Archive for the ‘Joan Szechtman’ Category

Today’s tour stop: Fictionary!

And now, please welcome my guest, Joan Szechtman, engineer and author, on the science behind time travel:

Thank you, Laura, for giving me this opportunity to introduce myself and my book,
This Time, a novel about Richard III in the twenty-first century to your readers.

Ever since I read, and reread A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark
Twain when I was but a girl of ten, I’ve loved time travel fiction, for many
reasons, not the least of which is because one can examine culture and technology
with alien eyes.

One point of fascination for me is the mechanism the author uses to get the time
traveler from his or her now to the past or the future. To get his Connecticut
Yankee into the past, Mark Twain simply had his hero’s head bonked and when the man
came to, he was in the sixth-century. When I read it as a child of ten, I didn’t
know that sixth-century English would not be recognizable to a nineteenth-century
American, nor did I fully appreciate the laws of conservation of mass and energy, so
I was able to enjoy the book and imagine myself in King Arthur’s court.

Authors use a variety of literary devices to get their character from one time to
another. Many use natural objects or phenomena such as the “standing stones” in
Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series. Other authors such as H.G. Welles and Michael
Crichton have “invented” devices that would enable time travel. Although I fall into
the latter category in that I created a device that I call a Quantum Displacement
Engine, I don’t go into any great detail as to how it might work. I am aware that
there are some current theories that involve quantum mechanics that might point to
how time travel might be accomplished, but this aspect is at its most nascent phase
and I’m using time travel to enable the story that I wanted to tell.

Another consideration of time travel is that the Earth, our Solar System, the
galaxy, and our universe are themselves all traveling through space at incredibly
high speeds. So for anyone to go into the past to a specific point on this planet,
would require knowing where the Earth was in space at that time. I haven’t read any
time travel novels that even hint this might need to be solved. In addition, I
haven’t read any that compensate for the laws of conservation of mass and energy. I
have tried to do this in my novel, and have used the laws of conservation as a plot

Even though my inner-geek not only made me consider the scientific considerations
and the improbableness of time travel, I do agree that novels that don’t try to
cover the science, or even give it a nod, are worth reading. It is up to the skill
of the author to convince the reader to suspend disbelief, regardless of what
mechanism the writer chooses to use.

I was interested in the attitudinal and cultural differences between
fifteenth-century England and twenty-first century America. One of the first
challenges Richard would face was to understand today’s English. Many of the words
that Richard would have commonly used, are today not currently used or have changed
meaning. For example, if we use the word corpse, we are referring to a dead body.
Not so in Richard’s time. Then, a corpse was a living body (from the Latin, corpus).
Interestingly, I learned that the English spoken then was more like what we can
still hear in some isolated areas of the American Appalachians, which is close in
sound and pronunciation to sixteenth-century English.

While forks existed in Richard’s time, they were used primarily in kitchens. When
served, meats were cut up into bite-sized pieces that could be picked up with ones
fingers or with the point of a knife and then dipped into a sop (sauce) before

Even though the poor didn’t have access to frequent baths in Richard’s time, the
wealthy (including a burgeoning middle class), not only bathed regularly, but would
often travel with their tubs. Some baths in castles were fed by pipes and fitted
with spigots as early as the twelfth-century.

Religion was a large presence in every day life. This was before the reformation, so
the state religion was Catholic. Richard, like many of his peers, kept a book of
hours for daily prayers, and for prayers of special occasions. Religious tolerance
was low, if non existent—the Jews having been expelled from England in 1290. While
the last crusade had ended shortly after the expulsion of the Jews, most Christian
leaders saw the Turks and the Muslims as a great threat. Richard was no exception.
However, Richard was the first English king to knight a converted Jew (Edward
Brampton in 1484), so I thought that maybe he was a little more tolerant than your
average fifteenth-century king. Bearing these factors in mind, I tried to imagine
what his reaction would have been to a country where all the leaders, national and
local are elected, where most citizens have the right to vote in these elections,
and where there is no state religion and everyone is free to choose how and whether
to worship or not.

Time travel gave me an opportunity to not only look at these differences between now
and the past, but by my bringing Richard into this time, I was able to see the world
today through my main character’s eyes. I hope the people who have read or are going
to read my book will experience the same.

Joan Szechtman

Joan Szechtman is an engineer and author of This Time, a time travel story about Richard III coming to modern-day America.  You can learn more about her at or read her blog at

Thank you, Joan,  for being here today!