133 Confrontation

Clearly not expecting somebody to speak to him just then, the poor boy lost his grip on one of the sodas, made a grab for it and missed. It caromed off his pants leg and emptied its contents all over the floor. With a cry of exasperation, he knelt down and starting mopping at it with a napkin from the food bag. I grabbed another and knelt down beside him to help.

Intent on his efforts, he muttered a distracted, “Thanks.” Suddenly he looked up at me, a confused look on his face. “What did you…? Wait, do I know you?”

“You’re not an easy man to track down, Mr. Harlin,” I responded. “Most students have facebook accounts, these days.”

At that, he looked even more puzzled, and then he opened his mouth in surprise. “You’re Jennifer Marsha, aren’t you?”

“Got it in one,” I told him. “Call me Marsh.”

“Oh. Well… I mean, I’m flattered that you went through all this trouble to find me, but…. I’m afraid I don’t really know why.” He peered intently at me. “Why would you come all this way just to talk to somebody you met at a dance? I mean, I hope I didn’t–”

“Actually, I’m a student at Piques, and I’m here to talk to you about the experiment.”

The sudden change of subject made his eyes defocus for a moment. “What experi…? Oh!” He stood up, looking scared. “Uh… Um… I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

I looked at him with pity. He really wasn’t very good at this undercover stuff. Ostentatiously I looked at the number on the door. “Room 14, huh?” I started to walk off. “I know a newspaper reporter who would be fascinated to know where to find you guys.”

“Wait!” he called after me before I’d gone more than a few steps. When I turned, he looked as though he was on the verge on panic. “Look. I can’t tell you anything.”

I raised my eyebrows at him, but said nothing.

“I mean… you have to understand, we’re not bad people. We weren’t trying to hurt anybody.”

I waited.

He broke. “I’m just trying to get my degree!” he wailed.

“I’m sure that’ll be a big comfort,” I said, crossing my arms.

“OK, OK, I understand that it’s been a bit… difficult for some people. It wasn’t supposed to happen like this. We didn’t really expect–”

“A bit difficult?!” I snapped. “Do I look like a boy to you?”

“No, of course not!” he responded, confusion now vying with panic for his dominant emotional state. “You’re beautiful – really feminine…” Then he blinked, and confusion won, but only temporarily. “Wait. Why…?” He stared some more, and now shock dominated its rivals. “You’re not… you couldn’t be…” His voice dropped to whisper as he peered into my eyes. “Are you saying that you remember being a boy?”

“Bravo!” I said sarcastically, clapping slowly.

He stared into space, obviously trying to work things out in his mind. “That’s impossible… I just don’t see how…” Then he looked at me with a hopeful expression. “Do you have a few minutes? I’d like to introduce you to somebody; we’ll want to ask you a few questions.”

Yes! “I’m at your disposal,” I said with a smile.

The next thing I knew he’d handed me the remaining soda and the bag with an excited, “hold these!” With his hands now free, he unlocked the door, took back the soda, grabbed my now free left wrist, and pulled me into the office, shouting, “Hey, Rolf!”

The older man we’d seen in the videos poked his head out of a door partway down the hallway. “Good, I’m hungr–” he started to say. Then he saw me. “Who is that?”

Brian stopped and gestured with his now-free hand. “Marsh, this is Professor Davis. Rolf, Marsh was one of our volunteers. Group two, apparently.”

“What?” the professor gasped, coming to greet us. “And you brought her here? Are you nuts?”

“She found us,” his student explained. “Or rather me, I think. Somehow she tracked us down. Anyway, here’s the point. She says she remembers being a boy!”

The older man’s head swiveled towards me once more. “But–” He looked at me, then back to Brian. “How? What did we miss?”

“All I can think of was when we had that disagreement over… what was it? Equation fourteen? Fifteen?”

They stared at one another and then ran together for the door from which the professor had recently emerged, completely ignoring me. When I followed after doffing my coat, mittens and boots, Brian was sitting at a computer, Davis was writing at a white board and the two of them were shouting back and forth at one another.

I couldn’t follow any of it, which hardly surprised me – each discipline has its own terminology, after all – but I thought I heard them mention “zeta functions” and “cat vectors” and “probability distributions.” After several minutes of this incomprehensible nonsense, Davis snatched up a calculator and started punching numbers into it, checking with his student on some of them. Then suddenly he turned to me with a smile.

“Do you have any idea of the odds against this happening?” he said with glee. “At least half a million to one! You should play the lottery!”

Brian nodded in agreement. “It turns out that it was possible after all. I guess we made a mistake.”

I stared back and forth and the two of them. They seemed positively elated at this find – not one thought between them that there was more to it than getting the facts right. “The question is,” I stated, shaking the bag I was still holding at them, “can you fix your mistake?”

The older man nodded confidently. “Not a problem at all.”

“R-Really?” I gasped. Even after telling myself over and over that the hard part was finding these guys, that once I’d found them everything else was easy, deep down I had had my doubts. Actually hearing it from Professor Davis’s lips was amazing.

“Absolutely,” he continued. “We won’t be publishing for at least a year-and-a-half; plenty of time to make the corrections and follow through on the implications. Plus, with your data, we’ll have a better idea of whom to choose as our next test subjects.”

With great effort, I refrained from banging my head against the wall, or better yet, his. “No,” I explained, “I mean me. Fix me.” Both of them looked at me blankly. “I want to wake up as the boy I remember being. Or any boy,” I added softly.

For the first time I saw embarrassment on their faces. Their eyes met and then Brian told me, shamefacedly, “We… can’t do that, Marsh. You do see that, don’t you?”

“No!” I wailed. “I don’t see that. Why?! Why can’t you just do whatever you did again? I’ll take my chances… I don’t understand…”

And then suddenly Davis’s words penetrated. At least a half million to one, he’d said. Even if they had their equipment set up again and working, it wasn’t the fifty-fifty chance I had counted on. That was why nobody else had changed sexes. That was why they had believed it impossible until now.

I was in a haze. All emotions were gone. I was stuck. I still had to tell Jeremy, I still had to live the rest of my life as a girl, knowing that I was a fake. My hope that all of this could be fixed was gone.


Somebody was talking to me, talking to the fake, the damaged person they had created, certainly the worst victim of their insane, irresponsible, inconsiderate…


I blinked. It took me a moment to resolve the face in front of me, to realize where I was. The room around me was unfamiliar. I looked around. Somehow I had made my way back to the office vestibule where I had left my coat. I was sitting on the floor, my back against a wall, and Brian was talking to me.

“Marsh, are you OK?”

Stupid question. It wasn’t easy to see him through the haze, but he could see me, couldn’t he? Couldn’t he see that I wasn’t OK? I wiped away the haze from my eyes, but it was still on my cheeks. And why not? I’m a girl forever, now, and girls are allowed to cry, aren’t they? We? Whatever.

“What do I say to make you feel better? If I’d known what you wanted…”

Bastard expects me to talk, does he? Does he know nothing? OK, fine, I ‘ll talk to him, give him a piece of my mind, put my thoughts together, somehow, even though everything is shattered.

So many questions I’d wanted to ask. I opened my mouth, but none of them could find their way to my lips. Finally one did, probably the first question I’d asked, way back when.

“How… when you went back in time to change my DNA, how did you keep my memories the same?” It sounded inane to my ears. What did it even matter, now? I guess the scientist in me, the drive to know, was the only part still functioning. Everything else hurt too badly.

Even through my tears I could see something wrong with his reaction. He looked… annoyed? Then sympathetic. “How much of the experiment do you remember?”

“Not all that much,” I admitted. “Why?” And why are you patronizing me?

“That seems to be the rule with group two,” he nodded. “Look, have you studied quantum mechanics?”

I rolled my eyes. “What does that…?” I shook my head. “I’m a bio major. I don’t need all the details. Dumb it down for me.”

“Right.” He stood up and helped me to my feet. “So you’ve never heard of the Many Worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics?”

I shook my head. How was this answering my question? The phrase sounded vaguely familiar; no doubt Jay had mentioned it while lecturing the rest of us over lunch.

He persisted. “Science fiction, then? Alternate universes? Theory doesn’t predict that we should be able to see them, or have any way of knowing whether they exist, but… about six years ago, Rolf ran into an interesting result, and thought he might have found one.”

OK, I didn’t see the connection, but it did at least sound interesting.

“One of his students – this was before I started studying with him, mind you – was doing an experiment and thought he’d gotten a glimpse of something a bit different than what he remembered was true. They tried a few things, and decided it was probably just some kind of dizziness caused by the equipment he was working with.”

“You’re saying it wasn’t?” I asked, now curious.

He grinned. “When I joined the lab, I needed to come up with a topic for my thesis, and I was sort of floundering. He mentioned the incident, and I decided to see if it was repeatable, and if it meant anything. So we got a bunch of volunteers, and subjected them to variations of the same stimulus and asked them to tell us what they experienced. Marsh, a lot of them got the same kinds of reactions – it was as though they had suddenly remembered things that they knew weren’t true. We even had two students remember the same thing happening that clearly hadn’t.”

“And…?” I prompted him.

“Well, my idea was that we’d somehow tapped into one of these alternate universes. Students seemed to be getting glimpses of memories from this other reality. We went through as many student volunteers as we could get at Rocky Lake and spent two years classifying our data. Then we wanted a fresh set of volunteers.”

“So you came here, and something went wrong.”

“Right. Rolf had been corresponding with the head of the department here, and arranged a grant to study what I had found. Marsh, we’re on the verge of proving the Many Worlds interpretation! Do you have any idea of the impact?”

“Um, no…?” Slowly, my brain was trying to apply this to what had happened to me. Was he implying…?

“Anyway, yeah, something went wrong. Some of the younger students… you see the idea is that an alternate universe splits off at a specific time. Everything before that time is the same, but after that time… well, apparently the split was about twenty years ago – before most of the sophomore class was conceived. So the corresponding person whose memories you got didn’t have the same DNA.”

“Corresponding person? Wait. Are you saying–”

“We didn’t go back in time, Marsh. You’re still the same girl you were when you volunteered.”

“But… corresponding…? You’re saying I’m not Marshall?”

This was hard to accept. I remember being Marshall, and now he was saying… He looked very uncomfortable. “We hadn’t realized that some of our subjects might have thought themselves to be the corresponding person. For a lot of the younger students, though, it was pretty obvious because they suddenly remembered looking different. We thought we had figured out when it happened and what conditions were required, and it seemed pretty certain it could never happen when there was a sex difference. Obviously not. We have some more analysis to do.”

My mind felt as if it was exploding. Was everything I remembered wrong? “But you’re saying, I’m really a girl. That’s I was never a boy. Wait. That means… I’m Marsha!”

“Um, yeah.”

“’Yeah’? That’s all you can say? I’ve spent the last four months thinking I was the wrong person?”

He had the grace to look embarrassed. “I’m afraid so.”

I stared at my hands, having moved from one shock to another, but now starting to make sense of it all. “That’s why I can’t play the guitar well. I never learned how!”

He blinked.

“And… I’m the one who had the lead in the high school musicals… four years in a row!”


“And…” my head was swimming. “I’m the one who dated Dirk for two years, and the bastard dumped me!”

“What are you–”

I grabbed his collar and shouted up at his face. “I’m a girl!”

“That’s what I was trying to tell you.”

“Then I’m not a fake at all. I’m really a girl!” I stared at my body. “This is who I am, who I’m supposed to be!”

“So, everything’s OK, right?” he asked hopefully, gently trying to pry hands free.

“No, everything’s not OK. Where are my memories?”


“My memories, you bastard! Do you have any idea what kind of Hell you put me through?”

“We really didn’t mean…”

“I’ve just spent the past four months terrified about being found out, thinking I was lying to everybody about who I was. I’ve had experiences that I now remember dreaming of having, and you took them all away from me!”

“We didn’t know that was going to happen!”

“And you didn’t try to make things better, either! You didn’t contact us and say, ‘sorry, this is what went wrong.’ You didn’t try to find a way of fixing your mistakes, either, did you?”

“We couldn’t!” Now he was almost pleading. “Look, we’re working largely empirically here. We’ve got some idea of who got new memories, and who didn’t, and we can see a lot of what’s different, but we don’t know why some of you no longer seem to remember your own lives. We did repeat the experiment with some of our earlier volunteers, but it didn’t seem to undo anything.”

“So you knew you couldn’t undo it and you kept on doing the experiment anyway?”

“I’m sorry! We didn’t know!” And now he was cringing. He had a good ten inches on me, and he was cringing before a tiny 5’3” girl. I almost felt bad for him. Almost.

“But what about when you did know?” I snapped, hammering the points at him and grabbing his shirt again. “What about the uncertainty? Maybe you didn’t expect this to happen, but shouldn’t you have contacted all of us when it did?”

“The administration has their hands at our throats, Marsh.” I looked up to see that Professor Davis was standing nearby. How long had he been there? “Please let go of my student,” he said. With a glare, I complied.

“This is kind of a problem for us, you being here,” he explained. “We’re starving for data on the last experiment, but we’re also forbidden to be in contact with any Piques students.”

“Well, you’re in contact, now,” I informed him, triumphantly pulling my phone out of my purse. “I had my phone on speaker the whole time. Nikki, did you hear?”

It took her a few seconds to unmute her own phone. “I heard enough,” she said to the shocked scientists. “435 West Ash Street, number 14, right?”

“Thanks, Nikki,” I said. “I’ll call you back when I leave.”

“And you guys better not hurt her”, she warned before hanging up.

I put the phone back into my purse and faced them. “Let’s talk.”


  1. TJ says:

    wow… Amazing. I am not sure how I can respond to this, it was amazing though.

    Love the phone thing btw, and that an interesting twist on what happening.

    I also love how he like, no your beautiful…wait why would I think your a guy.

  2. scotts13 says:

    Nice improvisation, Nikki. Davis’ interpretation of Many Worlds seems to be a little outside of the mainstream – one specific branch, about 20 years ago? – but who’s to say? It does seem like the waveform of the story is collapsing nicely, though. (GRIN)

  3. von says:

    @ Scott

    Except this doesn’t actually change anything. If anything this interpretation gives more possibility for changing back than the time travel one, and Marsh is still the exact same person he has been the entire story: Marshall’s memories, Marsha’s body, and the will and ego of…? For the entire story this will and ego has been that of Marshall. He woke up the first morning not confused as to who his ego/will was, but saying ‘I’ and meaning Marshall. He is now even more divorced from his own reality than before, in the sense that there is a reality for him to be divorced from.

    And a coorresponding aspect of the many worlds hypothesis is that there are an infinite number of practically exactly similar worlds… thus this experiment has been happening over and over and over to untold infinits of Marsh’s and Vicky’s.

    The throwaway line ‘it doesn’t seem to change anything’ doesn’t help, either. If the experiment produces memories from world {jerk} then that is what it does. Reproducing the experiment would at least do something.

    And, hey Chad, figure out a way, now that you know they are there, to get Marsha’s memories back.

    All in all an interesting chapter that I would like to have seen about, I dunno, 60 chapters ago? 100? It is, properly, the beginning of the sci-fi story. Now we know what happened, now we know who dunnit, now we start to have decisions to make and things to do.

    BTW… whatever happened to grief over who he thought he was (accepting FSA his nonsensical theory that he is, suddenly, someone different)?

  4. von says:

    Oh, and the whole first students vs second students memory thing still has a hole in it. More later when I have time to explain.

  5. scotts13 says:

    I greatly fear that the science is done, what little there is. (Given what’s being experimented with, why are they assuming that just because the subject remembers things differently from everyone else, the subject is wrong?) Russ has been re-emphasizing the “I’m an impostor” aspect the past few chapters, so it seems likely Marsh will take this revelation as “permission” to be a girl, and run off to make babies with Jeremy. Story over.

    Sad to say – and I really apologize to the author for expressing it – I find this, at the very least, disappointing. I think we all decided long ago that Marsh was a girl with some odd memories; the questions were “How?” and “How will she resolve her internal conflict?” I’ll of course wait for the last chapter, but for now it seems “A wizard did it” and “Someone tells her it’s ‘OK’ to accept the status quo” are the answers.

    Now me, I’d be tempted to kill Davis anyway. Which is just about right for an “academic” and “scientist” who has multiple subjects sort of stand next to a machine which has an unknown effect on them, by unknown means. That would add some drama…

  6. Von says:

    What Scott said. Except I think they should make babies 🙂

  7. Trax says:

    I really enjoyed this chapter! I don’t know why you guys have to complain about a high point. Theres still an internal drama with how Marsh feels.
    If she has the wrong memories, how can she regain her originals? Will they slip back in over time as we’ve seen bits of, or is it a near total wipe?

    Another view of the whole situation is, if this proves multiple universes exist, then somewhere in another universe we have Marshall. His memories got pulled into Marsha. Marsha may be the same physical being, unedited by time manipulation. The mental state though is heavily edited so who’s to say this isn’t a man stuck in a womans body story? The lack of a transformation doesn’t impede self identification. It’s a bait & switch in method, but for the victim the difference is negligible.

    Bravo Russ

  8. Estarlio says:

    How did the administration know that something had gone wrong in order to get the sociopaths – uh ‘scientists’ – by the throat? It wasn’t until Marsh woke up during the holiday that her mind-rape became apparent.

    Even assuming that there was an outlier for them to get the information from, and that they killed that outlier to prevent him or her from spreading information about the experiment, what hold does the administration have over them? The admins no more going to tell on the researchers than they are going to tell on themselves – studies are required to go through ethics boards that would have put a stop to something like this. The admin would be trying to bluff without having any cards.

  9. Jerf says:

    I liked this way the story folds. Its basic enough to understand for anyone, and anyone who deeply understands the science side should stop complaining, because creative license knows that real science is a bit of a stretch in anything. Quantum physics is a pretty safe place to fudge the numbers.

    On the other side – I like this. IT seems that in the end what has happened is almost like linear editing – they managed to edit in Marsh’s memories over hers, and she is slowly unfolding the old memories. This means that a fantasy reader can have it both ways – Technically she never changed, so the twist is she never was a guy, but she has legitimate memories (no one can say what sex is like for a guy or girl to the opposite, so she has the unique perspective of real memories). The question to me is about who are you but the sum of your experiences, and in this case all male until a few months ago.

    I like this because it can still lead both ways. There could be another dimension where a very confused boy has 20+ years of being a girl due to this memory swap. This means that the Jeremy side of things is easier, since she is really just a girl with a memory problem. the entire story up to this point has been peaking at this, and now that we know the flip of the coin (We knew that she had to find out, and it was either false memory, or body swap) so I see the resolution being that she still has to contend with what is the 20+ years of guy life that erased her entire childhood memory. How is she going to deal with Jeremy now, since she might know she always was a girl, but still feels somewhat like a guy from the past.

    While she has already come to terms with “I am a girl now” and now knows “I was always a girl in this reality” but doesn’t know “What about my memories” and “how do I talk to Jeremy” or “How do I explain this all to my friends/family” and the final “how do I get past this with the scientists” and there is always “what do I tell vicki?”

    I see a lot of arcs that need to be finished still. I don’t agree with “A wizzard did it” because explaining that they are dipping into alternate realities, and that they chose a single reality to pull from that they were able to somehow connect with, and that it went wrong in a bad way, is a little more then “we just clicked run suddenly ka-girl!”

    I like how the story is unfolding so far, and I hope to see what if anything the researchers can do. I really don’t know what others were expecting here, especially if Scott and Von claim to have already decided she was a girl with guy memories, this is about as close to what you were expecting as possible.

  10. scotts13 says:

    Jerf, it’s probably poor form to rebut someone’s comments on a third party’s work – but “a wizard did it” is a common shorthand for an inexplicable or inconsistent element in a story. I assure you that simply invoking “alternate realities” (without at least bluffing through the specifics) is at an equal level with “ka-girl.”

    Proper science fiction practice (which, without a resident wizard, is what this requires) demands at least a plausible explanation of what a memory IS, and how it was transferred. If (as seems likely) it’s a combination of actual brain structures AND electrical charges, how was only that – to a varying degree! – transferred to a subject in another reality? If it’s spiritual, that has vast implications outside this little tale. I’ve spent the last half-century reading science fiction, a lot of it specifically on time travel and alternate realities, and I need to be thrown a bigger bone. Hopefully one is forthcoming.

    I will also point out (mostly because I just thought of it) that Vicky and HER memories now present a notable plot hole. Now that we know the effect of the experiment is more-or-less random, her being able to corroborate Marsh’s transferred memories – exactly – seem wildly unlikely.

  11. von says:

    Why do I complain? It is what Russ pays me for. I am an actor, and russ pays me to come on and complain, which causes you all to rush to his defence which you all fathfully do, exacept for Scott, who is another actor 🙂

    Yes, there really is no difference between the time travel and the many worlds thereory as far as marsh is conceded. And, despite russ’s throw away denial there are still huge possibilities for transforming him back… I.e. getting the boy memories back in the boy body and vice versa.

  12. von says:

    >>I will also point out (mostly because I just thought of it) that Vicky and HER memories now present a notable plot hole. Now that we know the effect of the experiment is more-or-less random, her being able to corroborate Marsh’s transferred memories – exactly – seem wildly unlikely.

    Disagree with your here, at least, Scott. From what I am reading it seems that all of the changes back and forth are to the *same* alternate reality…ie they have somehow plugged into only one other reality.

    But this adds in another great possibility, and a huge moral dilemna. It means that they could, by working at it, connect to another, where Marsha was Marsha, and give her ‘her’ memories back, or at least more of them. Which would, in effect, wipe the ‘Marsh’ personality clean.

  13. von says:

    >>especially if Scott and Von claim to have already decided she was a girl with guy memories,

    Don’t put words in my mouth 😉 What is clear from the story is that the memories were from Marshall, the body from Marshall and the… will? soul? ego? was also assumed to be (by Marsh, not me) from Marshall. That is the way the story was written, beginning with the very first ‘I’ (it wasn’t a surprise that I should have been dreaming… if I recall correctly).

  14. von says:

    On Scott’s point, memories are, to the best of our medical knowledge, electronic pathways in the brain. However I, for one, allow for this as a ‘willfull suspension’ and a common one. I don’t allow for other things, but that one is so common I am willing to pass over it.

  15. von says:

    Scott, agreeing to a distinction between proper (ie hard) sci-fi vs soft or space opera, I quite agree. And this book has a ‘hard’ feeling, making the lack of thought out explanation hard (pun intended).

  16. scotts13 says:

    >> But this adds in another great possibility, and a huge moral dilemna. It means that they could, by working at it, connect to another, where Marsha was Marsha, and give her ‘her’ memories back, or at least more of them. Which would, in effect, wipe the ‘Marsh’ personality clean.

    Which leads us to what I uniquely and charmingly call the “Misfile Dilemma” (GRIN) in which the major character is faced with the option of essentially lobotomizing herself to “fix” things.

    Fry: Far out! So there really is an infinite number of universes?
    Professor Hubert Farnsworth: No, just the two.
    Fry: Oh, well. I guess that’s enough.

  17. BMeph says:

    Just to butt in (and because I figure if everyone else is beating that dead horse, then in must have asked for it…;), “A Wizard Did It” (look it up at TVTropes.net) is a short-hand way of saying that an impossible feat was done by a person of technical skill of such depth that you would die of old age before understanding the principles behind what was done, never-the-less understanding details of the feat itself.

    Also, the main reason why folks like von, scott13 (and myself) complain about jarring elements of the story are because we care. We have faithfully followed Russ’ story, and want it to be as good as possible, having seen that so far it is rather good already. I was fortunate enough to have been (mostly) already grown-up when joining “Uncle Sam’s Misguided Children”, and being acquainted with the adage that Marine Corps drill instructors yell “because [they] care.” Fortunate because I saw it to be true, and saw why it was done. Now, no one’s claiming that Russ’ story will kill people if it isn’t written better, but in our views, we know he’s able to do better than we’ve seen, so we say so.

    Besides, it’s easier to see and say how something doesn’t work in general, or with already-written parts in particular, than to explain how something does work, and does fit in.

    Sorry Russ, I’ll get off the soap box; it’s your site, after all.

  18. BMeph says:

    Oops, that should be “TVTropes.org” in you want to look it up.
    Also, “scotts13.”

  19. BMeph says:

    In other comments, I am highly bothered by that ethics failure mentioned earlier. Who notices that an experiment results in altered mental function, and then decides, “How odd…let’s do it some more and see if it messes up someone else’s brains in the same way?” Can’t you imagine the first lobotomies being done that way? At least those experiments were done on criminals who were already sentenced to die; this man did it on college students who were still developing mentally.

    I think his alma mater should rescind his doctorate; Prof. Rolf Davis shows some serious lapses in mental – and moral – judgment.

  20. Jerf says:

    “We have faithfully followed Russ’ story,”

    two things:

    1 – I’ve been around and read every chapter, and commented. It’s not like I walked in on it.

    2 – Stop patronizing me. Just because you guys “care” doesn’t mean I don’t understand basic tropes. I was saying that you are asking for an entire lesson in quantum physics and string theory to explain how a few brain synapses were changed. Most fiction doesn’t even go nearly that deep on explaining it. There are very few areas of science fiction that are spelled out well. You are meant to assume the level of tech while following the real story. This story is not about quantum physics, and I don’t want to waste extra time on it.

    Take the most common – Star Trek / Star Wars – there are literally thousands of inventions with no explanation of function or physics. There are basic filler knowledge “the warp core is powered by anti-matter explosions that are focused through a magically crystal of dilithium that drops the ship into subspace where it can move outside the boundaries of the laws of physics as we know it” and this is about as much detail as Russ is using here.

    They removed time travel, and changed it to false memories planted by the temporary joining of 2 dimensions. That is more knowledge than theoretical physicists could give you, since that has never happened, and probably never will. A story can be a good story without having to please your technical side to a fault.

    My entire statement was “to the average reader, this is good enough to cover your bases without deer in the headlights effect” – Sorry a few elitists don’t agree, but the more technical you get, the smaller audience you get, and as you all have said – in previous comments – the story has too many elements that take away from the main arcs, and in this case taking an entire chapter to explain to us (in the middle of a tense scene, after 132 other chapters) the workings of this would waste our time.

    Now, if you have to say that his writing style is your main concern, then I ask – how would you approach explaining the workings of this to a girl who can’t pass logic 101 without tutoring. That is where marsh is at at the moment. Trying to spell it out realistically would take a tremendous amount of awkward dialog where he talks over her head, repeats simpler, and she recaps, repeat. Why?

  21. scotts13 says:

    Jerf, I see and partially concede your point – I’m probably making more of it than necessary. However, since you threw down the gauntlet, one tends to rise to the occasion. Using Star Trek as an example of lucid descriptions of SF science is a sucker’s game. But at least there, the difficulties are USUALLY ones of engineering, rather than logic. Let me try the closest example I can think of:

    In E.E. Smith’s classic “Skylark of Space” a researcher accidentally liberates vast amounts of energy from a simple copper wire. The process only works if the wire is plated with an unknown isotope of platinum, and if the experiment just happens to be “standing next to” an unrelated generator. The effect here is very loosely analogous to fission, a natural process of liberating energy from heavy atoms. It doesn’t read as well now as when it was written – we’ve learned a bit about atomic energy since 1928 – but the logic holds true.

    In TAL, we also have an effect when the subject “stands next to” an unknown experiment. Note that the experimenters themselves apparently HAVE NO IDEA how the process works, and the effects – according to our current understanding of memory – are impossible. It’s as though E.E. Smith had powered his spaceship (later in the same story) by having it drawn through the heavens by swans. The memory transfer in TAL, IMHO, is not a natural process and in the circumstances described would require intense engineering to accomplish.

    (For the interested reader, check out Spider Robinson’s “Deathkiller” novels for a detailed and believable description of memory transfer – including at least one person who is not who he thinks he is)

    Fortunately, this picayune but extremely distracting point could be fixed very, very easily (if Russ should so choose) with a touch of applied phlebotinum, thus:

    “We believed we had discovered a possible linkage between alternate universes when one of our researchers experienced and odd sort of visual distortion when machine X was in operation. (insert what the machine was originally for) Specifically, Mr. Harlin COULD NOT TELL if a particular table had three legs or four, but only when the machine was on. We experimented with modifications to machine X, to see if we could separate the perception of the two universes, to no effect – our cameras recorded nothing. On the theory that the perception might be of a purely mental nature, we attached (some type of electroencephalograph machine) to a test subject to see if THAT carried over. Since the subjects didn’t seem to be affected in any way, we tried several – on the theory that slightly different brain structures would give varying results.”

    “It wasn’t until much later that we realized the subjects couldn’t SEE the alternate reality, because that reality was now programmed into their brains. After they slept, and their dreaming brains tried to rationalize the ‘new’ memories for storage, they (usually) became aware their memories differed from this physical reality. By the time they, and we, realized what was happening and they came forward, it was far too late.”

    “YOU, Marsh, were unfortunate enough to have a brain which accepted a complete imprint of the memories of your alternate. We didn’t believe that was possible, and considering the small changes made to other people, we took the cowards way out and went into hiding until we could figure out how this happened. For obvious reasons, we can’t do any more real-life experiments… so I’m afraid you’re stuck with some inappropriate memories, most likely permanently.”

    There. Complete bull, of course, and not any science that we have or can explain – but a lot better than “this set of physical neural pathways vanished from one brain and were integrated into another – without any apparatus designed for that complex and exacting task.” Now, if we assumed the story was read only by devourers of romantic novels, Russ’s level of explanation would be sufficient. But not for other readers. And, as I believe I showed, something plausible (which the teen heartthrob readers can just skip past) isn’t that difficult.

  22. TJ says:

    Russ, the phone thing was already plan even before your edit in the last chapter right?

  23. von says:

    >>There. Complete bull, of course, and not any science that we have or can explain –

    I invented an explanation myelf, just to fill the aching void 🙂 About as crazy, but more medical 🙂

  24. von says:

    >>I put the phone back into my purse and faced them. “Let’s talk.”

    One of my favorite lines.

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