As any author will tell you, the difficulty with writing a series of books is that unless you’re J.K. Rowling and have a dedicated fanbase who will happily devour one Harry Potter book after the other, the further you get into writing that series, the fewer people will stay with you. On top of that, you may attract new readers who start reading the later books without having read the prior ones, meaning that unless you’ve got some means of quickly ‘onboarding’ them, they’re going to get pretty lost pretty quickly.
With that in mind, I’ve started Time Rep: Pandemonium (the third book in the Time Rep series) with a brief summary of everything that’s happened to our hero Geoffrey Stamp up to this point. This isn’t just for new readers, but also for people who might have read the last book a few years ago and need a re-cap of events to save them reading the previous books again.
So anyway, here’s the opening to Time Rep: Pandemonium, which starts with what I call “A brief history of Time Rep”.
WARNING – the following contains spoilers for both Time Rep and Time Rep: Continuum. If you haven’t read these books, do not read on…
Back in the 21st Century, it was a pretty complicated thing for most people to get their heads around, much more complex than say, a cheese sandwich. If you’d asked the average person on the street to describe a cheese sandwich back then, they’d probably have been able to do so right away, because no matter what time you’re from, a cheese sandwich is basically cheese between bread, and it doesn’t really get much more complicated than that. Yes, there are some debatable nuances to the definition (such as whether the bread needs to be buttered, what type of bread works best, should the cheese be melted or not etc.), but the basic principle of a cheese sandwich is pretty easy to understand. Cheese + bread = cheese sandwich.
But things would get a little tricky if you walked up to the average person on the street in the 21st Century and asked them “what is time?”
In the first instance, they’d have most likely thought you were a tourist speaking to them in pidgin English and told you it was time you bought yourself a watch. If you’d then made it clear that you were actually asking them to describe the concept of time and that no, this wasn’t part of a long-winded ploy designed to persuade them into giving you their credit card details and adopting a giraffe for a year, they’d still struggle to come up with a satisfactory definition.
The first stumbling block most people came across when attempting to define time was whether they considered it to be a ‘thing’ that existed in itself (much like our old friend the cheese sandwich, which would happily go around existing as a cheese sandwich regardless of how someone chose to conceptualise it in their mind, unless of course that person chose to eat it), or whether time was merely an abstract man-made mental construct designed to provide some sort of framework to a sequence of otherwise incomprehensively chaotic events that would ultimately end with the destruction of the entire universe.
A bit like Brexit.
That’s not to say people in the 21st Century didn’t have a good old go at defining time anyway. But with the scientific understanding of temporal physics still in a relative state of infancy, such efforts were akin to a three-year-old trying to describe what a mid-life crisis might feel like. The Oxford English Dictionary defined time as being ‘the indefinite continued progress of existence and events in the past, present, and future regarded as a whole’, while the science fiction author Ray Cummings once wrote that time was ‘the thing that stops everything happening at once.’ Both good attempts, but neither came anywhere close to getting under the skin of time and revealing its true nature. In hindsight, such descriptions were about as simplistic as describing the character of Hamlet as being ‘some Danish bloke with a few family issues’.
You see, once scientists began to understand how time could be manipulated – how it was possible for someone to travel from one moment to another, and most importantly, how it was possible to change past events and alter the future – a new definition was required. Indeed, much of the latter half of the 22nd Century was spent agreeing on the best way to describe time, now that humanity had a better idea of what it was dealing with. Elaborate forums were set up to arbitrate the best wording; the greatest scientific minds collaborated to distil such a complex piece of understanding into a concise paragraph; and over time, the definition slowly began to take shape, with each individual word being painstakingly agreed upon before going on to be signed off by another independent panel of scientific stakeholders. To say this process was laborious would be an understatement – it took four months just to decide whether the first word of the description should be ‘a’ or ‘the’.
Finally, after several years of heated debate, careful diplomacy, and linguistic wrangling, the final definition was agreed. And to safeguard against possibility of anything being leaked before a nice venue had been secured to announce the wording (ideally somewhere with decent canapes and a good nightclub nearby to host the after-party), the complete wording was not recorded digitally. Instead, it was written on a single piece of paper and locked in a vault whilst the scientists went on to argue about what the most appropriate sort of table centrepieces would be for an announcement of this magnitude.
The argument over these centrepieces took another month.
Unfortunately, the intern who was given the task of opening the vault and retrieving the written definition went on to throw it in the office shredder with some old receipts by mistake, and so had to hastily make something up off the cuff and hand that over to the head scientist on the night instead. And so this is what was finally published – the 22nd Century’s definition of time:
Time /tʌɪm/ noun
A non-spatial hologrammatic-like projection of possibilities, simultaneously finite and infinite in size, which interacts with human consciousness so as to be naturally experienced as a linear flow of causal events, but with malleable properties that can be subject to both natural and manufactured influences whereby perceptions of speed, directional flow and positioning within the projection can be altered.
All the scientists present at the announcement knew this was nothing like the wording they had agreed (the definition was supposed to begin with the word ‘the’ for starters), but everyone was too embarrassed to say anything. And so the definition literally stood the test of time, despite being made-up on the spot.
The table centrepieces were a real hit though, so that was a plus.
Unlike most major technological breakthroughs made over the course of human history (the invention of the wheel, the discovery of electricity, developing microwavable mashed potato that didn’t taste like wallpaper paste, etc.) it was a very long time before the discovery of time-travel had any real impact on society – several hundred years in fact. This was because the international scientific community was worried that any misuse of the technology posed such a monumental risk to the fabric of the space-time continuum, its application should be vetoed until sufficient safeguards were put in place to avoid the total destruction of the known universe. Indeed, many alternate realities actually ended up destroying themselves by discovering time-travel and not imposing sufficient controls before proliferating the technology (one such world even allowed people to travel back in time to watch TV programmes they had missed instead of just recording them, for goodness sake), so this cautionary approach was felt to be a wise move, which many scientists congratulated themselves for insisting upon.
What these scientists didn’t appreciate was the fact that such a destructive fate almost befell our own reality, were it not for the success of an against-all-odds mission undertaken by a crack team of temporal agents from a dystopian future of decaying causality, whose last-ditch efforts to create a time-portal enabled them go back and secretly influence everyone to be more cautious when using the technology. This mission undid all the mistakes made in the original timeline, straightened out all the paradoxes, and narrowly avoided the complete annihilation of our entire reality, changing history so things stabilised into the timeline we exist within to this day.
But that would be another story, were it not for the fact that technically, none of it ever happened.
It wasn’t until midway through the 31st Century that time-travel finally became accessible to the general public, and this was largely thanks to the work of two scientists: Dr Eric Skivinski, and his protégé, Jennifer Adams. Skivinski’s breakthrough was in developing an algorithm that would allow a supercomputer to recreate an accurate model of the space-time continuum, predict the impact of somebody travelling back in time, and prevent any changes from being made. Meanwhile, Adams’ contribution was in developing a computer powerful enough to run the algorithm, which ultimately took the form of a lattice of artificial micro-black holes, which were used to process the vast amounts of information required. It would still struggle to run the 1994 video game Nascar Racing at a steady frame rate though.
With this technology in a place, Time Tours was born – a travel company that allowed people to travel back to any point in history for their vacation. As long the supercomputer predicted that a journey back in time wasn’t going to change anything in the present, tourists could go back and experience anything from watching the pyramids being built in ancient Egypt, to seeing Centurions take on Barbarians in Rome’s Colosseum, to watching people in the 21st Century document every bloody second of their lives by taking pictures on their phones of their children, that amusing thing some guy did in a pub, that time it snowed, what they had for breakfast, etc.
The supercomputer also allowed Time Tours to identify certain individuals throughout history who were so insignificant, they could safely be employed by the company as ‘Time Reps’ without having any impact on the flow of the space-time continuum. Time Reps essentially acted as tour guides for their native time periods – it was their job to meet tourists from the future, show them the sights, and make their stay as comfortable as possible, just like a regular holiday rep. Within twenty years of being operational, Time Tours had almost 300 ‘known’ Time Reps working for them throughout history (the ‘unknown’ ones being those individuals who might have been working in the past as Time Reps, but who hadn’t technically been identified and employed yet by the Time Tours of the present-day), and these people all had one thing in common – no matter what happened, their activities were conducted in complete secrecy. They never revealed to anyone in their own time period what they really did for a living.
That was, until one Time Rep decided he was going to break the rules.
That man was Geoffrey Stamp – a Time Rep initially thought to be less significant to the space-time continuum than certain types of mushroom a couple of years ago, but one who had soon proven everybody wrong by saving the world from being invaded by an alien race known as the Varsarians within two days of being employed. And more recently, he’d followed that feat by saving humanity from itself, changing history to prevent Jennifer Adams from leaving Time Tours and setting up a rival time-tourism company called Continuum, which would have gone on to pervert time travel technology by allowing people to disappear into their own personal timelines with the powers of a god; powers that would cocoon people in their own echo-chamber realities, desensitise people to the consequences of their actions, and cause the eventual stagnation of human civilisation. It would have been a similar fate to what almost happened to humanity with the proliferation of social media, until everyone realised in the middle of the 21st Century that anything anyone ever said on it was just a complete load of bollocks.
Having recently thwarted Continuum’s plans and changing the course of history for the better, Geoff now found himself in a reality with a few subtle differences to the timeline he was used to. But they were good differences – a bit like coming home to discover someone had rearranged the furniture slightly to give each room a better feeling of feng shui.
One difference was that in this reality, Jennifer Adams had never left Time Tours to set up Continuum, and was now working as the company’s ‘Director of Change’. On top of this, Time Reps were now represented by a Time Rep Council – a group of people who stood up for the rights of all Time Reps and made sure they were being looked after properly by the upper management. This was unheard of in the timeline Geoff was used to – originally, Time Reps weren’t even paid, and had restrictions placed on them in terms of how they lived their lives to prevent any changes from happening to the space-time continuum.
Not anymore though. Now, Time Reps not only earned a salary, but they also had more freedom to make changes to their lives through a change-request scheme, whereby Time Tours allowed them to alter their previous destiny just as long as the changes fell within certain parameters (i.e. they didn’t result in creating a temporal paradox which in turn would cause the destruction of the known universe).
When Geoff discovered this new-found freedom, he knew exactly what he wanted to change about his own life. For years, he had been in love with Zoë – a girl he’d been close friends with since his childhood who now worked for the post office, delivering mail to all the houses in the local area, including his. Before becoming a Time Rep, he’d always lacked the confidence to tell her how he really felt about her, afraid that any hint of romantic affection might ruin their long-standing friendship. However, having saved the world from an alien invasion and surviving numerous life-threatening situations, asking a girl out suddenly didn’t seem quite so daunting a task, and he was desperate to ask Zoë out on a date, tell her about his adventures, and share his true feelings with her to see if she felt the same way.
Until now, Time Tours wouldn’t allow any of this. In order to maintain his cover, they insisted that Geoff lie to her about what he did for a living, pretending that he worked as a regular tourist guide, meeting people from his own time period and showing them around. And if this dishonesty wasn’t frustrating enough, Geoff wasn’t even been allowed to ask her out, even if he did keep his job a secret – the dangers to the fabric of the space-time continuum, Time Tours had argued, were just too great.
But in this new reality, it seemed the Time Rep Council had convinced Time Tours to be a little more flexible about what Time Reps could and couldn’t do with their lives, and Geoff was delighted to discover that he had been granted permission to pursue a romantic relationship with Zoë (though whether she would be interested in him remained to be seen).
There was just one condition: for the sake of humanity’s existence, if Zoë did agree to go on a date with him, on no account would he even breathe the words “Time Rep” to her…
 The centrepieces that were eventually chosen were small clusters of birch candles sprayed with glitter, which were suspended in a reverse-time vacuum so they appeared to burn backwards, the wax un-melting over the course of the evening until you were left with a pristine candle at the end of the night that could be taken back to Ikea for a full refund.
 To this day, no-one is sure what led to the demise of social media. Some argue that its popularity waned when people began to question the utter banality of what was being talked about (favourite shoes/biscuits/fascist dictators etc.), and the baffling popularity of the format’s most prolific users. Jeremy Jeremy for instance (2020 – 2085), was an enormously influential user for years, until everyone realised the only reason he was famous was because his first name was the same as his last name.
So there you go! I hope you enjoyed that brief excert from Time Rep: Pandemonium, which will hopefully be released later this year (I’ll let you know the release date as soon I find out!) In the next few weeks I’ll be sharing a few more chapters from the book, so stay tuned…