Well, It’s Been a Day, Hasn’t It

The working day started off with Boris Johnson’s proroguing of parliament called unconstitutional in an 11-0 decision by the UK’s Supreme Court, and finished off with Speaker Pelosi announcing a formal impeachment inquiry against President Trump, because it appears he tried to blackmail a foreign power to go after his political opponent. Which is not great.

In between all of that, I ate nearly an entire loaf of banana bread all on my own. Because it was delicious.

What are my thoughts on today’s excitement? Leaving aside the banana bread, and in no particular order:

* First: good. Both of these awful men deserve the abject humiliation they’re getting heaped on them this day, and both for the same reason — because they want to rule, not lead, and don’t actually care much for the rule of law. I like the idea that the rule of law has risen up and, like the owner of a particularly pernicious yappy dog, given them a hard swat on the nose with a rolled-up paper, that paper in each case being their respective countries’ constitutions. I’m not going to get too excited yet. But on the other hand, if we ever do get to the point to where both of these embarrassments are out of office and possibly in jail, it’s nice we have a specific day to point to as the official Beginning of the End.

* It’s a worse day for Johnson than Trump, which is a genuinely remarkable statement when you realize what a bad day it was Trump. But while both men are now firmly on the hook, Trump at least has some play in his line, and I don’t see how Johnson does at all. Johnson was given one job by his masters: Effect Brexit before all of them have to account for their offshore tax shelters. He’s bungled that one rather definitively, and at this point it seems unlikely that the UK will exit the EU on Halloween, despite Johnson’s best efforts. Which means another extension, more defeats, so on and so forth.

Bear in mind, I’m talking out my ass here, since I’m not British and there are almost certainly nuances I’m missing, and also, it doesn’t seem Mr. Johnson’s political opponents are particularly well organized or offering a better plan. Johnson may yet pull something out of his ass that isn’t immediately slapped down by Parliament or the courts. But in his very brief tenure as Prime Minister, Johnson still hasn’t managed an actual victory, and getting one as regards Brexit (or getting his opponents to let him have an election before Halloween) doesn’t seem likely for him now. He is a historic failure in the job.

* Back here in the US, folks on the left have been riding Nancy Pelosi on the subject of impeachment basically since the moment she got the gavel back, and are exasperated that it’s taken her this long to start an inquiry. I certainly sympathize, since Trump is objectively a terrible president, incompetent as balls and also corrupt in a way we haven’t seen in the White House in most people’s lifetimes (yes, even worse than Nixon). But Pelosi isn’t stupid, and she knows a thing which people on the left sometimes forget, which is that impeachment isn’t actually popular with most Americans, and also, Republicans, while institutionally corrupt, are both not actually stupid, and also really good at winding up their base about how THEY ARE UNDER ATTACK FROM THE SOCIALIST FEMINIST PELOSI AND HER ALLIES IN THE FAKE NEWS. Pelosi also knows that no president that’s been impeached has been removed from office, and that when Clinton’s impeachment trial was done, he was more popular than when it started.

All of which is to say that I suspect Pelosi recognizes, more than most people, the political hazards of an impeachment inquiry. They are significant and they are substantial, and, bluntly, if the Democrats fuck it up, they hand Trump a gift going into an election year… and we all know what the capacity of Democrats to fuck up even sure things is. She also recognizes that the Senate is in Republican hands and that in these benighted days, the chances of them removing a Republican president, even one as manifestly corrupt and incompetent as Trump, are slim approaching none. So the only realistic victory scenario here is to have an impeachment inquiry come up with something that is so unambiguously corrupt and unlawful that when the Republicans in the Senate vote to keep Trump in the White House — and they will — they slit their own political throats in the process.

Which is, uhhhhh, a lot.

So while I’m delighted that Pelosi has finally pulled the trigger on an impeachment inquiry, I am from a purely realpolitik view sympathetic regarding her reluctance to do so before now. And even now it’s far from a slam dunk. Does it feel good right now? Sure! Because Trump is objectively terrible, incompetent and corrupt. But I think people on the left really should understand how narrow the victory lane is here, and what lengths Trump and the Republicans will go to in order to keep him where he is, and their own grip on power. None of this is going to go the way you hope it will.

* For all that, I would like to believe today represents the first break in the authoritarian bullshit fever that anglosphere politics seem to have suffered over the last few years. Again, I’m not going to get too excited, and even a best case scenario has things getting rather messier before the real cleanup can begin. But I’ll take the day for what it is and see where we go from here.

The Big Idea: Annalee Newitz

Time Travel! Annalee Newitz is playing with it in their new novel The Future of Another Timeline! Or, perhaps, has been playing with it already, or will have been playing with it at some unspecified point in what might have been the future! Maybe! They’re here now to sort all the timelines out for you.

ANNALEE NEWITZ:

I’ll admit it: I’m addicted to tropes. I love to see them done well, but mostly I love to see them turned inside out, mutated, genderswapped, racebent, unraveled, or forced to wear a silly shoes. When I set out to write a time travel novel, though, I knew the tropey situation might be dire. The list of time travel tropes at TV Tropes is instructive: there are roughly a hundred of them, ranging from the Grandfather Paradox to closed time loops, and that’s not counting all the other tropes related to alternate history. 

The Future of Another Timeline (on sale today!) wasn’t even supposed to be a time travel story. It started as an alternate history that was kind of small and personal. I’ve often wondered what my life would have been like if abortion had been illegal when I was growing up, and the spectre of getting pregnant was looming over my horny high school self like a kaiju ready to barf napalm. So I started taking notes, building up an alternate reality without abortion rights. Then I added some angry riot grrls going on a murder spree in high school, killing rapists. Because obviously extreme times call for extreme measures. 

But then I started asking myself what would have led to this dire scenario. The answer I kept returning to was time travel. A secret group of feminist time travelers was in an edit war over the timeline with a group of men’s rights activists from the future. The bad guys had deleted abortion rights from U.S. history, but my heroes would go on a mission to revert that edit, trying to create a world where riot grrls could just enjoy punk rock instead of murdering people. 

I already had a pretty unusual premise, so I decided to make my time travel as mundane as possible. I chucked out the “secret time travel” tropes, and the “omg one thing in history has changed we have to change it back” storylines.

Instead, I created a world where time travel has always existed, everybody knows about it, and we all take for granted that the timeline has been heavily edited by travelers for millennia. Time machines are embedded in ancient shield rock formations on the Earth’s surface that have endured virtually unchanged since the Cambrian period half a billion years ago. Nobody knows how these devices got there, or who built them, but if you tap on the rock with a specific rhythm it opens a wormhole to the past. Humans discovered them in pre-history, and have been mucking around with the timeline ever since. In the modern era, geologists are the people who study time travel.

The idea of a heavily-edited timeline felt real to me. Plus, who doesn’t want to push the “go” button on an incomprehensible technology that’s barely distinguishable from nature?

As you might guess, this setup raises even more questions. Why isn’t everybody changing everything all the time? Are there any limits? Who is in charge of running these Machines when we discover them? What I found was that the more I set limits, the more the standard tropes could be helpful. After all, a trope is basically a narrative limit we’ve all seen before, so it doesn’t sound so damn strange when I say that of course there’s an organization called the Chronology Academy that controls access to the Machines. There’s only one timeline (and you know what that means, Back to the Future fans), and we can only go to the past. If you meet yourself in the past, as you know from Tropey McTroperson, BAD THINGS HAPPEN. If a traveler changes the timeline, or is present for a change, only they remember the old timeline. 

Then I came up with more weird rules that I haven’t seen in any trope list yet. For reasons that scientists don’t understand, the wormhole won’t open for travelers unless they’ve lived in close proximity to a time machine for roughly four years. So you have to be pretty damn serious about time travel, and willing to devote a lot of time (heh) to it, before you can jump into the past. 

Most of my characters are women and people of color, so I also played with a trope that’s become quite common recently in our slightly-more-woke-but-not really times. That’s the “scary to time travel if you’re not a cis white man” trope. You’ve seen it on TV in shows like Timeless and Legends of Tomorrow, and much further back in Octavia Butler’s novel Kindred. The idea is that everything was much worse for women and people of color in the past–and, implicitly, that things are better for us in the present.

In Future of Another Timeline, I wanted to question that idea. First of all, the present is no piece of cake, and in many post-colonial places it’s hard to say things are definitely better than past eras. Yes, there were different hardships in the past, but throughout history there have always been spaces of resistance where women and people of color and other marginalized groups could organize. When my character Tess goes back in time, she’s able to ally herself with 19th century feminists and anarchists; when she travels back to the 1st century BCE, she finds safe haven among priestesses of the goddess al-Lat. I wanted to recognize that there have always been powerful women and people of color in history; it’s just that historians have deleted our contributions.

One of the major differences between our timeline and the alternate one in my novel is that women and freed slaves achieved universal suffrage in 1870 in the U.S. As a result, Harriet Tubman became a senator in 1880. I wanted to center an event that’s rarely glimpsed in time travel stories, instead of the usual (tropey) Civil War and World War II. And the Big Bad my novel, Anthony Comstock, is trying to crush women’s reproductive rights. Only the Daughters of Harriet, a secret organization of intersectional feminist time travelers, can stop him. YES IT’S A TROPE. But it’s swerving in a new direction.

Navigating the trope obstacle course to write about time travel has been delightful and hard as hell. Still, I love that it allowed me to visit a 1992 Grape Ape concert, the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, the ancient city of Petra in 13 BCE, and the Ordovician period about half a billion years ago on a megacontinent that no longer exists. 

I think of stories as map overlays on a skeletal field of tropes. One story might be like the traffic layer in Google maps, which draws angry red lines down the freeway during rush hour. But another is like the terrain layer, which converts the cartoony perfection of an abstract map into an overhead view of mismatched houses and blobs of unexpected trees. Each new layer, like a new story, offers a fresh perspective on the same old piece of land. I hope The Future of Another Timeline gives you a new way of navigating the histories you thought you knew.

—-

The Future of Another Timeline: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s site. Follow them on Twitter.