Tag Archives: Terry Pratchett

Looping Through a Time Paradox

‘The moving finger writes, and, having writ, moves on’

Omar Khayyám

The concept of the Time Paradox is relatively new (pun alert). It came into prominence with Einstein’s theory of space/time and relativity, and with science fiction writers jumping onto the concept with screams of delight. Time travel had been a SF genre stable since  H G Wells had written ‘The Time Machine’ in 1895, and a new time travel concept was considered a marvellous innovation. The grandfather paradox was described as early as 1931. It didn’t take long for writers to start making stories based on the concept. Among the first of the SF stories dealing with the grandfather paradox was the short story Ancestral Voices by Nathaniel Schachner, published in 1933. It dealt with a time traveller killing his umpteen-times grandfather by mistake … and wiping away the existence 50,000 of his relatives (and himself) at the same time. Time paradoxes have been a favourite subject ever since.

In this post, I want to discuss the implications of time loops, using three of my favourite sources:

  • Terry Pratchett’s YA Discworld novel, I Shall Wear Midnight;
  • Neil Gaiman’s graphic novel The Books of Magic;
  • The Doctor Who episodes, Before the Flood.


I_Shall_Wear_Midnight by Terry Pratchett and illustrated bt Paul Kidby


I Shall Wear Midnight is  Tiffany Aching book. To start with, I want to point out the two versions of Tiffany on the Paul Kidby cover. This is genius, summing up the major scene in the book without giving any surprises away. Tiffany meets with her older self and so completes a time loop. As the Older Tiffany explains, the meeting goes differently every time it happens, while essentially remaining the same, because of the nature of the Discworld Multiverse. (A similar explanation is given to Samuel Vimes about his time travel in Night Watch.) One one level there is only one meeting in time; but on another level is occurred over and over again, with slightly different versions of the same characters. This version of the time loop means that Tiffany is always working towards the meeting with herself.


The Books of Magic bt Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Charles Vess & Co


‘It became necessary to destroy the town to save it’, original quote attributed by journalist Peter Arnett to a United States major.

In The Books of Magic, there is a very elegant version of a time loop, based around the character of Mister E. Mister E walks Tim Hunter – destined to be the world’s greatest magician – to the end of Time to see the future of Magic. Mister E had been taught time walking by a blind stranger who was walking backwards in time, At Terminus ( a very cute nod to Douglas Adams), they watch the last few moments before the universe ends. Mister E thinks this is the perfect place to murder young Tim, to ‘protect’ him, and so Mister E attempts to stab or strangle the boy. Tim is rescued by Death of the Endless from Neil Gaiman’s Sandman universe. Death punishes Mister E by making him walk back through the billions of years to his starting point.  It is inferred that the mysterious stranger that taught Mister E to timewalk was none other than this later version of himself, creating a ‘bootstrap’ time paradox, also known as a causal loop.

The Bootstrap Paradox is a theoretical paradox of time travel that occurs when an object or piece of information sent back in time becomes trapped within an infinite cause-effect loop in which the item no longer has a discernible point of origin, and is said to be “uncaused” or “self-created”.  – from the Wikipedia


The Doctor Who television series is the best provider for any of this wibbley-wobbley Timey-wimey stuff. This explanation of the Bootstrap Paradox is from Before the Flood episode. Even if the rest of the episode was rubbish (which it wasn’t, and the Fisher King was so scary), this explanation made the whole episode worth it. It helped underline the whole premise of the episode – very clever and fun. It played with the causal time loop like it was a Klein Bottle rather than a closed system, by having the Doctor inform himself of the words necessary to save the day (I don’t want to say too much if you’ve never watched the episode). At the end of the episode, Clara asks the Doctor how he knew what to make his ghost’s hologram say. He informs her that he only knew what he had to do because he found out through her telling him what it was already saying from the future. And so the loop is closed off and allowed to ‘pop’.

Before the Flood

I am a time traveller in the sense that I use historical settings in my writing. But I am tempted to write my own Bootstrap Paradox narrative, simply for the fun of it.

Leave a comment

Filed under Doctor Who, Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett, Time Paradox, Uncategorized

Short story inspired by the passing of Terry Pratchett


“Well, it’s happened,” said Granny Weatherwax. “Our old man has taken that last walk with Death.”

Nanny Ogg patted herself all over. “But we’re still here. How can that be? I thought we’d all go ‘puff’ and disappear like foam on a beer.”

Granny nearly smiled, and said, “Too many people believe in us, or want to believe in Discworld. It’s like he wrote … while people are still talking about you, you are not really gone.”

“Then he will never be really gone, will he?” asked Nanny hopefully. “People’ll be talking about him a hundred years from now.”

“Exactly. Which means we still have a job to do.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Short Story

Terry Pratchett and the Steampunk Genre, and me

 The front cover of the book Raising Steam by Terry Pratchett.jpg

 Terry & the TARDIS!

I love Terry Pratchett and I will love him until the day I die. As long as we remember him, he lives on. His books provided one bit of advice that I have taken to my own heart … you can’t wait for the right time, you have to make your own right time. Otherwise, the right time will never come. It was this advice that go me back to university to do a second degree, this time in creative writing. It was this advice that has me spending so much time at my computer writing.

I do not have ambitions to write like Terry Pratchett, for I am not so wise or clever. I do want to write characters and plots half as good, which would still make me one of the best writers of this era. Writers are lucky if they are remembered for one of two really good characters – truly great writers are remembered for making even their secondary characters interesting. Terry Pratchett had throwaway characters that took on lives of their own, and ended up with their own book, like the Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents, or his History Monks, which inspired ‘The Thief of Time’ and the character of Sweeper. That’s genius, that is. That’s an eye for detail that is astounding.

As the city of Ankh Morpork became more industrialized, so Pratchett’s Discworld novels went from strictly Fantasy into the Steampunk genre.The introduction of the printing press occurs in ‘The Truth’, the introduction of semaphores in ‘Going Postal’, the introduction of the steam-powered locomotive in ‘Raising Steam’. Even the non-Discworld novels of ‘Dodger’ and ‘Nation’ have distinctly Steampunk touches in their settings, characters, and plots. But it wasn’t this Steampunk influence that drew me to Pratchett. It was how his characters responded to changes, including technological changes, which made these novels so great.

I was lucky enough to meet and speak with Terry Pratchett a few times on book tours, and to exchange emails once or twice. I was very lucky, because I got to meet with one of my personal heroes. I hope everyone gets a chance like that. And I hope you were as lucky as I was, to discover your hero was more wonderful in real life than you had hoped and imagined.  There will be millions of words written about Terry Pratchett over the next few weeks, because Terry touched millions of hearts.

I lived through Terry Pratchett’s entire writing career. It seems impossible that he is gone.



Filed under Personal experience, Steampunk, Steampunk Genre, Terry Pratchett

Neil Gaiman on Terry Pratchett

Terry And Neil

1 Comment

Filed under Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett

Richard Trevithick – A Steampunk Characterization

“I have been branded with folly and madness for attempting what the world calls impossibilities, and even from the great engineer, the late Mr. James Watt, who said to an eminent scientific character still living, that I deserved hanging for bringing into use the high-pressure engine. This so far has been my reward from the public; but should this be all, I shall be satisfied by the great secret pleasure and laudable pride that I feel in my own breast from having been the instrument of bringing forward and maturing new principles and new arrangements of boundless value to my country. However much I may be straitened in pecunary circumstances, the great honour of being a useful subject can never be taken from me, which to me far exceeds riches.”

Richard Trevithick in a letter to Davies Gilbert

Richard Trevithick was a British inventor and mining engineer from Cornwall, which was what first brought him to my attention, because my mother’s family is originally for Cornwall. (Yes, I really am a pixie. Let’s get the short jokes out of the way quickly, shall we?) I suspect that Richard was the inspiration for Dick Simnel in Terry Pratchett’s ‘Raising Steam’, At school, young Trevithick, the son of a miner, was considered slow in everything but arithmetic, and he wasn’t trained as an engineer … but he was the first to invent the locomotive. His father-in-law was a blacksmith, John Harney, formerly a blacksmith who went on to form the foundry, Harveys of Hayle; his company became famous worldwide for building huge stationary beam engines used for pumping water. Can you see where the fictional Dick Simnel might have crystallised from Richard Trevithick?

Trevithick was an intuitive inventor, and remained functionally illiterate all his life. As an engineer in a Cornish mine, he was keen to utilise technology that would make mining more profitable. He could see steam was the answer, “Strong Steam”, so called because it was pressurised and dangerous. In 1797, Trevithick constructed high-pressure working models of both stationary and locomotive engines – just like Dick Simnel did.  The models were so successful that he felt confident to scale up and built a full-scale, high-pressure engine for hoisting ore. It was a success, so he built more. They were known as “puffer whims” because they vented their steam into the atmosphere.

This invention would have been enough to make his name as an inventor, but in 1804 he built and demonstrated the first self-propelled railway steam locomotive. And Steam-powered enthusiasts are still rejoicing.

Replica of the railway locomotive designed by Richard Trevithick.

Replica of the railway locomotive, the ‘Puffing Devil’, designed by Richard Trevithick.

Trevithick boult a second, similar locomotive  in 1805, and in 1808, Trevithick demonstrated a third, the Catch-me-who-can, his ‘steam circus’ on a circular track laid in London, where he charged a shilling a ride. He then had to abandon these projects, because the cast-iron rails proved too brittle for the weight of his engines.

In 1805 Trevithick adapted his high-pressure engine to driving an iron-rolling mill and propelling a barge with the aid of paddle wheels. His engine also powered the world’s first steam dredgers (1806) and drove a threshing machine on a farm (1812). Such engines could not have succeeded without the improvements Trevithick made in the design and construction of boilers. For his small engines, he built a  boiler and engine as a single unit, but he also designed a large wrought-iron boiler with a single internal flue, which became known throughout the world as the Cornish type. It was used in conjunction with the equally famous Cornish pumping engine, which Trevithick perfected with the aid of local engineers.

The Encyclopaedia Britannica

Trevithick went on to invent many of the safety features that made his boilers a workable proposition. We went to make improvement and more inventions. However, he never received the credit for his endeavours that he deserved. Taking encouragement from earlier inventors who had achieved some successes with similar endeavours, Trevithick petitioned Parliament for a grant but he was unsuccessful in acquiring one. But after his death, his legacy began to given some notice. The Trevithick Society is a registered charity that was started in 1935, to preserve his inventions as they started to be replace by more modern machinery.

So I can’t think of an individual who deserves the love and respect of Steampunk writers and enthusiasts. If he was good enough to inspire Terry Pratchett, he is good enough for me!

 This post is dedicated to one of the great Facebook Friends: The Historical Detective Agency Ltd., as Dan and the team inspired this blog post.



Filed under Characterization, Engineer, Historical Personage, Science, Steampunk