The Meaning of Life — as Told to me by an Inebriated Science Fiction Writer In New Jersey

I should mention that, as a science fiction writer, I can comment authoritatively and finally on the true meaning of life.

Fifteen billion years ago an unexplained and inexplicable event created all the matter and energy, time and space in the universe apparently out of nothing and for no reason. However, the precise nature of this event allowed primordial plasma to expand, cool, and form the nebulae which one day would give rise to the galaxy, especially one rather small G-type star in the outer arm of an otherwise insignificant galaxy: by yet another coincidence — if coincidence it was — the third planet from that star had the exact chemical conditions to give rise, first to life, then to intelligent life, then to civilization, then to technical civilization.

Unbeknown to the dwellers on that small insignificant sphere, all galaxies, including this one, are teaming not merely with life, but with ultra-intelligent life, but this world is strictly quarantined for reasons that will soon become apparent.

You see, the first experiments in time travel have already taken place.

H.G. Wells is the first man to have crossed the time barrier, and beheld the grim and final destiny to which the race of homo sapiens is doomed, to devolve into subhuman Eloi and grisly cannibal Moorlocks.

Olaf Stapledon was the second man to cross the barrier of the abyss of eternity, and he beheld, as if in a vision, the eighteen separate human species which will rise and fall after our species, the First Men, devolves into Moorlocks. A second human species, made of finer and nobler character by their descent into subterranean savagery, will again rise, and devote their mechanical knowledge to the investigation of the cosmos.

Mr. Stapledon’s movements in the time stream were of course detected by the later generations of time travelers, including the agents of the world-system of the Third Men known as Nexx in the Eighty-First Century, and the merciless disembodied sub-aquatic superbrains of the One Hundred and Seventh Century, the so-called Fourth Men.

Alfred Elton van Vogt is the final time traveler that later generations of time wardens will permit to bypass the timespace barrier, and he was told in strictest confidence the secret of the meaning of life by the Ultimate Intellect which rules the otherwise barren and lifeless world once called earth in the time of the Eighteenth Men, beneath a reddish, giant and dying star once called Sol. The men of that era have complied themselves into a single mental system, using all the resources of their dying planet to do so.

What Mr. Van Vogt was told, years ago he told his fellow writer Harlan Ellison. Mr. Ellison during an evening of unfortunate inebriation told me these dire secrets when I met him at the Science Fiction Writers of America mansion in New Jersey.

He and I are both confirmed fans of AE van Vogt, and we were toasting his memory. I was frankly expressing my admiration that Mr. Ellison had put forth the effort to get Mr. van Vogt his long overdue Grand Masters award. As the evening progressed, the other drinkers in the bar retired, and soon we two were alone, and both in somewhat of high spirits.

It started innocently enough. We were discussing our favorite Van Vogt monsters, the Coeurl, the Ixtl, the Rull, and I made the offhand remark that with such superhuman nasties in outer space, we humans are lucky the universe is mostly empty of intelligent life.

Mr. Ellison fixed me with his eye. “Empty? What makes you say so?” And there was a look of agitation there. At the time, I put it down to his somewhat peppery temper, but now I know it had a deeper source.

The conversation turned to the Drake Equation, and the estimates that, even if the number of stars with life bearing planets is microscopic, and even if the number of life bearing planets that bring forth spacefaring civilization is submicroscopic, the number of stars in this local arm of the galaxy alone is so astronomical (the pun was his, not mine) that surely we would have detected some sign of alien intelligence. It is not an unusual topic for fans of scientific speculation to discuss.

Mr. Ellison began swearing and cursing, saying that the Drake Equation was not just an underestimation, it was a f**cking dumbsh*t underestimation. It did not take into account the number of artificial races, specifically constructed to fill non-earthlike worlds, that a forerunner race could make to populate the stars at a geometrical rate of increase.

(Mr. Ellison emphasized this point by poking my chest and demanding I pay for the next round of drinks. I was happy to do so, fascinated by what he was saying, and eager to hear more.)

And if each forerunner race created as many new races as its technology permitted, and if as Ellison insisted, the technology level itself increases geometrically as each new species encounters or creates new species in turn, the rate of increase is more than geometrical, more than asymptotic. The limiting factor to growth is only the total amount of matter energy in a solar system, and how much needed to be expended to send a self-replicating machine or organism to the next nearest few thousand solar systems.

No nonsense about cryogenic sleep or carrying air in bottles: a truly advanced race were merely design its deep space crosses races to be adapted to the needs of the journey, long lived enough to outlast the eons slower than light travel required. When they arrived at the target, the nearest few gas giants could be dismantled for parts to create the next generation of races. There was no need to be out of contact with the home worlds in the meanwhile, since vacuum could not disperse laser-carried data streams.

I was skeptical, but he neatly skewered my skepticism with a few back-of-the-envelope type calculations on a bar napkin. I remember this because I handed him my ballpoint pen.

He spoke with conviction, not as if he were speculating or daydreaming. He knew.

Every star has between ten to a hundred inhabited planets, and each planet has six to twenty intelligent races occupying their various landmasses, oceans, and cloud levels; not to mention energy-based intelligences dwelling inside the fires of the sun, or the surfaces of neutron stars; or more exotic intelligences dispersed throughout nebulae, and occupying worldlets, centaurs, asteroids and cometary bodies. And they were all at a much more advanced level of mechanical, energetic, and telepathic technology than ours.

“The stars are crammed! They are packed in like sardines up there!” he shouted. Then, sadly, as if to himself. “And no one else will ever get to see them. Poor Van!”

Trying to ignore the strangeness of this remark, trying to pretend that this was still a normal conversation, I next asked why (as if we were merely still discussing a speculation) why, if all he said were so, we have never heard the least whisper of any radio signals from any of these civilizations?

He made a shushing gesture. “If you knew the meaning of life — the reason behind it all — I could tell you. Van Vogt knew! HG Wells knew!”

“Is the secret of life Dianetics? I had heard that Mr. van Vogt was interested in….”

“Wright! Don’t be an asshole. Or at least be a smaller one! You’d stink less!”

Mr. Ellison pulled me close, and in breaths bleary with beer fumes he spilled out the secret of the universe to me in short, frantic sentences.

He told me a time machine is almost absurdly easy to construct with four gyroscopes, an electromagnet, a moebius strip, and a bicycle frame. Anyone handy with normal house hold tools can make one in his garage.

Ellison took up a napkin from the bar and with a few clear swift strokes of my ballpoint pen (which he still has), he sketched for me the diagram of how to construct a time machine.

The principle is quite simple: the action of the gyroscopes prevents motion in any of three dimensions, and the electromagnetic field of the solenoid is therefore forced, thanks to the twist in the moebius strip, through a prism into the fourth dimension. The field moves the iron frame of the machine a certain number of increments in the time direction, taking the gyroscopes with it, and the process repeats as long as the power to spin the gyroscopes remains.

I asked why, if it were so simple to build, there were not time machines for sale in every bookstore and bicycle shop?

He told me anyone from our period of time attempting to make one will find what seem to be odd coincidences, accidents, including deadly accidents, will always somehow interrupt the investigation before the final moebius coil is complete: this is due to the vigilance of the Nexx Time-Sweepers of AD 8000 and the World-Brains of AD 10600.

The Time-Sweepers have all the time in the world, centuries, to plan the accidents, and can go back to any previous point in time and shift one link in the chain of cause and effect, no matter how small, to undo the event. And if their results are less than perfect the first few hundred times they try, later expeditions of later generations can try again a thousand times a thousand times.

I smiled at this revelation, and this seemed to enrage him. With many an oath and a blistering curse, dragging me by the tie to my feet, Mr. Ellison took me to the basement of the mansion and showed me a mechanism stored there, but warned me not to touch it.

No one had apparently touched it for many a year, not even to clean it. It was draped with dry spiderwebs and crusts of oil.

It was a crude and unimpressive-looking mechanism, consisting of little more than a seat, two levers and a dial connected to a set of gyroscopes wrapped in electrical wire, and connected to a piezoelectric bar no bigger than my thumb.

The construction had curious details, such as decorations on some of the brass struts, the imprecision of the rivets, the whirling governor of a small steam cylinder and the chain to spin the gyroscopes, all of which gave it a Victorian look that was unmistakable.

It looked like an amateurish, poorly made thing. And yet a sensation of dread overcome me when I looked at it.

For it did not look well made enough, not slick enough, to be a prop or a joke. It looked like something a British middle class gent of the last century could have made in his garden shed, a man who knew how to putter with tools, and had the idle time to study the mechanical sciences. A man, for example, like Herbert George Wells.

“That is the Time Machine,” I said. And I backed up from the damn thing until a dusty shelf holding old paint cans poked me in the back, and I could back no more.

Ellison nodded grimly. Then, in the airless basement, he told me the rest of the secret.

Because of the invention of the time machine technology here on Earth, our world is the Ouroboros, the snake that eats its own tail, the paradox planet! Three events make our world unique among all the worlds of the cosmos.

First, on our world and none other, intelligent life arose of itself by time paradox, rather than being created by a natural process of evolution. A time sorcerer named Sise-Neg from the 31st Century propelled himself back to the African plains in the early paleolithic. His method of time travel relied on psychic powers to produce the electromagnetochronic displacement field out of the ambient earth current, rather use than the more solid and trustworthy moebius coil of Wells’ invention. When the field passed through one of the periodic shifts in the global magnetic field polarization, the ambient current failed, and therefore left Sise-Neg stranded.

Sise-Neg entertained himself in his exile by experimenting on Neanderthal and prehuman eugenics, crossbreeding until he created the Adam and seven sisters of Eve our current knowledge of genetics has detected.

Humanity would have, of course, remained at the hunter-gatherer level for all time had not Martin Padway (who accidentally fell through a time-wake caused by the passage of the million-year chronoliner from the era of the Fifth Men) become stranded in the past. Padway, also called Prometheus, befriending a local maiden of a tribe of Nile-dwelling savages, taught our ancestors the basics of agriculture, fire-making, and writing.

Second, our world is naturally lifeless and has no ability to bring forth life of itself. The existence of microscopic one-cellular life in the primal seas of earth was due to the wreckage of a time machine. The dead body of a time traveler named Stephen Crane collapsed into the primal seas, and the microorganisms in his body, as he decayed, started the evolutionary process. It is suspected that Stephen Crane’s death was arranged by the Nexxal assassins, so that their own time line would come into existence.

Third, in the year 4784 of Isher, a man named McAllister from 1951 was (or will be) accidentally swept up into the operation of a time energy machine which reverses entropy. This is a side effect of a deadly struggle between the imperium of Isher and the Weapon Shops, both of whom unwisely attempted to use time machine technology rather than face defeat.

McAllister was, or will be, sent seesawing back in time gathering ever larger amounts of matter-energy into his disintegrating body with each swing. Eventually, once he has gathered all the energy in the universe and brought it to the origin point of timespace at the moment and location of the Big Bang, he will not observe, but will witness the formation of the cosmos.

All other intelligent races of outer space are careful never to interfere with any of the events, no matter how small, taking place on our world, since any smallest change, even something as little as stepping on a butterfly, would not only effect election results and lead to Republican victories, but could abort the events that give rise to the time travelers Crane, Padway, Sise-Neg and most importantly McAllister.

The time events that give rise to the creation of life on Earth, the rise of homo sapiens, and of Mediterranean civilization, of course, are all needed in order for McAllister to come into being, and for him to return to the origin and accidentally create the energy-illusion we called timespace.

It should go without saying that the other races of the myriad other worlds, since they were not created by the fumbling and inexperienced meddling with ape-genes by the amateurish Sise-Neg, are immensely older and wiser than mankind, and therefore none of them are foolish enough to experiment with time travel. Their superior brains can detect both past and future events perfectly, and so the temptation to interfere with the course of events or to create a time paradox is unimaginable to them.

We and we alone have that dubious distinction, since we are smart enough to reproduce the time-bypass effect, but not wise enough to leave well enough alone.

It is for their own self preservation that the cosmic minds of the alien stars prevent any interference with our world, and maintain strict radio silence, hiding all evidence of their countless billions of civilizations.

There are, for example, three intelligent species living on the Moon alone, the Va-Gas and U-Gas and the Senelites under the Grand Lunar; and nine races dwell on Mars, including Barsoomians and Malacandrines, Therns and Pfifltriggi, but all are careful to hypnotize astronauts and falsify recordings and readings from probes we send, or to retreat beneath their planetary crusts or the behind the veil of the unseen in order to preserve the illusion that man is alone in the cosmos. We have all noticed how oddly John Glen and other returning astronauts behave. This is due to the side effect of space hypnosis.

Of course the higher races move among us in disguise, and have contact with the races living in the hollow interior of our world, and call upon them from time to time to use their Vril power, an ultimate form of spiritual electro-gravitic force, to erase memories, sink ships, or cause ‘Tunguska’ type events to abolish the evidence of anything that threatens to alter the foretold events of the time stream.

The meaning of life, and the purpose of the earth, is to give rise to all these experiments and events in the future, in order that the past, and the universe itself, should be created.

All human religion, philosophy, and investigation into the meaning of life is, of course, carefully monitored and curtailed by the superior intelligences of the remote future and the distant stars so that these investigations do not create any events unforeseen or that might derail the established self-creating past and future.

Why, you may wonder, are science fiction writers aware of the true meaning of life, when men of much greater genius and spiritual stature, thinkers and philosophers and theologians, are kept in ignorance of this great truth?

It is not due to any cruelty or love of irony by the superior races of the later eras, but merely to the fact that Wells and Stapledon first stumbled across the secret, and their published results were taken as fiction by unbelieving editors and in incredulous public.

We can be safely told, because no one will believe us.

That is the dreadful secret revealed to me by Mr. Ellison. Naturally, I would not have believed so fantastical a tale had I not seen the time machine with my own eyes.

Even then I was skeptical. The names he whispered, Sise-Neg, Padway, and Crane, I recognized from stories by Alfred Bester or L Sprague de Camp. The time agents of Nexx I recognized from a book by Keith Laumer. So I laughed and demanded that Mr. Ellison confess he was merely having me on. Surely it was a jest! It was not as if these science fiction writers had any sort of records or unpublished manuscripts from Wells or Stapledon that they mined for names or ideas, or that they used the time machine themselves.

He fixed me with his bloodshot eyes and assured me it was merely a joke he was having at my expense.

Nothing else could have so completely convinced me of the utter and horrific truth of what he revealed. Suddenly the closeness of the basement, the rusted and angular shape of the Wells time machine sitting under its cobwebs seemed stifling and oppressive. My head was pounding with drink and whirling with dread. I pushed myself free from Ellison, and ran up the crooked stairs, flung myself out into the cool midnight air, staggering and breathing in deep gulps.

Behind me, there came a flare of red-gold brilliance, brighter than the glare of electricity, flashing through the basement windows and throwing blood-colored wedges of light across the lawn. With horror the words and the warning returned to me. Ellison had said — practically his last words! — that any attempt to investigate these matters would bring instant retaliation from the stars or from our own remote future, deadly retaliation from beings willing to do anything needed to preserve their own existence, and the existence of the sidereal universe.

Back I ran, down the stairs and to the door. As I took hold of the handle of the door I heard an exclamation, oddly truncated at the end, and a click and a thud. A gust of air whirled round me as I opened the door, and from within came the sound of broken glass falling on the floor. Harlan Ellison was not there. I seemed to see a ghostly, indistinct figure sitting in a whirling mass of black and brass for a moment – a figure so transparent that the bench behind with its sheets of drawings was absolutely distinct; but this phantasm vanished as I rubbed my eyes. The time machine had gone. Save for a subsiding stir of dust, the further end of the basement was empty. A pane of the basement windows had, apparently, just been blown in.

One cannot choose but wonder. Will he ever return? It may be that he swept back into the past, and fell among the blood-drinking, hairy savages of the Age of Unpolished Stone; into the abysses of the Cretaceous Sea; or among the grotesque saurians, the huge reptilian brutes of the Jurassic times.

Or was what I had seen the operation of some fantastic weapon operated by intelligences vast and cool and unsympathetic from some remote location on the moon or beyond Arcturus, set merely to obliterate anyone attempting to operate the forbidden machine?

The meaning of life, it seems, is not something that it is safe for living men to inquire.

And yet I still have, drawn in a few, short, clear strokes in a bar napkin, the diagram for building a time machine of my own. While I sit and type these words, I can hear my children playing downstairs, and I can see the sunlight shining through my study windows, and I rejoice in the goodness of life. It is only at midnight, when no one is near, that I take out the napkin, study the diagram, and vow to myself that someday I must plumb the secrets of time. Perhaps my actions are ones the universe will require to bring the universe into being? Perhaps the star beings will spare me?

Perhaps I, I, will be allowed to see what other eyes have never looked upon? It that not worth any risk? Surely it was not for no reason this diagram on this stained napkin came into my hands!

Always, I remind myself of my wife and children and tell myself to burn the diagram.

And always, with trembling fingers, I fold the withered napkin carefully and replace it in my wallet.


  1. Comment by Stephen J. (Genesiscount):

    So… our purpose is to exist so that we will have existed?

    The first rule of Tautology Club is the first rule of Tautology Club.

    • Comment by Tom in Arizona:

      I’ve always said the real reason time travel is impossible is one might be able to make something not exist…which is the only literally trespassing-in-God’s-domain thing science could do (God being existence itself).

      Which tells you something about God, really: trespassing in his domain is 100% A-Number-One impossible. Since, y’ know, reversing one’s time-like dimension will either turn one inside out (fourth-dimensional inversion turns left gloves into right gloves), or into antimatter (Feynman-Stückelberg interpretation of quantum physics), or both, before one actually goes anywhere. Or rather, anywhen.

      • Comment by KokoroGnosis:

        I dunno, there’s that whole bit with the Tower of Babel:

        4 And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth. 5 And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children built. 6 And the Lord said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do; and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do.

      • Comment by MenTaLguY:

        Hm. Or perhaps the unfortunate time traveler gets reflected across some physical axis, and slowly starves to death or is poisoned by our L-chiral amino acids, which would no longer be compatible with his physiology.

  2. Comment by kirsten:


  3. Comment by Adam Greenwood:

    What a lovely piece of writing.

  4. Comment by Earl Wajenberg:

    Hm, yes, speaking as an experienced time-traveller (I’ve been traveling through it all my life), I think it’s about time you shift to a new year. Maybe some of us could come with you.

  5. Comment by Tom in Arizona:

    Harlan Ellison? Really? That guy’s in on the conspiracy? Who won’t it admit?

    The guy who draws Penny Arcade, Michael “Gabe” Krahulik, had a feud with Ellison for awhile, because Ellison made fun of him, at a convention, for not having gone to college. So Gabe, who apparently has a supernatural talent for insults, said, to Harlan Ellison, “I really liked those Star Wars books you wrote.”

    As an encore, I imagine he then drew some cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad being cruel to animals, and sent them to PETA and the Saudi embassy.

    • Comment by robertjwizard:

      Hold it, there is someone who didn’t have a feud with Ellison? The man is a bellicose fool. The only fact I like about him is he can turn in his work on an old Olympia typewriter (although the Royal was better), he probably threatened to sue for the privilege….

      • Comment by Dan Picaro:

        Say what you will about him, I like what he did to someone who said he’d never write anything good: sent him/her (can’t remember) every good review of his work.

        Maybe he’s bellicose, but at least he’s interesting. Simmons, for instance, is merely an unlikeable jerk.

      • Comment by Wildrow12:

        What do you expect? He’s a close friend of Frank Miller (ie: the fifth biggest jackass in all of comicdom) and as the saying goes, “Tell me who you run with, and I’ll tell you who you are.”

    • Comment by deiseach:

      Oooh – that’s a positively Irish level of insult there.

      Reminds me of the time Noel Hill criticised the Pogues, who in retaliation wrote a piece “Planxty Noel Hill”:

      Wikipedia gives the background, although doesn’t quite get all the nuances of this:

      “Planxty Noel Hill” refers to Noel Hill, a renowned traditional Irish musician who, at the time of the release of the band’s second album, Rum Sodomy and the Lash, claimed that the Pogues were disrespecting the whole Irish music tradition. Planxty has come to mean something akin to “cheers”. On the first Pogues tour of Ireland, some of the boys and Hill participated in a panel discussion on Irish radio, during the course of which Hill described the music of the Pogues as a “terrible abortion”. (the incident is described in and the quote is taken from “The Lost Decade”.) This confrontation occurred during the course of a studio debate on RTÉ Radio hosted by BP Fallon. Given the political reality of Ireland, this is a pretty damning critique, inasmuch as abortion was (and continues to be) illegal in Ireland and thus an affront to both civil and eccelisiastical teaching. So the use of “Planxty” and the tune in general is more a tongue-in-cheek dig at Mr. Hill than an honorific.”

      ‘Planxty’ doesn’t exactly mean ‘cheers’; it derives from Turlough O’Carolan who composed several pieces in honour of various patrons which were titled ‘Planxty Irwin’, etc. So a ‘planxty’ is a piece of music written in honour of a person. The subtlety of the insult depends on (i) since Noel Hill thinks the Pogues are dreadful, them writing a piece in his honour will not be pleasing to him (ii) it’s in the style of a cod-ceilidh band, which is them demonstrating that (a) the tradition has a lot of what is called ‘diddley-eye’ trivial music associated with it (b) they could be just one more pub band playing sentimental Irish guff but (c) that’s not the point of what they were doing: they’re not that style of musician not because they can’t play the style, it’s because they aren’t interested in doing so.

      • Comment by Tom in Arizona:

        I’m not sure abortion necessarily refers to the medical procedure; frequently “abortion” is used to mean “misshapen freakish yet pitiful thing”, i.e. the kind of fetus that would be likely to miscarry. That’s why the legal reasoning (if we can flatter it lavishly with the term) in Roe v. Wade, is often called “[Justice Harry] Blackmun’s Abortion”—a play on the two possible meanings.

        • Comment by deiseach:

          As I said, Wiki didn’t get all the nuances :-)

          But that was a gorgeous bit of insulting there by Mr. Krahulik. Truly gorgeous.

          • Comment by Tom in Arizona:

            Yes, that is apparently his superpower. The guy who writes the strip, Jerry “Tycho” Holkins, had this to say about another incident where Gabe (which is what we call Krahulik) used said ability:

            As I’ve suggested in this space before, Gabriel’s “super power” (if you will) is to suss out the exact thing that will drive a person out of their f[]ing minds. He’s only utilized this ability on me twice, and it stings to recall them. They’re actually too cruel to relate. It’s important to me that you sort of like him, even in the abstract.

            Penny Arcade’s a good strip, hilarious even, but it’s very, very filthy, though usually in a sort of Monty Pythonesque way. For example, recently there was a joke about giving up bestiality, as a New Year’s resolution. So, if I have piqued your curiosity and you choose to check it out, fair warning.

    • Comment by lotdw:

      But…Ellison doesn’t even have a college degree! He got expelled. His version, of course, is very different:

  6. Comment by KokoroGnosis:

    It’s fortunate for us indeed that we are trapped in this moebius world-line. Beyond spacetime, Beyond the End of Time itself, lies the Darkness Beyond Time, and its single denizen, the Time Devourer, a horrible fusion of the temporally stranded mage Schala and the world-eater Lavos. Against him even the wise sages Gaspar, Melchior, and Belthasar are powerless. We are, no doubt, forever protected from the Time Devourer by this eternal loop we are in.

    Still, though. I suppose that if the Time Devourer should ever find away into our world-line, the machine god, as a temporally based organism, would see fit to send the Shrike, or perhaps millions of Shrikes, to fight the Time Devourer. Surely a better option that hoping some spiky haired emo kid comes along and saves us.

    • Comment by deiseach:

      No, no, it is that the curvature of our space-time protects us from the Hounds of Tindalos, who inhabit the angles of Time and eternally slaver on the track of any foolish enough to seek to travel temporally, which gives them an opportunity to break through into our mortal realm.

      The results of such a breakthrough would, naturally, be too horrific to describe.

      • Comment by Tom in Arizona:

        Wait, doesn’t an Alcubierre warp or similar space-time metric have very sharp acute angles at the peaks? There’s another reason FTL won’t work (unless it will): the Hounds of Tindalos will come through the drive metric!

        • Comment by deiseach:

          The notion of a drive powered by the Hounds of Tindalos is truly appalling. Doubtless FTL research will (if it leads to such horrific consequences) will be disrupted by the arrival of operatives such as Sapphire and Steel to deal with the researchers.

    • Comment by Pierce O.:

      However, the continued use of spiral energy threatens to break through the moebius time loop, as the spiral drive cares little for time or space; it will eventually release the Time Devourer, who carries ‘Spiral Nemesis’ as one of his many titles.

  7. Comment by Gilbert:

    This is an abridged version of the facts for it does not mention the Tlaossiannes, the time travelers of Dlamdbra. They have a significant role in resolving most of the C0 through C7 time paradoxes in virgin time from eras NT186000 through NT31416. Instead of a double helix their genetic code is embedded in the form of moebius strips designated MS##. Strip MS01 has 12 gyroscopes attached to it. It is assumed that the gyroscopes anchor the organism in real space. Strip MS02 has 12 Foucault pendulums attached to it. It is believed these serve as a feedback and control system for the gyroscopes on MS01. MS03 has 12 exocessium clocks. These clocks start counting when the organism is born and cannot be altered in any way without destroying the organism. Changing any or all of these clocks results in MS01 losing all functionality and the basic component matter of the organism is spread over the entire universe. MS04 has 12 infraplumbium clocks attached to it. These clocks track the actual time of the universe so the organism knows in which era it is. MS05 has 12 ultrachronoinfrared modules attached to it. The organisms use these as a means of identification and communication between themselves. These modules allow communications between organisms in different eras.

    Research on the remaining MS## strips is halted pending the recovery of the basic component matter of the organism I was studying.

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      It is unfortunate the you mentioned this information, which the ruling intelligence of that star Arcturus in the constellation Boötes, called Surtur by men (woman call him Shaping), has ruled impermissible for any organisms below the Fifth Level of attainment to know. By telling me, I am now contaminated. Fortunately, I didn’t understand what we are talking about, and only this has spared me. Thank goodness for my poor modern education!

      • Comment by Gilbert:

        Please accept my apologies kind sir.
        I should not have shared the above knowledge with you at this time.

        In my defense please allow me to state that the consistent high quality of your writing led me to assume you were well past the Fifth Level of attainment. This was an error on my part and will not happen again.

        Should you decide to challenge the examinations for Fifth Level of attainment, I would be honoured to nomimate and sponsor you. Till such time as that happens I will limit commenting here to avoid further unfortunate incidents.

        Wishing you and yours all the best in MMXI

  8. Comment by Diego:

    I love this line: ” …he will not observe, but will witness the formation of the cosmos.”

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      The line is not mine, but AE van Vogt’s. It is the ending of his famous short story “The Seesaw” (Astounding Science Fiction, July, 1941) which appeared also in his fixup novel THE WEAPON SHOPS OF ISHER. In the original, McAllister’s disaster creates the planets. Here I altered the line to make the disaster larger and older.

      Van Vogt was a master of the curtain line.

      (In reality, Sise-Neg created the universe at the Big Bang. See Marvel Premiere #13 (January 1974) for details.)

  9. Comment by SFAN:

    And I thought that other intelligent species were busy taking advantage of the virtually infinite negative energy at the eschaton to endlessly travel back in time adding to the total mass of the universe delaying the Big Rip just one little bit more… But then, they would actually branch out into a different worldline each time so that wouldn’t work, would it?

    I guess I should be glad my life is safe… for now.

    (btw, I must admit that just for a moment I thought that was a posthumous homage to Harlan Ellison, the concerns about his death were greatly exaggerated… ^_^U)

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      No, Mr. Ellison is alive at the time of this writing. He is a man I met only once, and he did his level best to insult me, as he does with everyone, since that is his “shtick” something he does for attention and amusement — but behind all his play-acting and bullshit, I thought I detected, deeply hidden, an honesty and a respect for integrity, which may be enough to save him from damnation.

      I admit I never admired his writing, which seems too self-consciously artistic, dark and disquieting, and driving home a message I find trite and false: in other words, I find his visions not to be dangerous, but dull.

      Like all tales that are current in their day, his tales are left behind when the current passes. I consider I HAVE NO MOUTH BUT I MUST SCREAM and BEAST WHO SHOUTED LOVE AT THE HEART OF THE WORLD and REPENT HARLEQUIN SAID THE TICKTOCKMAN to be dated, products of the 1960’s, things merely of antiquarian interest.

      Now, before any furious partisan of Mr. Ellison upbraids me, let me disqualify my own opinion: I like reading crap, by which I mean lighthearted space opera and boy’s adventure stories or pulp magazine action tales, so whether or not a tale from the dark side of the imagination is skillfully or poorly told, it will nonetheless not appeal to my narrow tastes.

      Since I like reading Skylark books or Barsoom yarns written so long ago that the scientific world view as portrayed in those books is so out of date it might as well be that of Ariosto or Dante, for me a book being badly out of date is no criticism. I care nothing for the times in which I find myself, and so regard timeliness as nothing to seek. But I do feel sorry for those who do seek it, and then find themselves living in the past.

      But I admire the man, nearly to the point of adoration, because he stood up for AE van Vogt when the rest of the Secret Masters of Science Fiction were all for sweeping Van under the rug, and ignoring Van’s immense contribution to the field.

      I admire Mr. Ellison’s integrity. I admire his honesty. Unlike, for example, Phillip Pullman, a very talented man (a writer more skilled than I, obviously) but who is willing to fib in public (saying his books are not deliberately atheistic, not preaching a message) Mr. Ellison does not hide what he is nor water down what he means to say. Mr. Ellison is a dick, but he is not a pious phony and a dick as Mr. Pullman, from his public announcements, seems to be.

      And for that I doff respectfully my hat to him.

      Anyone who is a fan of Van, I claim as a brother. I might quarrel with my brother, but, at the end of the day, we are brothers.

      This much we know: The fans of Van Vogt form the race that one day will rule the Sevagram! The right to buy superfuturistic telepathic energy weapons from a tightly-controlled guild monopoly is the right to be free! Aslan is A Slan!

  10. Comment by Malcolm:

    Another science fiction writer told me that the answer to life, the universe, and everything was 42.

    • Comment by Tom in Arizona:

      If one knows Japanese numerology, that’s very appropriate, given Douglas Adams was an atheist materialist (he was friends with Richard Dawkins, though much more polite about it). Why?

      Because “4-2” in Japanese is “shini”…which means dying.

  11. Comment by Wildrow12:

    I say any form of time travel that does not involve an 80’s sports car is not worthy of the name. Because hey, if you’re gonna build a time machine out of a car, why not do it with some style!

    • Comment by D. G. D. Davidson:

      It sounds to me entirely possible to put the bicycle-gyroscope contraption inside the chassis of an automobile.

      • Comment by Stephen J. (Genesiscount):

        Yeah, but it’ll only fit inside your average Hummer or SUV, and my own contacts from the future inform me such vehicles will be outlawed by the New Viridian Gaia Party world government of 2020. So really the only time you could use to travel to without going unnoticed (a key element to avoiding paradox generation) would be between the ’60s and the 2010s.

        Speaking as someone who lived through most of that, there is little that I would consider worth bothering to check out.

  12. Comment by Neo-Scotist:

    Ah, so this explains why Ellison said MadCon would be his last convention. (

  13. Comment by MattSteele:

    Sorry, but this is awesome like Valis is awesome, except Valis is deadly serious, and this is tongue-in-cheek. It’s worthy of Borges, beyond him in some ways. Please turn this into a novel.

  14. Comment by Peter:

    A shorter take on the same issue.

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