… Therefore, by Farnsworth’s logic, we were always meant to feature today’s story.
A Brief History Of Time
[Drama] [Sci-Fi] • 5,861 words
“Anything that happens, happens.
Anything that, in happening, causes something else to happen, causes something else to happen.
Anything that, in happening, causes itself to happen again, happens again.
It doesn’t necessarily do it in chronological order, though.”
– Douglas Adams, Mostly Harmless
Twilight and Minuette discuss Starlight Glimmer’s timeline disruptions.
Twilight just wishes the conversation had happened in chronological order.
FROM THE CURATORS: There are two types of fanfics — those which leap from canon into the unknown and unexplored, and those which dig into the details of the show to bring new context to the moments we love — and this is an easy exemplar of the second type. “At its heart, this is a short and simple exploration of how to reconcile the S5 finale with It’s About Time‘s premise of stable time loops,” Chris said in his nomination. Horizon praised the nuance with which it handled that topic: “The way this squares two episodes with seemingly incompatible time-travel theories is sharp, and it’s got a good eye for the multiple-timeline consequences the episode leaves unexplored. It’s nice to find writing both this smart and this clear.” AugieDog especially appreciated that clarity: “Time travel stories in general make me itchy, so anything that serves to lessen that itchiness is always welcome.”
But this fic isn’t content to merely bat around time-travel ideas. “There are tons of cool little details, like the idea that Equestria would have a journal for both fiction and true accounts, or the rotation of the magical bubble,” Soge said. “It takes a premise which could easily fit a blog post, and turns it into a full fledged story thanks to some great characterization work.”
It was that “terrific character writing,” as AugieDog put it, that sealed the deal on the feature. “I love it when Minuette gets serious and Twilight realizes that this isn’t just a theoretical discussion they’re having — and the way the story comes up with a Pony-logical solution for the problem it’s addressing,” AugieDog added. Soge enjoyed the characters as well: “Minuette is adorable, Twilight is perfectly in character, and it has amazing comedic timing,” he said. And, as Chris noted, Minuette’s personality served the story very well: “Her cheeky carefree-ity is used to keep what could easily have become an overly-technical bit of headcanon from being too narrow in scope or dry in tone.”
Read on for our author interview, in which Doppler Effect discusses Novikov consistency, Terminator predestination, and Asimov’s ambiguously real goose.
Give us the standard biography.
I’m a chemist from Ireland. Not the fun kind of chemist though — I don’t make booze, drugs or explosives. Professionally, at least. As a hobby though, honey mead is surprisingly easy to brew!
How did you come up with your handle/penname?
The “Doppler effect” is the change in the frequency of a wave noticed when the observer is moving relative to the source of the wave. It should be familiar to most people as the way the sound of an approaching vehicle changes as it passes you, particularly noticeable with the sirens on an emergency vehicle.
It was one of a bunch of different names I had been using around the internet at the time. I don’t remember what I was thinking when I used it first, but when I signed up to FIMFiction, I thought it sounded vaguely like a pony name. For a name I was already using, that amused me enough that it was the one I signed up under.
Who’s your favorite pony?
I certainly wouldn’t have expected the fashion-obsessed pony to be my favourite, but she is.
Partially, it’s that she makes a great straight-mare foil to the antics of the other characters while simultaneously having her own prissy neuroses. Would anypony else have been as funny imitating how Pinkie should be bouncing around in The Gift of the Maud Pie? I don’t think so.
Personality-wise, I like that she’s confident and sharp-witted behind the fussiness, and I find the fussiness endearing in its own way. I particularly like her in episodes where all of that is on display, like Rarity Investigates.
What’s your favorite episode?
Appropriate, since I’m discussing a story prominently featuring Minuette, but I just really liked that episode.
It fills in some of Twilight’s past (complete with adorable mini-Twilight nerding it up) and gives her a chance to put that Princess of Friendship title to the test. There are a lot of really funny moments, like Lemon Hearts getting her head stuck, or Haycartes’ method. I liked Moondancer’s story. And … Minuette was possibly the real gem of that episode. Her bubbly personality just worked well opposite Twilight in that episode, I think.
What do you get from the show?
Lighthearted humour, I guess? The more serious episodes are fun too, of course, and without the strong characterisation I likely wouldn’t be as attached to the show. Mostly though, it just makes me laugh.
What do you want from life?
Well, there’s no point aiming low with a question that open-ended, so I would like phenomenal cosmic power, and to live forever doing things that make me happy, please.
More realistically, I’m a generally content person, so I’m happy for my life to continue more or less as it has done.
Why do you write?
Initially, just to see if I could.
For the future, to write the kind of stories I would enjoy reading myself.
What advice do you have for the authors out there?
I’m a really slow and perfectionist type of writer. I tend to spend a long time picking over the exact phrasing of every single line. It’s honestly a terrible way to write because I often end up stuck on a single line for a long time during the first draft, not writing anything at all.
I usually end up going back over what I’ve written dozens of times anyway, making small changes with every pass, but I still can’t seem to just put down something I’m not quite happy with just to be able to move on to the next part.
I wouldn’t advise anyone to choose that style of writing, but if you’re like me and you’re stuck with it or something like it, I’ve found that skipping past the lines I get stuck on — just leaving them blank — and coming back to them later to connect different sections together seems to work for me.
Other than that, the advice that probably everyone gives — if you want to write, you should read.
Could you tell us a little more about Equestria’s journalistic landscape? I’d love to know how a periodical which doesn’t distinguish between fiction and nonfiction “works.”
This is actually inspired by an old Isaac Asimov sci-fi short story called Pâté de Foie Gras. The basic plot was that scientists had in their possession a goose which laid eggs containing gold — it wasn’t ingesting anything containing gold, so it was somehow producing gold from other elements by nuclear transmutation or even by something more exotic.
The goose couldn’t reproduce to replicate the effect in its offspring because the eggs were gold, and the scientists couldn’t figure out how to work out what was happening without dissecting the goose. If they did that, of course, they’d have no more golden goose. So, what was their solution?
Within the story, they decided to have the details of their experiment written up to be published in a magazine of science fiction short stories, which would solicit their (clever, slightly nerdy) readers to send in their own solutions.
In the real world, the story the real (but still clever and slightly nerdy) reader had just read would originally have been published in just such a magazine! So, you could imagine that there was a real golden goose, and Isaac Asimov had been asked to write a story to solicit solutions …
The scholarly time travel journal in A Brief History of Time accepts prose accounts of either actual time travel, or fictional time travel stories. Either way they would have to pass a review board that would want to ensure that the story makes sense under its own internal logic, but the point is to attract discussion of possible time travel mechanics from (clever, slightly nerdy) readers, regardless of actual ability to travel in time or other qualifications.
The name-dropped article from the journal, The Endochronic Properties of Resublimated Thiotimoline, is another actual scientific spoof article by Isaac Asimov about the applications of a substance that would dissolve slightly before it was added to water, which is exactly the kind of crazy thought-experiment that the editors of the journal would be interested in promoting discussion of.
The Author’s Note at the end of the story (complete with bibliography in pseudo-Oxford style referencing) is also meant to imply that the entire story is a journal article, submitted by Twilight and Minuette. Whether the account was real or invented by them was intended to be up for debate.
There’s a strong element of fix-fic to this story, bringing the seemingly incompatible time-travel elements from two different episodes into agreement. To what extent did you consider this story an attempt to “correct” canon, and how do you feel about such attempts in general?
I actually really liked The Cutie Re-Mark, and I don’t think it particularly needed to have its mechanics fixed or anything like that. Linking the two types of time travel we’ve seen was just a concept I found interesting, and wanted to try my hand at. A method occurred to me based around the Novikov Self-Consistency Principle (Star Swirl’s Principle in the story), and I built a story around it.
If time travel actually was possible, it wouldn’t necessarily have to work in a way I might find predictable, so I have no problem with it working differently in the two episodes. And hey, I got a story out of it, so it worked out OK for me!
In general … I would say that it depends. When I see an idea in a fic that seamlessly meshes two things that seemed independent from each other, or even incompatible with each other, I almost always find it to be a really clever solution.
Of course, what one person sees as seamless might seem tacked on to someone else, so that’s pretty subjective. I’ve certainly seen some attempts at that kind of thing that have left me with more questions than I started with.
Even with the good ones, I don’t generally come away from such things thinking that they’ve “corrected” canon though, and that wasn’t what I was going for here either.
I have a bit more that I could say on this topic, but it ties into the next question, so I’ll continue some more in that answer.
Minuette almost-but-not-quite makes the case that our perceptions define reality not just in a practical, but in an absolute sense. Do you, personally, buy into her theory that making sure the past happened in a certain way is “for the best” in a case like this, when it could just as easily be said to already have happened that way without Twilight being aware of it?
My favourite attitude towards time travel is actually the one from Terminator 2:
“The future’s not set. There’s no fate but what we make for ourselves.”
I’m not really a fan of actual predestination like Minuette was here, but I wouldn’t want to give it up as a plot gimmick for time travel stories!
A single changeable timeline like that implied by the Terminator quote is actually a third possibility distinct from the two that were considered in A Brief History of Time, which looked at a single unchangeable timeline vs. time travel creating splitting alternate timelines that run alongside the original.
I’d already written a story, All The Myriad Ways, which discussed that type of time travel, which … is pretty much also just Twilight talking to a fairly knowledgeable unicorn about time travel. That story used a comparison between splitting alternate timelines vs. a single changeable timeline as the backdrop to the central question, and left unanswered which was actually correct.
Because I’d already written about that, I wasn’t interested in throwing that type of time travel in again here. Besides which, comparing more than two types of time travel would just have been even more complicated than the story I did write.
That type is pretty much ignored in A Brief History of Time on the basis that it’s not really compatible with the kind of predestination paradox time travel seen in the It’s About Time episode. By contrast, in All The Myriad Ways, I treated the two time travel incidents from the show as using different mechanisms, so things could work differently.
I guess all of that’s a pretty roundabout way of saying that no, Minuette isn’t acting as an author mouthpiece to explain my pet theory in this story, and that, going back to the previous question, I’m more interested in telling a story than fixing how time travel should work on the show or anything like that.
Out of curiosity, how does one get a cutie mark in “time magic?”
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
There is one very important lesson about time travel I didn’t quite manage to fit into the story, so if you ever travel in time, always remember the wise words of Professor Hubert Farnsworth:
“Don’t do anything that affects anything, unless it turns out you were supposed to do it. In which case, for the love of God, don’t not do it.”