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Hate it or love it, Science fiction is a popular Genre in both films and Books. Regardless of the view, one thing that Science fiction does well is ties in real world problems that are affecting us today or may soon start affecting the human race. Some of the more popular involve space travel along with artificial intelligence and the problems that may arise when the human race becomes that advanced, 2001: a space odyssey includes both of them. One problem that seems to come up in many different science fiction stories, but wears many hats is time travel. Time travel may be the problem or it may be the solution to the problem that has arisen. The short story “The Seventh Voyage” by Stanislaw Lem, goes into time travel with a little spin, having time go into loop. This story is very similar to “All You Zombies” by Robert Heinlein, in which all the characters are the same person just from different times. Time travel is a weird topic that seems impossible, “nonetheless, time travel to the future is possible and has been experimentally verified millions of times” (Kaku, 219). The story talks about time travel to some degree, as well as the paradoxical nature of “time loops” giving the story and almost comedic nature, but at the same time seems to talk about humans and our need to be social with others of our species. To better understand the story with both the time travel and the social human interaction, it will help to look closer at the characters (more specifically character), the setting, and the themes that Lem put into this story.
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The characters involved in this story are many and few at the same time. The main and only character in the story is Ijon Tichy a space traveler, that while traveling through a dangerous part of space a small meteor hit the ship and broke both the drive regulator and the rudder of the ship. Needing two people to replace the rudder, Ijon has no choice but to wait and try to think of a way to fix the rudder alone. Being in a dangerous stretch of space no one is nearby to help him fix the rudder. Where the multiple Ijon’s come from is that when the ship goes through one of the many gravitational vortices that plague this stretch of space. The story does go into how the time loop works, when Ijon is going through the first vortex. With everything being thrown around from the shaking of the ship a book on the general theory of relativity goes by Ijon who catches it and explains what happens. “It spoke of the manifestation of the ‘time loop’, that is, the bending of the direction of the flow of time in the presence of gravitational fields of great intensity”(Lem, 494). The book also goes on to talk about that it could “on occasion lead to the complete reversal of time and the ‘duplication of the present’”. While Ijon goes through each of the gravitational vortices him from a different point in time pops up and either try to help him fix the ship for those that happen early on, and those that come later Ijon is so confused that he just seems to fight with himself and waste more time. The story is written in such a way that makes the subjects of Einstein’s theory of general relativity, as well as time travel easy to understand and at the same time does not change the world too much in order to fit with what the author wants to happen. The difference between this story and “All you zombies” is that in all you zombies the main character went along with all of this to kepp everything the same. Ijon on the other hand knows exactly what is coming, but does nothing to change the future. He seems as if everything was already put in place and has no free will to choose what happens next.
The setting of this story is only a small ship floating through space, but it plays a big part of what happens to Ijon throughout his experience. Floating through a very dangerous part of space with a ship that cannot turn effectivly and a busted drive regulator. This part of space is more dangerous than others due to the one-hundred and forty-seven gravitational vortices that lie in the path he is traveling and that he has no way of turning and getting away from them. Ijon says this about the vortices, “… for in it lay gravitational vortices, as formidable as they were mysterious” (493). These vortices caused space time to shift and duplicate making multiples of himself. All these versions of himself cause big trouble and a lot of headaches for Ijon. After being knocked out by Sunday him, he wakes up to the cabin overflowing with people. “As it turned out, they were all of them me, from different days, weeks, months, and one – so he said – was even from the following year” (503). Going through the process of passing through each of the gravitational vortices as well as all of the hims from different times coming and going put a huge strain of Ijon mind and sanity. After passing through the final vortex, Ijon was left alone in a messy and what he still thought was a broken ship. “No longer able to count on duplication, and thus no longer able to correct the damage, I fell into despair” (505). Ijon for a big part of the story was around many copies of himself, but with more of himself being there, it just led to more arguments and less ability and want to fix the original problem. As well as point to the human need for some sort of social interaction that is not their own. Even though Ijon was surrounded by copies of himself many times over he still seems to be lonely and in need of some type of interaction.
Theme is the biggest part of this story. It is the underlying topic and a big reason to why the author wrote the story. “the seventh voyage” seems to have multiple themes to it, but they all seem to boil down to having an open mind can help solve problems.. It is put perfectly into context by Ijon, “those little tykes had fixed it after all, while we adults were stuck in endless disagreements” (505). The innocent and uncomplicated mind of children pushed through all the fighting, bickering, and arguments that came about by the adults, and fixed the problem that they were all in. This entire problem could have been avoided, but humans have a great ability at getting in their own way and in the process blurring the simplest path to solving their problem. The theme could also be seen as it is better to work together rather than being stubborn and fighting against the help. Instead of being too proud to accept that you need help, just accept it and fix the problem to get on with your life This is shown by Ijon getting in his own way with every vortex that he went through, instead of to of him using two or the spacesuits to go and fix the rudder, they first needed to find out who was hitting who. Later they also needed to figure out who was the chairman, the sergeant at arms, the nominating committee, etc. All this trouble just to fix a simple problem that was solved by two children in a single spacesuit.
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Time travel, definitely an interesting topic to talk about with it a definite possibility to travel forward in time with either very fast speeds (being close to the speed of light for any noticeable difference) or close to a massive object with very strong gravity. Humanity has always seen time travel as magical and far out of our reach if possible at all and Physicist Kip Thorne said it best. “Time travel was once solely the province of science fiction writers. Serious scientists avoided it like the plague… One now finds scholarly analyses of time travel in serious scientific journals” (Kaku, 222). The single character from multiple different points in time show the human need to be social, with Ijon seeming to slip further away from fixing the ship with each vortex that he went through. The setting of the story never changes, it takes place in Ijon’s ship throughout the entire story, with each of the vortices that the ship passes. The underlying theme of the story could be seen as multiple things depending on the person. It could be seen as sometimes thinking like a child again can show the best solution to a problem. It could also just be saying that working together is better than fighting and arguing over what does not matter. With the characters, the setting, and the theme that Lem put into the story it makes an amazing story that follows the way the world works while at the same time allowing for a little change to make the story more interesting.
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