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[GUEST POST] M.G. Harris on Using Philosophy and Emotion to Extend the Adventure of Young-Adult Fiction

M.G. Harris (M. G. stands for Maria Guadalupe) was born in Mexico City, but lived most of her life in Manchester, England. As a teenager, during regular visits to Mexico, M. G. became fascinated by Mayan archaeology and made several trips to Mayan ruins in Yucatan and Chiapas and one such trip gave her the seed of the idea of what would later become The Joshua Files: Invisible City. Ice Shock, the second book of The Joshua Files, published in US/Canada on 5th July 2011. M. G. lives in Oxford, England, with her husband and their two daughters.

In Young-Adult Time-Travel Fiction, Philosophy and Emotion Extend the Adventure

Time-travel fiction was my real first love in sci-fi. Like many of Generation X, Doctor Who sucked me into the genre.

Two novels which really stand out in my memory were Richard Matheson’s Bid Time Return (filmed as Somewhere In Time starring Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour) and The Door Into Summer by Robert Heinlein. Both struck me as demonstrating that the true resonance of time-travel fiction is not, primarily, adventure; it is about the path not taken, about ageing and loss.

Doctor Who was originally devised as a fun way to teach children about history and science – that’s how it justified a budget from the BBC. Yet after hundreds of space, history and genre-hopping episodes, the Doctor Who reboot succeeded because it concentrated on the poignancy of the eternal Gallifreyan time-traveller. Doomed to watch all the human beings he cares about die, trapped in recursive, non-linear relationships, The Doctor added empathy to the admiration and humour he already inspired in viewers.

With the introduction of the time-travelling River Song character, Doctor Who has been able to weave a thread which takes much from Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time-Traveller’s Wife and also Bid Time Return: a love affair that crosses time, initiated by one who already knew the future.

Another writer who understood this was Jorge Luis Borges, the blind librarian from Argentina. For those wishing to write time travel fiction, two pieces by Borges make essential reading.

In The Other a young version of Borges meets an older version by the river in Cambridge. Neither really recognises or remembers the other. Are they the same person? Are we the same person, over a lifetime, or are we many? We know that biologically we are completely reconstructed several times in a lifetime. Can we say that ‘the other’ is the same as us?

Borges admits to fascination with time in his fiction. With A New Refutation of Time Borges challenges the existence of time as anything other than a metaphysical construct.

“Every instant is autonomous. Not vengeance nor pardon nor jails nor even oblivion can modify the invulnerable past.”

However, in the end Borges concludes that we must live as though time does exist.

“Time is a river which sweeps me along, but I am the river; it is a tiger which destroys me, but I am the tiger; it is a fire which consumes me, but I am the fire.”

The Joshua Files, my series of adventure thrillers for young adults, has time-travel at its heart, although I take my time to reveal this. Like the new writers of Doctor Who, I wanted to explore the emotional and philosophical aspects of time travel, as well the time-jumping adventure possibilities.

I borrowed a trick from Umberto Eco in The Name Of The Rose and placed a Borges avatar into the story, and wove a quotation from Borges into the narrative: a message from one enigmatic time-traveller Arcadio, to the teenage hero, Josh.

But who is Arcadio? Josh himself? And what happens when we change time in the past? Is everything pre-destined? Or is time-travel the most powerful magic in the creation – because it is itself creative of new, parallel realities?

Plato argued that poetry was insidious because it gave people ideas about possibilities beyond their own experience. But it’s turning out that even fictional worlds need to explore their alternative realities – ask JJ Abrams about the new Star Trek.

2 Comments on [GUEST POST] M.G. Harris on Using Philosophy and Emotion to Extend the Adventure of Young-Adult Fiction

  1. I kind of agree that time travel is about aging and loss. Huge Heinlein fan, but never really got into Dr. Who.

    The other two time travel books that I’d pass on are REPLAY (Grimwood? Sorry, it’s been a while) and FOREVER WAR by Joe Halderman. Thanks!


  2. James Watson // July 12, 2011 at 3:49 am //

    I’d like to think that setting a story in history is also time travel, though with more  stress on probabilty. Time travellers have the means of escape from predicaments that characters set in history cannot do: either way, the reader is set on a journey of exploration and often of self-discovery.

    James Watson, author of The Freedom Tree, set in the Spanish Civil War and The Bull Leapers, about the

    palace of Knossos in the time of Minos and the Minotaur.

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