Since 1997, you’ve been coming to BarnesandNoble.com to discuss everything from Stephen King to writing to Harry Potter. You’ve made our site more than a place to discover your next book: you’ve made it a community. But like all things internet, BN.com is growing and changing. We've said goodbye to our community message boards—but that doesn’t mean we won’t still be a place for adventurous readers to connect and discover.

Now, you can explore the most exciting new titles (and remember the classics) at the Barnes & Noble Book Blog. Check out conversations with authors like Jeff VanderMeer and Gary Shteyngart at the B&N Review, and browse write-ups of the best in literary fiction. Come to our Facebook page to weigh in on what it means to be a book nerd. Browse digital deals on the NOOK blog, tweet about books with us,or self-publish your latest novella with NOOK Press. And for those of you looking for support for your NOOK, the NOOK Support Forums will still be here.

We will continue to provide you with books that make you turn pages well past midnight, discover new worlds, and reunite with old friends. And we hope that you’ll continue to tell us how you’re doing, what you’re reading, and what books mean to you.

Reply
Distinguished Correspondent
marilynpsychic
Posts: 266
Registered: ‎09-20-2008
0 Kudos

The Conundrum of Time in SF/Fantasy

As a new writer, I'm having a dickens of a time describing Time in futuristic, or non-Earth stories.  And I thought this problem could yield better results in this forum rather than the Writers Forum.

 

So ... how do you, as a writer or reader, deal with Time in a futuristic or non-Earth story framework?  How do you express everything from seconds to months in the far future or non-Earth setting. 

 

How do you avid readers prefer to see Time expressed?  As clumsy as it is for the writer, do you find "made up" time increments jarring and confusing?  Or does a glossary at the back with the "made up" time elements explained let you sail thru the story without a second thought?

"I'm a writer. I give the truth scope." Chaucer (character) in movie "A Knight's Tale"
Inspired Correspondent
Sandikal
Posts: 206
Registered: ‎10-15-2008

Re: The Conundrum of Time in SF/Fantasy

Personally, I can't stand made-up time increments, especially if they are clumsy.  I'd much rather see a writer use days, weeks, months and years than try to invent time periods.  In my opinion, any planet that circles a sun will have some name for these time increments, especially if they have a moon.  I assume that the people in the story don't speak English anyway, so we're just reading a translation.  Therefore, the time increments should be translated to our understanding.  Very rarely do I see time increments done well if they use something other than what we use.
Contributor
Selber44
Posts: 21
Registered: ‎08-22-2007
0 Kudos

Re: The Conundrum of Time in SF/Fantasy

I agree.

 

As a writer I've tried creating different time descriptions, and it's just doesn't work well.  As a reader of scifi and fantasy, I don't even notice most of the time when the author uses familiar time increments even if they world in the story wouldn't.  I think in seconds, days, and years so it easiest to read them. 

 

I think only if the differences in time have a huge impact on the characters or plot in your story, should you try to make up new words.  Maybe in a futuristic story, robots and computers need a common word for increments smaller than seconds, which humans have little use for, becuase they can process data faster.  But even then, I'd try to use something that is intuitive for the reader to read.  If it feels clumbsy for you to write, it will probably be clumbsy to read.

"Trying to create a world, even in words, is good occupational theory for lunatics who think they're Gods and an excellent argument for polytheism."
SM Stirling
Distinguished Wordsmith
Raven_Lunatic
Posts: 302
Registered: ‎10-13-2008

Re: The Conundrum of Time in SF/Fantasy

By necessecity, months and years will be different lengths on different planets. If you are basing your story on Pluto, say, you could still have them use the earth calendar out of tradition. But it won't match the local seasons.

_______________
"Fear not, for our army is strong and courageous."
"Just hope they don't sober up before we get there".
-Bored of the Rings
Contributor
Brisbey
Posts: 11
Registered: ‎11-18-2008
0 Kudos

Re: The Conundrum of Time in SF/Fantasy

I actually ran into a similar problem and tried for weeks to come up with a new date / time system.  In the end, I gave up and only kept two new titles for things - which I believe are easy enough to figure out without much explanation.

 

I don't seem to mind it as much if you indicate that time has just changed.  As in, "what humans once called years are now...", but at that point it seems unnecessary.

=====
- Brisbey

[Insert witty, meaningful or absurd quote here.]
Distinguished Bibliophile
TiggerBear
Posts: 9,489
Registered: ‎02-12-2008

Re: The Conundrum of Time in SF/Fantasy


marilynpsychic wrote:

As a new writer, I'm having a dickens of a time describing Time in futuristic, or non-Earth stories.  And I thought this problem could yield better results in this forum rather than the Writers Forum.

 

So ... how do you, as a writer or reader, deal with Time in a futuristic or non-Earth story framework?  How do you express everything from seconds to months in the far future or non-Earth setting. 

 

How do you avid readers prefer to see Time expressed?  As clumsy as it is for the writer, do you find "made up" time increments jarring and confusing?  Or does a glossary at the back with the "made up" time elements explained let you sail thru the story without a second thought?


Just somewhere in your opening description state how many sec in a "Min", Mins in a "Hour", hours in a "day", days in a "week", weeks in a "month" ,months in the "year". Insert your own terms in the parameters. 

 

I only find it confusing when an author doesn't bother explaining until half way through. Get it over with. Make a chart if need be and insert it before the story text. It's no different than a map really.

Distinguished Correspondent
marilynpsychic
Posts: 266
Registered: ‎09-20-2008
0 Kudos

Re: The Conundrum of Time in SF/Fantasy

Thank you for all your comments!  I was hoping for a spectrum of ideas from both authors and readers, and you provided that.

  

Actually what I'm writing is mostly Space Opera, with humans and non-humans on board a craft.  So I have no planet or moon to orient my time to.  I figure that, even in space, intelligent life aboard a spacecraft need to settle on some kind of timeframe, if only to sleep and be awake at roughly the same time.  So my working theory is that most in-flight spacecraft would have some kind of internal, agreed upon timeframe, that agrees with everyone's internal clock, and provides for sufficient time that all on board are awake and working.

 

As for acknowledging the passage of time in space, my working theory is that there are spatial pools of different time all over space, at least in a rough equivalent of Past and Future.  So worrying about seconds and minutes and hours is probably best left to the craft's internal agreement on marking time.

 

Thanks again for all the comments.  Anyone wants to join the discussion -- Welcome!

"I'm a writer. I give the truth scope." Chaucer (character) in movie "A Knight's Tale"
Distinguished Wordsmith
Raven_Lunatic
Posts: 302
Registered: ‎10-13-2008

Re: The Conundrum of Time in SF/Fantasy

Just so you know, our internal clocks, without outside stimulus, will run on a 25-hour cycle.
_______________
"Fear not, for our army is strong and courageous."
"Just hope they don't sober up before we get there".
-Bored of the Rings
Distinguished Correspondent
marilynpsychic
Posts: 266
Registered: ‎09-20-2008
0 Kudos

Re: The Conundrum of Time in SF/Fantasy

Thanks Raven!

 

I had forgotten that study over a decade ago, when they put a female researcher down in a cave with no access to a timepiece, or way to tell daytime from nighttime.  She stayed awake longer, and slept longer.  When they told her the experiment was over, after the agreed upon so many months, she was amazed, thinking she still had more time to go!

 

 

"I'm a writer. I give the truth scope." Chaucer (character) in movie "A Knight's Tale"
Inspired Contributor
gegarland
Posts: 191
Registered: ‎01-27-2008
0 Kudos

Re: The Conundrum of Time in SF/Fantasy


marilynpsychic wrote:

Thanks Raven!

 

I had forgotten that study over a decade ago, when they put a female researcher down in a cave with no access to a timepiece, or way to tell daytime from nighttime.  She stayed awake longer, and slept longer.  When they told her the experiment was over, after the agreed upon so many months, she was amazed, thinking she still had more time to go!

 

 


Not going to look up the results of these old studies (which probably already suffer from too much pop psychology) but there are good and simple physiological and evolutionary reasons why absent any external stimulus your internal biological clock's concept of "day"

is slightly longer than the average solar day. The real question would be why are these differing concepts of time relevant to your story-telling. If you wish to introduce new jargon to build a world, you have to ask how that jargon contributes fleshing out this world in the readers mind. The predominant natural human concept of time is one solar day; by our own history we know that our ancestors knew that sunrise, noon, sunset varied during the year. Any lesser gradiation of time is pretty much completely artficial and arose out of historical accident. It is reasonable to assume that the natural concept of alien time would be one solar day of their original planet. Unless your story depends on how various human/alien work days overlap or fail to overlap, it would seem to be ignorable.

 

days intersect.

 

Alive, occupying space, and exerting gravitational force
Distinguished Correspondent
marilynpsychic
Posts: 266
Registered: ‎09-20-2008
0 Kudos

Re: The Conundrum of Time in SF/Fantasy

Thanks for your thought-provoking comments, Gegarland!

 

Yes, the easiest way for intelligent beings to find their optimal awake/sleep cycles, is thru the natural day/night cycles on a planet.

 

The concept of time is relevant to my story, since much of it takes place on a craft with a human and non-human on board.   There is no urgent need for one to be working while the other sleeps, so I have both awake and asleep at the same time.  So I'm not "building a world" as much as trying to figure out how time increments could be expressed in a space-faring craft.  To do something "tomorrow" would not be an accurate expression.  There would probably have to be a time-increment expression unique to that craft and the Beings on-board, which agrees or adjusts to everyone's natural internal clocks.

 

Beside, there was a historical imperative on this planet to create time increments in smaller units than day/night.  Our European ancestors' grasp of sundials was one answer.  I think the ancient Chinese have a complicated water-clock that also created time increments.  So the necessity of time increments has been displayed in our own ancient past, and thus would be equally necessary in a space-faring vehicle, in my opinion.

"I'm a writer. I give the truth scope." Chaucer (character) in movie "A Knight's Tale"
Distinguished Bibliophile
TiggerBear
Posts: 9,489
Registered: ‎02-12-2008
0 Kudos

Re: The Conundrum of Time in SF/Fantasy


marilynpsychic wrote:

Thank you for all your comments!  I was hoping for a spectrum of ideas from both authors and readers, and you provided that.

  

Actually what I'm writing is mostly Space Opera, with humans and non-humans on board a craft.  So I have no planet or moon to orient my time to.  I figure that, even in space, intelligent life aboard a spacecraft need to settle on some kind of timeframe, if only to sleep and be awake at roughly the same time.  So my working theory is that most in-flight spacecraft would have some kind of internal, agreed upon timeframe, that agrees with everyone's internal clock, and provides for sufficient time that all on board are awake and working.

 

As for acknowledging the passage of time in space, my working theory is that there are spatial pools of different time all over space, at least in a rough equivalent of Past and Future.  So worrying about seconds and minutes and hours is probably best left to the craft's internal agreement on marking time.

 

Thanks again for all the comments.  Anyone wants to join the discussion -- Welcome!


This might be a bit left field.

But don't space societies tend to go by the time schedule of their home plant?

 

Distinguished Correspondent
marilynpsychic
Posts: 266
Registered: ‎09-20-2008
0 Kudos

Re: The Conundrum of Time in SF/Fantasy

Than you, TiggerBear!

  

My personal opinion is that space-faring societies would start with their homeworld's sense of time.  But it would end up more of a "sliding scale" as they ventured to travel in space for extended periods of time.  And when they started to colonize, probably on habitable moons in their own solar systems to start, an artifical sense of time would probably have to be introduced, since moons, especially around large unliveable planets, would not have a neat and tidy "solar day/night".  (Think of our Jupiter, and the most curious moons orbiting it, that could conceivably be colonies from Earth some day.)

  

When you add other intelligent species into the mix, then you have more reason for a standardized time framework.  Even a huge space-faring craft with multiple species and continuous "shifts" (think of Star Trek's Enterprise), would have to have some kind of standardized time-framework.  Probably not in the sense anymore or days and nights, but increments of time that most importantly would designate work, meals and off-time, and sleeping.  So this is what I'm still mulling over, since my series is mostly Space Opera.

"I'm a writer. I give the truth scope." Chaucer (character) in movie "A Knight's Tale"
Contributor
Selber44
Posts: 21
Registered: ‎08-22-2007
0 Kudos

Re: The Conundrum of Time in SF/Fantasy

I agree with your sense of a "sliding scale" based on home planet time traditions.  I would think, that if space travel was a common thing, at some point the various human and non-human governments would get together and create some sort of standardized time system for their space ships.  That would be an easy concept to get across, like "standard space hour."  I think the most efficient way to organize work shifts and meals and such would still be with approximate "days" broken up into rough "hours".  And of course a day and an hour in space time don't have to equal what they do to us.  You could use the 25 hour day and I personally like 90 min better than 60 for units of division, but I am sadly not on board a space ship. 

 

And how standard and rigid a system would need to be would depend on if the ship stays in touch with other ships and plant based people.  If it does, than it would be pretty important to have a standard system everyone could depend on no matter what their local day/night time was like.  If the ship is completley cut off for six generations, than you'd only need the minimumn time conventions necessary for the ship to function and it's likely the traditions people brought with them from their home planets would get changed a lot.  By the second and third generation, a whole new sense of time would have developed, since the children born in space would have no personal reference to a solar day/night. 

"Trying to create a world, even in words, is good occupational theory for lunatics who think they're Gods and an excellent argument for polytheism."
SM Stirling
Distinguished Correspondent
marilynpsychic
Posts: 266
Registered: ‎09-20-2008
0 Kudos

Re: The Conundrum of Time in SF/Fantasy

Thank you Selber!

 

I pretty much agree with you.  Space-faring societies linked by commerce or military alliances would probably have to agree on a Standard Time.  I can foresee space-faring craft in these loose-knit societies having dual time-pieces on board their craft, and possibly on-ground in homeworlds and colonies.  They would have "their" time, side-by-side with the "standardized time".  This would be similar to globalized corporations and media today, the "current time" for where they are at, side-by-side with London Time or Paris Time or New York Time.  That way, each society could keep their own time, yet check the standardized time before contacting another society or craft. 

 

They may even end up with multiple time pieces.  I think of the London office of one of our network news outlets.  The guy is speaking on camera, and high on the wall behind him is a row of clocks set to different "times" all over the globe!

 

Of course, colonies which no longer have a homeworld, or traveling colonies (think of Star Wars' Death Star)  could set up their own time increments based on the different species on board.  It would not be inconceivable to have vastly different species adhering to the same standardized time, but more in line with their own internal clocks.  So Species Q would work one and half standardized "shifts", and then have one and a half "shifts" off.  This would maximize productivity, based on each Species different energy levels.  (Even here on Earth, some people get by with four hours a sleep a night, others need ten hours of sleep.)

"I'm a writer. I give the truth scope." Chaucer (character) in movie "A Knight's Tale"