Markku Soikkeli


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I work at the university of Tampere as a teacher (fixed term) of Finnish literature.  The first papers for my academic degrees were dealing with the tradition of pastoral and rural epics of Finnish literature, but the dissertation (1998) was a gender-approach to the love novels. My other research interests have been film criticism, hypermedia, gender research, myth criticism and especially all kinds of speculative fiction. My latest manuscript is about the poetics of science fiction; still looking for a publisher.

Lately I have worked also as a free-lance writer, doing both fictional and non-fictional books. I have published an essay collection, two novels (sf and f) and plenty of short stories in Finnish sf/f-magazines.

Markku Soikkeli  ||  csmaso@uta.fi  ||  Tampere University

Abstract

TIME-TRAVEL -STORIES AND CHRISTIAN CHRONOLOGY

The non-fictional stories about spatial journeys and time-travel -fiction have more similarities than we could notice by comparing some individual works. Both are distant descendants of the religious literature.

In the Middle-Ages pilgrims wanted to visit the holy places, because in those sceneries it was possible to experience the world at the same time as immense and limited, connecting the general and singular. As travelling to far-away places became safer, the unknown places became an object of another kind of pilgrimage, adventurous exploration. In travel literature it has been possible to connect the general context of human life and the particular spatial experience, the sublime and the mundane, without falling into romanticism.

The mixing of sublime and mundane is still apparent in the late descendant of tall tales of explorers, in science fiction genre, and especially in time-travel -stories.

The time-travel -stories have obvious predecessors in the religious literature. The prophecies which belong to Christian and Islamite theology required an omnipresent narrator who could be independent of the chronologic time AND who could deliver information from the future to the past. We could consider, for example, The Book of Revelations as the first canonized time travel -story, even though journey to the end of the world is performed merely at the spiritual level.

Nowadays we have opposite functions for religious literature and time-travel -stories. The religious fiction tries to freeze the chronological time and describe it as everything taking place as it is meant to be in advance. The descriptions of the time tourism, however, question the chronological continuum.  If reasons and their consequences can be manipulated afterwards, there will be no use for any kind of god, neither for prophecies.

For some reason, this obvious thesis against religions is not emphasized in time-travel -stories. Perhaps a Christian frame of reference is still hiding on the background of science fiction? In time-travel -stories the “zero moment” of the Christian time and the Julian/Gregorian calendar are taken as true representations of the cosmological time, even though we could easily find other time-frames for a chronological journey. But the Christian frame of reference is practical for a time travel -story, because Christian theology includes the idea of god as a being who exist outside of time continuum or who exist simultaneously in every dot of time continuum.

If the Christian frame of reference is considered logically, it is easy to change the arrow of time and the currents of history by traveling into the beginning of time, year zero.

Most famous of this kind of stories is Michael Moorcock’s novel, Behold the Man!  (1969). The protagonist Karl Glogauer understands that his task is not intended to change history, but give it some new substance. Because Glogauer has lost his faith to Jesus as a religious myth, he must give new sensible meaning for the myth. Moorcock’s novel carries out the same task. A messianic figure, who sacrifices himself in order to give valuable meaning for the anxiety of his generation, was suitable for the mentality of the 1960’s.

The Christian “zero moment” of time attracts also time tourists. Garry Kilworth’s famous short story “Let ’s go to Golgotha” (1975) is about a travel agency that sells tourist trips to the events of Easter. Whole families travel together to have a look at the crucifying, disguised as the local people of Jerusalem. Religion has no significance for them anymore, other than exotic events of history.

In Moorcock’s and Kilworth’s stories contemporary people try to examine the mythic events, but are possessed by them. So, what’s the moral of these stories? The lesson seems to be that the mystery of time is conserved in religious myths and we one cannot flee these myths, but we have to relive them anew.

Also a progressive time trip to the future has some similarities to a religious story. In this kind of story the sense of wonder, which resembles the spiritual experience, is offered as a culmination of journey. The trip to the far-away future tempts for losing one’s individuality, releasing the burden of mankind, and merging of oneself with the universe.  ∞

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  1. Pingback: Time and Space in Speculative Fiction | BEM's Blog

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