A short guide on how to time travel

Recently people around me keep bringing up the issue of time travel, pros and cons, feasibility, stuff like that, so I thought, why not? As the author of three books that include a certain amount of time traveling (and busy writing the fourth), I’m as qualified to talk about it as the next useless fantasy writer with not the faintest idea of basic physics, so I might as well compile the aspects I’ve come across.

The present is easy. Hopping between here and there in the right now doesn’t pose much of a challenge, you only need to be careful if you appear out of thin air like the Walkers in my Resident Witch stories. You might give someone a heart attack.

The past is more of a challenge. For one thing, don’t expect to travel backwards in time and come home a time traveling hero. German cartoonist Martin Perscheid (Look here for his website, it’s German only, but there’s a lot of fun to be had even so) did an excellent job in explaining the entire problem in one image. That aside, anything you do in the past may have implications on the present or even the future, ranging from minor and negligible to absolutely freaking massive. In my made-up magic community, going into the past isn’t forbidden, but it’s so frowned upon, it might as well be. The Walkers know not to touch anything, talk to anyone, or even let themselves be seen, so they usually take a Witch along to keep them invisible. The rules are: Don’t change the past, don’t bring back the dead, don’t challenge fate – and yes, fate is that exact same concept it is in real life, abstract until it kicks you in the ass and shoves your face in the dirt.

The future is the most difficult destination of them all. Why? Because it doesn’t exist. Or at least, not in a solid, written-in-stone way. The future exists only as we shape it, a malleable construct of our actions (or lack thereof) in the past and present. Right now, tomorrow is only a vague idea. You might wake up at the usual time, have breakfast and a shower, and leave for another normal day at the office. Or a random cat attack during the night might kill your alarm clock, you’ll sleep in, skip breakfast, race to work with your back still wet because you didn’t take the time to properly rub yourself dry after your hurried shower, you’ll catch a cold, start sneezing halfway through the day and get sent home by early afternoon. Trivial? Sure. But. There are thousands of other variations of tomorrow that might come to pass, not just for you, but for every single one of the billions of people out there, and not just variations of tomorrow either, but of every single hour, minute, second of every day from tomorrow on until the end of the world, and it all depends on what you – or anyone – did or didn’t do yesterday, on what you – or anyone – do or don’t do today, not to mention random incidents and accidents. Intimidating? You bet.

In My Name is not Alice, I have Amy, a young, inexperienced Walker who doesn’t know the rules, make a dash into the future. Alice’s life is threatened, and Amy sees no way how to help her best friend, so races off to see if she’s still alive in the future and can tell her how she got out of danger. She finds her, and in doing so causes a time conundrum – Alice tells her that it was her own future self who saved her. What happened? Easy. By unconsciously making her way through the random strands of possible futures onto the one that still contained Alice alive and well, Amy forced that reality into existence. If Amy hadn’t gone to ask future Alice for help, there might not have been a future Alice at all, because there might not have been anyone else to save her in the present. That way, Amy also burdened present Alice with the responsibility of making sure the present, once it had become the past, would actually happen the way it did, as in, go back and save herself. Complicated much? Yes. And it gets worse in Double Double Time and Trouble, where the desperate attempt to undo a death leads to a completely altered past and a grade A chicken/egg paradox.

Long story short: If you ever find yourself in a situation where time travel becomes a real possibility… be super careful. You’re bound to mess things up big time.

 

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Romance to Horror – a handful of book reviews

I’ve been reading a lot of books over the past months, so I thought I might as well tell you about a few of them. After all, it’s windy and rainy and ugly outside, thus the time of the season for curling up on the sofa with a cup of hot chocolate and a good book.

Curtain Call by C.H. Clepitt 

Here’s what the blurb says:

When an assistant to the director role turns into P.A. to her favourite film star, Jen can’t believe her luck. Eleanor Francis is charming, kind and funny, but she has a secret, and when tragedy strikes, things threaten to unravel at an uncontrollable pace. Despite being out of her depth Jen has to adapt to her new role quickly, to protect Eleanor, with whom she is rapidly falling in love.

Here’s what I say:

If there’s anything negative to say about this, it’s that it’s too short. I’m not saying that the story lacks details, it’s just that you get sucked into the characters’ lives so thoroughly, you’re loathe to leave them again so quickly. Based on a rather simple premise – average girl meets favorite actress and falls in love – it quickly evolves into more: an astonishingly pointed portray of human relationships, respect and self-respect, and mutual acceptance, warts and all. I suppose it’s romance, but I didn’t come across cheesiness or unnecessary clichés, so that’s okay.

Single to Edinburgh by Diane M. Dickson 

Here’s what the blurb says:

After losing her baby, Katherine has struggled with life, and her increasingly estranged husband. She decides to take off to Edinburgh, where she meets a man who showers her with kindness. Despite his tenderness, however, Katherine resolves to rescue her marriage. But when this is met by her partner Bill’s indifference…

Here’s what I say:

This is the story of a woman trapped in a grief she can’t comprehend. Starting out rather innocently, a bout of impulse shopping suddenly sees her on a train to Edinburgh, where random kindness showed to her by perfect strangers bit by bit cracks the shell she so carefully built around herself, or maybe the wall between herself and her past, or herself and reality, until the brittle core and a heart-rending secret emerge. I don’t know why this is classified as romance. Yes, she finds love, but that’s only a side effect.

Hitchhike by Pat Black 

Here’s what the blurb says:

It’s cold. The snow’s thick on the ground. Beth’s just trying to get home for Christmas, but she’s all alone out here… except for the Smiler.
He’s been haunting the motorways for years, looking for someone just like Beth. Someone he can brighten up with a nice, bright, red, smile.
Help is at hand – a cosy truck, with a friendly face behind the wheel.
But out here in the lonely places, who can she trust? And can they trust her?
Blood will be spilled before she finds out…

Here’s what I say:

This is the second book of the ShortSharpShocks series that I’ve read. While it didn’t give me as many nightmares as Sleepover, it’s still not something you should read when you’re home alone. Depicting a really scary scene in a movie, where you can use sudden camera switches or whatnot, is one thing, doing the same in a book is something else entirely, and Pat Black has that down to an art, complete with believable characters and thoroughly unexpected twists.

All three of these books are novellas, means perfect companions for a cozy night, or a train ride. Hope you’ll enjoy them as much as I did.

 

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Ode to a Succession of Perfect Cats

Hey there, furface

Come sit with me

I love to hear you purr

(Even if it wakes me at 3am, engine rumbling on my pillow, combine harvesting my dreams)

I love the way you rub your head against me

(Bruising my thigh, scattering your persistent black on my no longer bright colors, carving out your territory in my soul)

There is no cat like you in the whole world

If you go, I shall have no other

There’s a cat-shaped hollow on my lap only you can ever fill

Be immortal, I beg you

(Only you weren’t, and I’m only human, and my legs miss the tiny weight and Oh my god look at that kitten, isn’t he the cutest you’ve ever seen?)

Hey there, furface

Come sit with me

I’d love to hear you purr

(Only you don’t know how, but I appreciate you trying, full throttle on a broken lawn mower)

Rub your head against me

(Scattering your persistent orange on my no longer dark colors, that’s what you get when you choose your clothes to match your cat)

There is no cat like you in the whole world

If you go, I shall have no other

There’s a cat-shaped hollow on my lap only you can ever fill

Be immortal, I beg you

(Only you won’t be, and I’m only human)

 

 

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Everyday Racism

We’re currently experiencing a rise in nationalist tendencies – I don’t know if it’s a worldwide phenomenon, but it surely applies to most, if not all, so-called western countries. One of the possible roots of this is the influx of refugees from countries most of us have only ever seen in the news. Depending on which news outlets serve as your major source of information, you’ll either perceive them as people in desperate need of our help, maybe even future pillars of our society, not to mention our pension scheme, or as a threat that will overwhelm your culture, stealing your jobs while simultaneously living on your benefits and raping your women.

Both perspectives offer their individual amount of resentment. As apalling as it is to confront people with instant hatred and suspicion, meeting them with the slightly condescending air of someone out to satisfy their charitable streak holds its own ugliness. Both means looking down on another human being.

Especially in countries like Germany, which took in very high numbers of asylum seekers over the past years, the situation is… interesting? People are unhappy. With more than a million applications to work their way through, the authorities were quickly out of their depth. Asylum seekers are not allowed to work, so of course they did nothing for a long time but idle around in refugee camps, living off donations and tax payer money and slowly going crazy. They didn’t get the psychotherapeutical help they would have needed, which led to knife attacks and other incidents ranking as terrorism. They couldn’t sign up for language courses because they lacked the necessary papers. And once they got those documents, they quickly found that even if they have an education, it probably won’t do them much good, because employers won’t recognize their degrees, so even those who should do qualified jobs are forced into shitty ones, willing to work for a pittance just to have any job at all. And now it’s their fault if our wages don’t rise. And that’s just on top of an overall fear of the strange.

I know I’m simplifying things. I desperately want them to be simple. Because they should be. Only they’re not. Looking down on someone doesn’t make matters better though, quite the opposite. We’re – and I hope it is unconsciously – grinding down people who just want to go on with their lives.

During the past months, kicked off by a row over football (that’s socker, Americans) player Mesut Özil, the hashtag #metwo took off on Twitter. People all over Germany shared their experiences with what was referred to as Alltagsrassismus, which translates to everyday racism, or worse, trivial racism, meaning those snippets of ignorance, condescension or downright hatred that will get thrown at you if you’re obviously from somewhere else, because either your accent or your skin color will proclaim you as not a native.

I spent hours trawling those tweets. One thing that initially struck me as odd was how many people complained about the simple question “Where are you from?” I get the same question. To me, it always means the other person is taking an interest. I love asking the question myself, and then go on to find out more about whichever country is the answer, the respective culture, language, music, whatever. That’s how I grew up, as a kid which participated in international Scout camps. The theme song of one of those even included the lyrics “Hey there, where’s your tent/say, where are you from/come and tell about your world/I’ll be happy to listen.” It actually hurt me to have that simple question marked as a racist comment.

Then I started thinking.

I’m an expat. I left my home country for love. I am a EU citizen with all the rights and liberties that entails. I have no intention of swapping my citizenship, and I know I can go home anytime I choose. My home country is not at war, it has a stable economy, people don’t starve there on a regular basis, there’s even a chance for a state-funded pension. The native language is the same as in my country of residence, even if my accent or choice of words gives me away occasionally, much as I try to express myself in Hochdeutsch (German equivalent of Queen’s English). I’m also very white. In other words: I’m one privileged bitch. I might roll my eyes if someone calls me a Schluchtenscheißer (person who takes a crap in a ravine, very subtle allusion to the fact that there are high mountains in Austria), but that’s just lame jokes with no real menace behind them. I’m not a victim of racism.

If someone asks me where I’m from, they perceive me as a person of equal status, as white and educated and European as themselves. They don’t look down on me. They don’t pity me. They listen to my answer. They don’t tell me how I’m not welcome here. They don’t tell me to go back home. That’s a big difference.

If you hear cheap racist or plain ignorant shots all the time, it grinds you down, until even the most simple question will sound like an accusation.

Ever since trawling through those tweets, I’ve tried to examine and, where necessary, correct my behavior. I’ve found what I guess is referred to as reverse racism in my actions, or, to quote from one black woman: “I wish white people would stop smiling at me for no reason.” I’m definitely guilty of that, and I’m sorry. I’ll try my best and continue to listen, and find less stupid ways of showing support.

Look here for a bit of related reading.

 

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Women are more left than men. A possible explanation why.

Research and analysis have shown that women born after 1955 tend to vote more left than their male counterparts, with the gap between those voting groups widening in a sort of inverse relationship to their age – meaning the younger the voting groups, the bigger the gap, which tells us that the female tendency to vote left is increasing. The reasons for that are many, of course. Researchers state aspects like the decline of religiosity, or women showing a stronger preference for redistribution, social justice, stuff like that. While all this – including the rather conservative image of a woman’s role in society that right-wing parties tend to propagate – surely is valid, I figure that there’s one more thing playing into the whole mixture.

In May 2018, a 14-year-old girl named Susanna was raped and murdered by a young Iraqui refugee and asylum seeker in Wiesbaden, Germany. (According to the news, he confessed to the murder, not the rape. Just adding this for the sake of giving the complete picture.) The perpetrator’s brother belonged to Susanna’s circle of friends, which made her something of a regular guest in the asylum seekers’ hostel where his family lived.

The tragedy of a teenage girl being raped and killed by someone she knew and probably trusted to a point instantly drowned amidst a chorus of racist bleating originating from the AfD (Alternative für Deutschland, meaning Alternative for Germany), a textbook example right-wing party. And all the subsequent self-righteous tweets and videos and questions along the lines of “When will we stop importing murderers and rapists?” churned up a nasty little thought in my brain…

You fuckheads don’t say a word when the perpetrator is a German. A woman’s right to live, to not be raped, to go wherever she pleases, whenever she pleases, and be safe, only matters to you if the rapist and/or murderer is not ‘one of us’. If you can use the case for your fucked up political agenda.

One in three women in Europe experiences sexual violence in her life. Violence. Not a pat on the ass or a sleazy comment. Actual violence. In Germany, those figures are below European average. ‘Only’ one in twenty women gets raped in her life. ‘Only’ one in ten experiences other forms of sexual violence. Those figures are from a 2004 study. Way before the current influx of refugees the right-wing douchebags try to blame now. Of 20 cases of rape reported to the police every single day (!), 94% of the victims are women. Oh, and that’s not even all, because on average, only 15% of cases even get reported. And here’s the worst of it: 77% of sexual offenses against women are comitted by either their partner, or a friend, or a relative, or someone else they, like Susanna, know and probably trust to a point.

Right-wing parties, as mentioned before, usually propagate a rather conservative image of what a woman’s role should be. Wife. Mother. Supportive of her man, quiet in public. If she gets raped, it’s probably her own silly fault for going out at night, for dressing the wrong way, for not staying at home. Very funny, that, if home is where the danger is.

Long story short: No, knowing the guy who forces himself on you is pure-bred white doesn’t make the experience more enjoyable. Small wonder if women tend to not vote for parties who only care for their rights and safety if it fits with their despicable goals.

Fun fact: Parts of the Austrian government recently confirmed this little theory of mine. A directive sent from the Ministry of the Interior to the police forces included a juicy bit of instructions regarding their communication with the media: They should put more emphasis on communicating those cases of sexual violence where the woman did not know her assailant, and always state the perpetrator’s nationality. Now guess what kind of party Herbert Kickl, Interior Minister, belongs to.

Look here for a bit of related reading.

 

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The real danger in co-sleeping

We’ve always been a co-sleeping family. The pros and cons you’ll find in myriads of lists all over the internet never made too much of an impression on us. No, you won’t roll onto your baby. That just doesn’t happen. (I’m still laughing about the nurse in hospital, that moment when she realized that I had my little girl with me in bed and not in the cot beside me. “Aren’t you afraid you’ll roll onto her?” Lady, I just had a C-section. I’m happy if it takes me less than ten minutes to simply get up. Spontaneously rolling about is completely out of the question.)

As a newborn, our son would sleep in our bed, later in his cot next to my side. It made breastfeeding a lot easier and we all got a load of extra cuddles. His baby sister arrived just as he had got used to sleeping in his own room, so back he came, because if she’s allowed, it’s only fair if he’s allowed too. That was the moment we bought a bigger bed… Finally moving them out didn’t prove too much of a problem, maybe because we moved them into a shared room at first, so they wouldn’t feel too alone. They’d sometimes sneak back in with us during the night, something which gradually happened less and less and by now barely happens at all.

We’re still a co-sleeping family on weekends or during the school holidays though. With the kids being ten and eight now, and of sizes appropriate for their age, stuffing all four of us (plus the rather large dog, plus two cats) into one bed isn’t feasible anymore. Luckily, there’s a big sofa bed in the living room, so those nights not followed by a school day always start with the question who will sleep where, and if we can’t agree, we’ll pull the mattress off the sofa bed and onto the floor, drag the guest mattress down from the attic, and play campsite in the living room.

Now you’re probably wondering what I’m aiming at, since the title of this post mentioned danger, and I’ve only been talking sunshine and butterflies… well… those pros-and-cons lists about co-sleeping… they totally fail to mention one thing.

Talking in your sleep.

I do tend to have rather vivid dreams. I always know they’re dreams, which is a huge advantage, because I can totally lean into them and let them flow, let my imagination take me to the moon and back, while simultaneously knowing that I can always pull out. As you can probably imagine, that makes me a pretty active participant in my own dreams, or, in other words, I do a good bit of the talking. Sometimes I do that out loud. Most of the time what makes it past my lips is only unintelligible mumbling, no matter how clear it sounds to me (yes, I do wake myself up that way). Recently, though…

I had this dream, I don’t recall the fine details, but at some point I was sitting and reading a newspaper. To be precise: an article about people who accidentally (lottery win, inheritance, whatever) got rich somewhere between their forties and their fifties. The question raised by that article was, what did they do with those vast sums of money they never expected to have? Live their dreams, do some good? Some of them, maybe, I didn’t get that far, because the first guy I read about said he’d immediately gone and invested the money in no-fail stocks. What’s no-fail anymore these days? Well, arms factories, of course. War machineries. There was only one possible reaction to that revelation. I dropped the newspaper onto the table and a single word escaped me, crossed the boundaries of sleep and burst into the waking world…

“Asshole.”

The next thing I heard was my little girl’s incredulous voice. “Mom? What did you just say?”

I was as instantly wide awake as a bucket of ice wouldn’t have managed to make me. Shit. Shit, shit, shit. “Um… just talking in my sleep?”

“Oooookay…”

That, my friends, is the real danger in co-sleeping, that no one ever talks about. She’ll never let me hear the end of it.

 

 

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Amsterdam and Back

I might as well have titled this posting ‘Lessons learned’ or something like that, because, as big cities (or indeed any strange place) are wont to, Amsterdam has a lot to teach.

For instance, if you try to walk from the bus station to the city center and someone tells you that “it’s quite simple, really, you just need to follow that canal,” stop for a second and remember that there’s slightly more than one of those canals. In other words, what would have been “literally a one-hour walk, are you sure you don’t want to take the tram?” quickly (or rather, lengthy) turned into a four-hour walk. Which we didn’t even notice, because it was pretty and sunny and we were enjoying ourselves and didn’t have much in terms of luggage. Might have been even longer if I hadn’t accidentally spied a clock somewhere and realized we must have taken the occasional wrong turn, at which point we fell victim to a random act of kindness by a nice lady we asked for directions, “oh, you’ve come to the right person, I work as a tourist guide, here, I have two tickets for the tram which I don’t need anymore today, they are still valid until 2pm tomorrow, the tram you want is over there, enjoy your stay,” which gave me goosebumps all over and left me with the almost uncontrollable urge to hug a stranger. I managed to restrain myself, though, if barely.

The next day brought us Jan, the hop-on-hop-off bus driver, who told us interesting things like that life is like a penis, sometimes hard, and always too short, and who went (or rather, drove) out of his way to show us a few extra sights that weren’t part of the regular route. We also owe him juicy bits of knowledge, “see those brightly colored doors on all those houses that all look the same? They painted them that way so the drunken sailors wouldn’t end up with the wrong wife after months away from home,” or, “this part of the city used to be just a small strip of land where they’d hang pirates and other criminals, to deter any ships coming by, and in winter, when the surrounding waters were frozen, people would come skating over to do a bit of corpse sight-seeing.” He also enlightened us to the fact that the term Yankee might or might not have derived from the Dutch names Jan and Kees.

What else did we see, hear, learn? Well, cheese, I guess. Lots of that, with my favorite being the honey-thyme variation. Also, it takes 10 liters of milk to make 1 kilo cheese if you have a Holstein cow, but only 7.5 with a Jersey cow. As regards cows, I suppose we learned more than we ever thought possible…

Did I find the inspiration I was seeking? Oh, yes. Somewhere between the broom-closet-like onboard facilities of an overnight bus, a guy playing Volare on a saxophone at the feet of Madama Tussauds and another playing Stand By Me on a contrabass in Rembrandt Square, a hailstorm in a bus stop hut, and bare feet in the sand outside a little fishing village, random story strands starting flickering around in my brain. I might get them straightened into something worth reading. Wish me luck.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering… there’s no need to actually enter any of the famous coffeeshops. Passing one by and taking a deep breath will do the trick just nicely.

 

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