– Tell us a bit about “Tomorrow is a Lovely Day.”
Imagine a person from five hundred years ago observing how we live today. Indoor plumbing and air conditioning. Electricity and light bulbs. Radio and television. Cars and jets. Antibiotics and advanced surgery. Computers and home printers. Smart phones! The Internet!
I’m perhaps still best known for my two time travel novels, Summer of Love, a Philip K. Dick Award Finalist, and The Gilded Age, a New York Times Notable Book. In those books, I was determined to prove that in the far future, five hundred years from now, time travel and faster-than-light technology will be as feasible as the Internet.
The science of faster-than-light communication is speculative, true, but science nonetheless. For my two novels, I researched time travel and faster-than-light; a bit of that research has carried over into “Tomorrow Is A Lovely Day.” I consulted Paul J. Nahin’s highly regarded Time Machines published by the American Institute of Physics, John W. Macvey’s Time Travel published by Scarborough House, and Martin Gardner’s Time Travel published by W. H. Freeman.
One of the many paradoxes of FTL communication is that a faster-than-light answer sent to the past from the future about the future arrives before the questioner in the past poses the question. L.S. Schulman published technical papers about this theoretical phenomenon—“Correlating Arrows of Time” and “Tachyon Paradoxes”—in the American Journal of Physics in the 1970s, which are reprised in Nahin’s book.
I thought there was enough dramatic potential in that one paradox alone for an intriguing story.
– What was the inspiration for this story, or what prompted you to write it?
Not faster-than-light physics at all, at least not at first.
One night I heard a pundit on a radio talk show discussing the medieval metaphysician Nostradamus and how, by gazing into a mirror or (by some accounts) in a bowl of water, he received communications from the future. He then composed a book of quatrains that purported to be predictions.
Predictions about the far future, not the price of eggs five hundred years ago. The pundit claimed that Nostradamus predicted, among other things, World War I, the rise of Hitler and Nazi Germany, World War II, the atomic bomb, and more. The quatrains he (the pundit) read on the radio sounded like implausible long shots to me but I wanted to read them for myself.
My husband, Tom Robinson, is a serious book collector going way back and has a supernatural ability to lay his hands on a specific book among the many thousands in our library. This must be what living with a water douser is like. I don’t even try to find the book. I just say, “Nostradamus,” and within moments Tom is pulling out The Predictions of Nostradamus from some stack.
I spent time with the book and had to conclude that the quatrains are, frankly, gibberish. I didn’t see how any of them accurately described anything in history, at least events that I could recognize.
Then ah-ha! There was the second theme of “Tomorrow Is A Lovely Day.”
What are we to make of any kind of prediction? When you listen, you hear predictions about everything under the sun on a daily basis. What the weather will be—well, they’ve got sophisticated satellite pictures and all kinds of scientific analysis, but they still don’t always get reality right. What will the economy do, how will the election turn out. “Authorities” are constantly predicting what the future will be and reality, when it arrives in the Now, can be tricky.
– Was this story personal to you in any way? If so, how?
Oh, I think everyone has their eyes on the future the moment your parents shove you out the door at the age of five to go to school. I know I certainly did. And focusing on the future doesn’t stop once you graduate, oh no. Then you have to get the job, succeed at the job, save up to buy a home, find a suitable mate, maybe have a family, save for retirement. And boom! You’re 70 years old . . . and then you have to think about your future ill health and dying.
There was a movement in the 1960s to Be Here Now. People took up meditation to be mindful of the moment. People dropped out the “rat race” to “live for today.” And they did have a point. Only when you attend to the moment can you perceive what forces are entrapping you, enslaving you. Only then can you take the first steps to free yourself. But first, you have to “wake up.”
Mind you, I realize it’s really important to plan for your future. But it’s also important to savor the moments of life that pass by only too quickly.
But what if a moment, a day, is really crappy? Just about everyone has had a day like that, what seems like the worst day of your life. You get into a fender bender, the boss yells at you, three checks bounce at the bank because you forgot to transfer funds, you burn dinner, and your spouse is in a lousy mood and yells at you, too.
What if that day somehow never ended?
And what if that day included the big, big transitions in life? Being born, giving birth or waiting for a birth, and dying are the most transitional moments of anyone’s life. What if those transitional moments were never consummated?
In “Tomorrow Is A Lovely Day,” Benjamin finds himself on that supremely crappy day. He’s understandably focused on his future, on what he hopes to achieve the next day. But he must focus on the moment, even though it’s a crappy moment. He must “wake up.” Only then can he perceive what is trapping him, enslaving him. And only then can he do what he does to free himself and, by the way, free all of space-time.
– Did you have in mind any other examples in the rich tradition of time travel stories while writing “Tomorrow is a Lovely Day,” or did the story come to you organically?
“Tomorrow is A Lovely Day” isn’t directly inspired by any other story. It’s definitely “organic,” a product of my own inspiration, the splicing together two different themes, faster-than-light communication and Nostradamus’ medieval predictions.
I like the technique of splicing two disparate themes and finding a common ground. My Omni story, “Tomorrow’s Child,” which sold as the basis for a feature film to Universal Studios, weaves a succinct tale around burn wound healing technology and the purported crash of an alien spaceship at Rosswell, New Mexico.
That said, I’m always up for a good time travel story. A rich tradition, indeed! Or perhaps a broader, if less elegant, term would be “time manipulation” stories.
In the classic tradition of traveling in time in the same geophysical location, there’s of course H.G. Welles’ classic Victorian novel The Time Machine. Of more recent vintage is C. L. Moore’s wonderful novella, “The Vintage Season,” which in 1946 explored time travel as tourism, traveling to a different time and a different geophysical location. Robert Silverberg has often played with time travel tropes and published in 1989 a sequel to Moore’s novella, “In Another Country.” [A peripatetic world traveler, Silverberg often uses tourism or traveling as a trope in his fiction. “Sailing to Byzantium” (not a time manipulation) from 1986 springs to mind.]
Even more intriguing is moving in time within your own life and attempting to alter your own past. That happens in “Tomorrow Is A Lovely Day.” My all-time favorite story in this subgenre (and maybe my all-time favorite SF story, period) is Robert Heinlein’s “All You Zombies—“. The story, so hilarious and fiendishly clever, could have been written yesterday. In fact, Heinlein published it in 1959. Silverberg weighs in with this subgenre, too, with “Needle in a Timestack.”
Finally, another fascinating subgenre within the time manipulation trope is traveling backwards in time within your own life. The classic tale in this subgenre is Fritz Leiber’s “The Man Who Never Grew Young,” published in 1947. F. Scott Fitzgerald tried his hand in “The Strange Case of Benjamin Buttons,” and Martin Amis in Time’s Arrow.
My major problem with these tales is that they’re all told from a man’s point-of-view. I think a woman protagonist would have quite a different take.
I’ve done just that in “Illyria, My Love,” in which a woman and man love each other, the woman a bit jealously so, against a horrific background of constant war on the planet they’ve immigrated to when life on Earth has become untenable. Only as they move backward in time does the reader discover the true nature of their relationship and, at the end, the shocking secret at its core. That story is still looking for a home.
Visit me at http://www.lisamason.com for all my books and stories, interviews and blogs, cute pet pictures, and forthcoming projects. Thank you for your readership!
Looking for something to read over the Thanksgiving holiday? Be intrigued, entertained, provoked, and amused? Try the November-December 2015 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. Single copy of the issue: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc1511.htm