals for accuracy. The politicos who work out the deal will no doubt name the units after themselves.
The original version of Battlestar Galactica did the exact same thing, pasting new names onto “years” and “minutes”. I think the recent revamp discarded the idea.
Off-topic, Go Spurs!!!
Two comments, John:
First, gotta agree with the CW: “Farscape” can be either really good or really bad: the problem, IMO, stems from the producers’ seeming inability to decide whether each season should be episodic, or follow a single story thread: which CAN lead to confusion: seeing the whole thing from the start on DVD is a good idea (as is the scotch).
As for the treatment of “time” in SF, I think the main issue is that most SF is intended to be read by Earth-humans (though I am not sure about a LOT of it!) – and, since we have a fixed (even if entirely Earth-centric and somewhat arbitrary) framework for expressing the passage of time (second, hour, week, year, etc.) – a writer has to take the reader’s conceptions into account for a narrative to make some sort of sense (if the writer even cares, that is). The good thing about SF, though is that an author can always toss in a few “alien” time-units (“The journey to Ogog would actually take nearly eighteen bugrons, although to the crew, only six glogs would seem to have passed”) to avoid awkward time-effects – not to mention the ever-handy “time warp” which san seal up almost any plot hole.
Off-topic, Go Spurs!!!
Jeebus. You’re pro-Bush and you’re pro-San Antonio. You really do hate America.
Tangentially on topic:
Alan Lightman wrote a book called “Einstein’s Dreams” where he reconceptualizes how time could be experienced. I think he postulates about 15 different situations. It’s a fun, light read that only takes a couple/few hours to get through.
Well, if one can pose distance in terms of time (light-years), one ought to certainly be able to pose time in terms of distance (parsecs). Although certainly a parsec of time ought to come to a few (3.26) years, which is a bit at odds with the concept of incredible speed that Captain Solo was attempting to imply.
OTOH our parsec of distance is defined from a baseleg of 186 million miles (roughly); why Star Wars would have the same base distance is kind of a mystery. In any event, a system of time that’s not entrenched in the orbital dynamics of a particular system would probably be based on something larger, such as the time it takes for our galaxy to rotate once around its axis (scaled down by many, many orders of magnitude to get something equivalent to seconds), or (even better) based on some large multiple of the Planck time.
RA Heinlein had a lot of fun with time and its perception to travelers. Of course being online and SF-savvy you’d know that already.
This is a blog. Your inner geek appears every time you post, haha.
OTOH our parsec of distance is defined from a baseleg of 186 million miles (roughly); why Star Wars would have the same base distance is kind of a mystery
Pardon my ignorance, but why are you doubling 93 million miles (= 1 A.U.) to find a parsec? But you’re right, parsecs are hopelessly provincial. I still think, though, that whoever wrote that line thought a “light-year” was a unit of time. We’re not talking rocket scientists here, despite the valiant efforts made by some to rationalize SW.
Time is often a subject of science fiction, particularly fiction dealing with space travel. Time measurement is n artificial construction (much like the meaures of feet and inches) and is merely an agreed upon set of conventions. While it is based upon general movement of planetary bodies, it is not a “rule of nature”. Undoubtedly, any “alien” culture would have a different measurement scheme based upon its early concept of passage of events (planetary movements, moon cycles, planetary rotation, etc) and it would be different than ours. We did not have minutes or hours until we invented clocks (in the generic sense…there are many types of “clocks”) to measure those passages of time.
Anderson: because sometimes, I shouldn’s post before I’ve had my MDR of caffeine.
Ok – I consider myself up there in the Star Wars geekiness, as well as a little sci-fi, fantasy fiction geekiness, but you guys take the Geek cake. Do you guys have girlfriends? :)