Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The Future of Time

by Wendy Lynn Clark


Captain’s log - Stardate 1507.14
 
By Cormullion (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
 
 
If you are a world traveler, there’s nothing worse than accidentally calling up your loved ones in the middle of the night. They just can’t be as interested in your weird lunch of barbecued octopus eyeballs at 3am. Faster-than-light travel amongst the stars will only compound this problem. If you are trying to coordinate an attack on a death star, how do you make sure everyone shows up before the attack and not a week after?
 
Science fiction has dealt with this problem for some time. The main character of recent sf best-seller The Martian experienced a day, week, and year of a different length on Mars, and had to calculate the difference. He essentially had one clock set to Earth time and one clock set to Martian time.

For calculation purposes, our current system of time measurement isn’t very intuitive. Called sexagesimal because it is based on the number 60, it originated with the Sumerians almost five thousand years ago. Others have proposed we move to metric time. Used by Joan and Vernor Vinge (among others) in their sf novels, it is a form of decimal time based on the number ten. The metric system divides a day into seconds, and you talk about the hours in terms of killaseconds and gigaseconds. (The “seconds” designation is arbitrary and you could label your unit of time anything . See some fun units of measure such as the “Kardashian” or the “MegaFonzie” on this humorous units of measure Wikipedia page.)

The advantage of a decimal time system is that if you know it is 5 o’clock, the day is 50% over. It’s easy to understand and convert. Some have suggested the Star Trek stardate is a form of decimal time.

After you have an agreed unit of measure, how do you determine the length of a day? After all, a “day” on Jupiter is only 9 hours long, while a “day” on Mercury is 58 days. (And technically, a sidereal “day” on Earth is only 23 hours and 56 minutes, but the sun moves in relation to us during the same period, so we use a solar day of 24 hours.)


In the science fiction future, which planet’s clock will become our “Greenwich Mean Time”? Or will we use a planet at all?


Every author must come up with their own solution.


In my android assassin novel Liberation’s Kiss, I use three kinds of clocks: local time, an “Old Empire” time on which extra-planetary commerce and communications were based, and a new corporate time that the conquerors are flooding across the universe. This is much the way that conquering languages and customs take over now.
 
 
 
From Liberation’s Kiss ~

Cressida passed the rest of the day enclosed in her own thoughts. True to his word, Xan remained out of sight. By the time the second half of a Liberation VI “day” — the hours of tangerine sun plus more hours of intense green planetshine from the gas giant and its three largest moons — faded into true darkness, she had a taste of the future she had predicted to Xan.

It tasted like a single meal, consumed alone at a bar, while the solitary night wind howled past.

She put away her utensils, climbed the stairs to the second floor, and stood in the terrace doorway, staring out into the darkness.

In the glassed cities, the starlight was allowed to filter through naturally to create a twenty-three-and-a-half-hour local day. Soon the Nar would rewire all of the cities to the twenty-five-hour New Empire standard, and no one would see these views but tourists.

But tonight, the vast star-spatter looked just that. Not poetic, the way her calligraphy described it. But vast and frighteningly empty.


Well, readers, what time systems to you enjoy in your science fiction? If the International Telecommunications Union asked you to define a unit of time (ex. a New York Minute, a Jiffy) what would you call it?


What would you think about a future with decimal time?



About the Author

Wendy Lynn Clark is an award-winning author of contemporary and science fiction romance. Find out more by visiting her online home at http://wendylynnclark.com.

 
 
Note: The views expressed are solely those of the author, Wendy Lynn Clark, and not the SFR Brigade.

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