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“Turing and the Skugs.” The Invariant Timeline Model.

I’m nearly done with my latest painting, “Turing and the Skugs.” I’m also going to include some photos from Yellowstone Park.


“Turing and the Skugs”, 40″ x 30″ inches, Oct 2010, Oil on canvas.” Click for larger version.

I made this painting because I’m gearing up for a novel involving the computer pioneer Alan Turing, the beatniks, some shape-shifting beings called skugs, and possibly some time-travel. Although it would be simpler to do the book without time travel, which what I’m more likely to do. Don’t want too many ingredients in the stew, after all.

I got the word “skug” from my non-identical twin granddaughters, aged three. When I visit my son’s house in Berkeley, I always like to open up his worm farm and study the action with the twins. We find a lot of slugs in there, and we marvel at them. The girls tend to say “skug” rather than “slug,” and I decided I liked the sound of this word so much that I’d use it for some odd beings in my novel.

This isn’t the first time I’ve done this kind of thing—the alien ostrich-like beings called “Peng” in my novel Hylozoic take their name from a pet stuffed penguin, also named “Peng,” who’s greatly prized by my other granddaughter, in Madison, Wisconsin.


[Afterworld-like scene at Yellowstone.]

Anyway, for the purposes of Turing & Burroughs, I’m supposing that Turing has carried out some biochemical experiments leading to the creation of slug-like creatures called skugs.

In the painting, we see Turing outside a Rural Supply Hardware garage, with two skugs backing him up. Alan is encountering a handsome man who may well become Alan’s lover. Unless the skugs eat the guy.

As always you can get more information and buy originals at my Paintings site. Prints are available on Imagekind. And, looking ahead, I’ll be having a small show in the Borderlands Cafe in San Francisco in November, 2010, with originals and prints for sale.

I’m thinking that Turing’s skugs become hugely influential. (1) They’re used for prostheses. (2) They act as standalone programmable robots. (3) Some humans switch to skug bodies and enjoy the power of shapeshifting.


[Yellowstone steam pool]

Perhaps any two people who’d taken on skug form could then mate to bear a skug-child—a result which would pretty much eliminate any real distinction between homosexual and heterosexual couples. Not that you’d have to remain physically of one “gender” if you’re a skug—remember that you could shapeshift.

I’m supposing that some people (let’s call them “Skuggers”) become skugs—although there are some fundamentalist hold-outs, who are initially presented as bad, but who maybe are good. The Skuggers revere Turing for having brought skugs about, but the rebels wish he’d never lived.

If I were to do this with time travel, the Skuggers would be in the future. Without time travel, they could simply be an underground group in our present-day world, and we have a more straight-ahead story.

If I were to go with a time-travel scenario, we’d be talking about Futurians. Here, the main group of Futurians are happy Skuggers and they wouldn’t want to go back into the past and mess with Turing’s life. As they see it, everything has worked out well. But a group of the anti-skug Futurians are going back to try and change history and eliminate Turing from the past. Fearful of the outcome, some of the ruling Futurians have banded together as something like “time police commando squad.” But—as they all may eventually come to understand—they can’t actually change anything. I’m going to say that you can’t change the past.


Varicolored algae colonies thrive in different water temperatures around the hot springs of Yellowstone.

As Analog book-reviewer Don Sakers points out in a recent column, we really have two options with time-travel stories. Either the past can’t be changed and we have an invariant timeline or you think you can change the past, but in fact you’re changing the past of some alternate universe and there in fact zillions of these multiverse timelines.

I’d kind of forgotten about the more Golden Age invariant timeline notion, but when I recently reread Robert Heinlein’s Door Into Summer, I was reminded of it. In Door Into Summer, we have a guy going back and changing his past to make things work out the way that, in fact, he knows they really did—in some sense he’s duty-bound to to this. While in the past, he ponders, but steers clear of, paradoxical behavior—e.g. he refrains from slitting his past self’s throat. Heinlein has a nice half-page in the last chapter the character opines that in some sense we can’t create a paradox and that there is, after all, only the one timeline—I’ll copy out Heinlein’s rap for reference and post it here.


[Yellowstone Lake.]

“There’s a [higher reality] that shapes our ends, rough-hew them how we will.” Free will and predestination in one sentence and both true. There is only one real world, with one past and one future. “As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end…” Just one…but big enough and complicated enough to include free will and time travel and everything else in its linkages and feedbacks and guard circuits. You’re allowed to do anything inside the rules…but you come back to your own door.

… I’m not worried about “paradoxes” or “causing anachronisms”—if a thirtieth-century engineer does smooth out the bugs [with time travel] and then sets up transfer stations and trade, it will be because [some unknowable forces] designed the universe that way. [We have] two eyes, two hands, a brain; anything we do with them can’t be a paradox. [There’s no need of] busybodies to “enforce” [antiparadox] laws; they enforce themselves. …

The control is a negative feedback type, with a built in “fail safe,” because the very existence of [some present situation] depends on [my not changing it in the past]; the apparent possibility that I might have [changed things] is one of the excluded “not possibles” of the basic circuit design.

I edited the Heinlein quote to remove any implicit assumption that a single divinity “designed” the universe. It’s perhaps simpler to regard the universe as a pattern that emerges from some kind of constraint system—like a warped soap film that finds the shape of a minimal surface spanning a curved loop of wire. Or, taking an analogy closer to Heinlein’s heart, think of the universe as a flow of current that arises in a circuit that came from who knows where.

4 Responses to ““Turing and the Skugs.” The Invariant Timeline Model.”

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  2. emilio Says:

    Conjecture: for every Futurian that goes back to change the past there is a future Futurian that stops her.

    Of course there is plenty of room for body grabbing without changing the past. Of course it could be mind grabbing with even less concern about paradox.

  3. Fritz Bogott Says:

    The mind-grabbing you’re experiencing is not from the future, but from 1943.

    The Christmas 1942 issue of Radio Amateur included plans for a three-tube set that broadcasts voice or code directly to the auditory cortex of future listeners.

  4. Adam Says:

    As a kid I had an irrational fear of slugs, and even as an adult I didn’t like them. That is, until I saw this clip from Attenborough’s “Life in the Undergrowth” series.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FhVi4Z6CjZk

    It gave a me a brand new appreciation for the species. It’s operatic–to be something bound to the ground by slime, moving at literally, a snail’s pace, but then with your mate to ascend to the highest point of your world, to conduct a swirling romance hanging by only a bit of your own secretions, exchanging genetic material in that time honored dance of life, until finally, you both plunge into free fall.

    Anyway, slugs/skugs are great!


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