There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch

William White

This is another of the guest posts I did for the launch of Bannockburn Binding, for which the original blog site has since disappeared.  As I’ve mentioned before, the timing is coincidental, but interesting, as I’m releasing two time travel stories early next month (here and here). — t.

I’ve read any number of time travel novels.  I love and adore the idea of time travel.  I started off early in the genre.  I think my very first introduction was H.G. Well’s The Time Machine, when I was six or seven years old.

Possibly, that introduction scarred me for life, when it came to time travel inside the romance genre.  I am, among other things, a hardcore science fiction fan.  In science-fiction-land, there’s no such thing as a free lunch.  They even have an acronym for it:  TANSTAAFL. (There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch) — coined by the late Robert A. Heinlein.

Most scientists use the idiom to explain the general physics principal of every action having an equal and opposite reaction, and to explain why phenomenon such as perpetual motion machines simply can’t work.

Heinlein, however, applied TANSTAAFL to everything.  Inside his fiction, his characters used the principle to guide their actions throughout some varied and very interesting lives.  Basically, if something looked to good to be true, they figured it was, and walked away, because there there is no such thing as a free lunch, so what’s the catch, what’s the downside, who is scamming who here?  Heinlein raised no idiots in his fiction.

The same thing applies to science fiction devices and machines.  All of them, anything you find inside a science fiction novel, no matter how fantastical or wondrous it may seem, is founded upon sound science principles at the base.  The author, even if they invented the culture and machinery up out of their imagination, would have extrapolated from known science, and developed along a logical sequence of events to a distant point — even a far distant point — in that culture’s evolution where the story takes place.

Arthur C. Clark, another lauded science fiction writer, noted that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic,” so if an author were to extrapolate far enough, the setting would be wondrous, indeed.

As you can see, though, science fiction writers and readers are stringent about maintaining the science within their fiction.  Everything has to make sense.  Everything has to come at a price.

Any technology has drawbacks.

Going to the moon in 1969 involved three days of sitting in a tin can, and immediate and never-ending dangers of exposure to vacuum that the flimsy technology of the time only kept at bay with the most stringent of protocols and procedures.  The greatest achievement of that arduous journey was bringing a rock back from the surface of the moon.

The Enterprise in Star Trek can get to the moon in ten seconds, but the price they pay for that convenience is quarrelsome Klingons, interplanetary spats, trouble with Tribbles, and a yeoman with no personal boundaries.

The Enterprise D in The Next Generation would overshoot the moon if it didn’t tap the accelerator very gently indeed.  They have peace with the Klingons, and the Federation is no longer the peacekeepers of the galaxy.  They’re explorers and scientists instead.  The price they pay for all that technological improvement are The Borg, who are intent on turning the moon into a metal way-station.

Even in fiction, there is a price for everything.  A drawback.  A cost.

But sometimes, in paranormal romance, that cost is mysteriously missing.

You get characters who have the power to split the planet in two, but they pay no costs when they wield that power.  They use it willy-nilly, and if they’re the antagonists — the bad guys — they get to smite good guys all over the place, basically unchecked until the big finale, when the hero(ine) finally clocks them and halts their evil ways.

I think Einstein would turn in his grave.  If quantum physics holds true, then even with paranormal powers, there has to be a comeback.  A price.  Even if it’s a physical reaction to all that power spraying around the atmosphere, there should be some sort of reaction, right?  What is that power doing to the air, the ground, the magnetic field?

So we come to time travel.

I’ve read my share of time travel novels.  I love ‘em.  Unreservedly, I do.  I love the idea of sliding back to some time in history — and yeah, it’s always some romantic period, of course, when the clothes are to die for, and the heroes are gallant — meeting someone and falling in love.  Then there’s the myriad ways the romance gets resolved because of the time differences.  And the multiple ways the time traveler reveals their travelling ways.

It adds so many delicious layers to your good ol’ historical romances.

But I still squirm when I read time travel romances when the traveller just pops back two thousand years or so with absolutely no ill effects and no consequences whatsoever…like they’ve stepped through a doorway.

To my mind, there should be consequences.  There should be some sort of penalty or drawback, some sort of price to be paid for the ability to jump back (or forward) through time.  Or some limitation.  For one thing, it would make the story way more interesting.  It would up the tension of the drama big time.

And it would make it seem just a little bit more realistic.

I think it was this subconscious yearning that was driving me when I began building the Beloved Bloody Time series.  Although only Bannockburn Binding has been released so far [Oct 2018 note: The entire series has now been released and is available as a boxed set], there are rough chapters and outlines for about six books ahead in the series.  The time jumping is the backbone the series is built around.  And yes, there are consequences to be paid for travelling through time.  There are all sorts of consequences.

The most obvious consequences I can share with you here, because it doesn’t spoil anything in the stories.  The vampires in the series are the only ones who can travel through time, because they are the only ones who have the perfectly preserved memories of the past that allow them to navigate successfully through time.  But when they go back into the past, the symbiot in their blood that makes them vampire goes into stasis.  They become human again.  But as soon as they become human in the past, time begins to catch up with them at a vastly accelerated pace.  They begin to age.  The condition is known as Stasis Poisoning.  If the vampires jump too often, too closely together, the poisoning will catch up with them and strand them in the past to die.  If they remain too long in one date in the past, the poisoning with also catch up with them.  So while they enjoy the privileges of being able to travel back to the past, they cannot stay there.  Not forever.

The humans they carry back to the past suffer no ill effects, on the other hand.  But humans cannot jump back by themselves.  They have to be carried back into the past by a vampire traveler…and brought home again.

It has set up an uneasy alliance between humans and vampires, and gives the vampires a business income…and legitimacy.


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2 thoughts on “There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch”

  1. I really loved reading this post. So logically written; science, time travel, vampires, love and those TANSTAAFL moments in your stories.

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