Forward into the Past

Of course a science fiction convention is going to be partly about time travel.

Back to the Future got a nod at the 2019 Worldcon last week with a display of the DeLorean, but part of the convention also did some going forward into the past.

The most involved piece in the masquerade ball (which is more of a series of promenades onto a stage than a ball) consisted of costumed rogues and misfits from the future entering a gazebo-like time portal to go back into the Pliocene.

Meanwhile, fans of epic fantasy, and those aspiring to write it, were treated to historians and authors talking about the middle ages on several panels.

There was a discussion of alternatives to monarchies that authors could turn to to add some variety to their stories, and another giving advice on how feudalism worked in reality and how rare it actually was. There was even a panel about a list of misconceptions about medieval times, brought to life with Medieval Myths Bingo.

My personal favorite was a presentation involving weapons often featured in fantasy novels. Because both presenters were swordsmen, they focused on writing about swordplay while demonstrating specifics with each other and willing audience participants.

It was great fun, but I would also have enjoyed learning more about daggers, spears, battle axes and crossbows. Given the enthusiasm of the crowd, these two instructors could probably have conducted a full day seminar on weapons from the past and it would have been well attended. As it was, they invited participants to join them in the hallway after the talk to handle the weapons themselves and many of us took them up on the offer.

Time itself becomes a little fuzzy at an event like this, you know,  as the real world fades away and the surreal world of of nonstop fan activities takes over. One tends to forget if it is day or night, much less what day it is.

Most of us had to laugh when we saw signs like this pop up a couple of days in, but honestly it was helpful.

The past was also present in references to beloved science fiction from long ago. Dublin’s convention center peppered the areas around the escalators with warning messages like the one to the right. It was advice no fan could ignore.

Whenever we ventured out from the convention center, a lovely harp-shaped bridge greeted us. It was a fine reminder of the two prongs of this literature we came to celebrate: the sleek beauty of tomorrow and the magic we so often associate with yesterday.

Read more about my Worldcon adventures at An Irish Worldcon: I’m here! and at Feeling at home.

More

The logic of time travel is so problematic. Go backwards and you mess up the present. Go forwards, and you’ve negated free will. It’s a message from the universe, a flashing neon sign saying “Forget it. This doesn’t work!”

Yet we do it everyday.

I live nearly half my life in the future, imaging the fascinating ways I prove myself to be smarter, kinder and stronger than anyone thinks I am, including me. The world revolves around me in these imagined scenes, which is probably why none of them has ever come true.

I also live nearly half my life in the past. I don’t mean to, but music hurls me there with a force I can’t resist. A few bars of a song from a certain 1962 Italian documentary no one has ever heard of throws me onto a piano bench where I am 13 years old, at my 8th grade graduation, scared to death.

For some bizarre reason I’ve been coerced into performing a duet for the ceremony, along with my best friend who actually plays the piano well. I’ve been given the easy part, but I am still praying to all the gods I’ve ever heard of for the strength to not screw this up. Absolutely everyone in my young life looks on as I strike that first note. I focus. I breath. I begin to play.

Dates remembered have much the same effect as music. I’m at a qigong retreat right now, and smack in the middle of it is the 10 year anniversary of my mother’s death. This was not an easy, gentle exit, and if I ever do go see a therapist it will be the first thing I’ll tackle. But there are no therapists here, only other practitioners lost in their own worlds, on their own paths. They murmur sympathy when I mention the day’s significance to me, but none ask for details.

It’s not my way to burst into tears or otherwise demand attention, so I muddle through the day, lost in the past, reliving the ten year old question of whether I could have or should have done anything different. I know I need to let go of the memories, and be here now, but then More, the song More, sneaks back into my head as a single note melody. Oops.

It’s my wedding day and I’m stumbling around to this tune in a long white dress while everyone I know watches. My husband of a few hours hands me off to my father; dad and I stumble together. I inherited his lack of rhythm, so we laugh at the silliness of our efforts and I’m glad I don’t know that he’ll be dead of cancer fourteen years later.

Stop it, I tell myself. Stop it. You and your father danced fine. There was nothing better you could have done for your mother. You can’t change anything that has come tumbling down on you since that day you sat at a piano and played More. Which, by the way, you did do and it went fine.

So focus. Breath. Do it in the now.

I force the past from my mind, and at least for a moment, time stands still.