Time Again

“Each time is true, but the truths are not the same.” ~ Alan Lightman, Einstein’s Dreams

As I type this, it’s my present and I’m writing to you in the future about my past. You will read this in your own ‘present’, which will still be my past, so I am traveling in time. Or at least my words are.

I’ve often thought my favorite book was supposed to be  a classic SF tome like Robert A. Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land or Edgar Rice Burroughs’ A Princess of Mars. I’ve read and loved them both multiple times (and discovered connections between the two), but Lightman’s book affected me more than they did. I’ve read Einstein’s Dreams, essentially a meditation on Time, by Alan Lightman a dozen times since it was recommended to me (and others) by the writer Mark Waid at a comic book convention in Kansas City sometime in the 90s.

I bought a copy the same day, found an audio version later (read perfectly by the actor Michael York) at my local library then bought a copy of that, too, from somewhere on the internet. I’ve gifted multiple copies to friends. I’ve recommended it to other writers with the same words that Waid said to me: “It will change the way you think about Time.” I was drawn in to the book by the idea that it was the dreams of a young Albert Einstein on the eve of submitting his Theory of Relativity for publication. A powerful place to set a book.

Einstein’s Dreams is short, a quick read that stays with the reader, working its way deep into the imagination. One chapter presents the idea that Time travels slower at higher altitudes. This is proven out by physics, but Lightman imagines people who deliberately live up high in order to gain that slightest of edges over their groundhog brethren in living longer. Lightman himself is a theoretical physicist but it’s not obvious from the way he writes:

“For it is only habit and memory that dulls the physical passion. Without memory, each night is the first night, each morning is the first morning, each kiss and touch are the first.”

I could have picked either Heinlein or Burroughs as my favorites based only on how many times I’ve read them. There were other possibilities, too: China Mieville’s Perdido Street Station, Harlan Ellison’s Shatterday, Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife or so many more. Instead, it’s Lightman’s book for the reason I gave. Mark Waid’s recommendation was based on my asking him what books I should read if I wanted to write comic books. His emphatic assertion that it would change the way I would think about Time was right. Each of the books I’ve mentioned here has affected me, made me want to tell stories in new ways, has stuck with me and been the topic of conversations with so many others.

But it’s this book that tops the list. It’s the one that I go back to when I’m stuck, the one that reassures me, comforts me, challenges me. This is the book that lies in your future that you must read if you want to be a writer. It will affect your future if you let it.

Jason Arnett is a storyteller living in Kansas and writing in the plains of the fantastic. Some of his work can be found at www.jasonarnett.com


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