Stories have always had a fascination with fantastical devices and achievements. Trojan horses and flying carpets. Castles floating in the clouds and undersea civilizations. Men building wings for themselves and marionettes without strings. Read enough, and go back far enough, and you begin to realize that the human imagination has always been able to concoct futuristic technologies. However, it was not until relatively recently, the Victorian era, that story-tellers began looking for explanations outside of the gods and magic. Sure, the flying carpet could take a rider just about anywhere, but there was no mechanism to explain, no system of gears to chart. Contrast that with the creation of Frankenstein’s monster and the excruciating detail Mary Shelley wrote to give him life. At a certain point, magic simply was not good enough.
Time is defined. We all know how long one second lasts, we know that sixty seconds equals a minute, sixty minutes make up an hour, twenty-four hours complete a day, and three hundred sixty-five days push us around the sun for one year. The length of a year may be relative depending on your home planet, but the rest is static. Agreed upon by all the word, this unification of time assures that all of humanity moves together. History, commerce, war, communication; without an agreement on time, none of those are possible, at least as we know it. Jeff Noon’s story may feature a private eye on an investigation, but it is primarily about what happens when time is not static. When everyone has their own personal timeline.