Thursday, August 30, 2007

Flow-walking Inferno

OK, this is one of my handy-dandy, Star Wars essays. Additionally, it involves spoilers for the recently released novel by Troy Denning entitled Inferno. So, if you don't care about Star Wars or you have not read Inferno and care about spoilers, well, then go play here. They're fun.

Still with me? Great! Wonderful. Find some aspirin. Or Ibuprofen. If you drink, find whiskey.

Now be prepared for some mental gymnastics which are still giving me heartburn and headaches.

Anyways, today we're dealing primarily with the prologue of Inferno and its usage of Flow-Walking as a construct to (as Jacen puts it) corrupt our favorite Jedi Knight, Tahiri Veila.

Flow Walking has been a source of annoyance to fans since its introduction in the Dark Nest trilogy (DN3). Within that trilogy Jacen uses it to view the past as Rayner struggles to survive the crash of the Tachyon Flyer and we know there that Rayner remembers seeing Jacen when Rayner's survival is discussed. Additionally, he uses it to force Leia to be at a certain place at some indeterminate point in his future, so that he can send her information from her past (his present) to her.

Confused yet? Headache? Dizziness? Maybe a touch of nausea? It's Flow Walking--those are the natural side effects of thinking about it.

Anyways, this new power in Jacen's hands erupted discussions across the fandom - well, it might have been limited to TheForce.Net Literature board but still it erupted discussions. Folks who endorsed the return of Anakin Solo pointed at this as yet another way for his survival and/or resurrection or both (hey, it's time travel). Those who did not, pointed at it, and said that there was no way that it could logically modify the past as we have it written in the text of the various novels. Personally, I did not know on which bridge to sit. After all, I'm a firm believer that the insane and pointless way they made Anakin Solo disappear from the narrative was the stupidest decision any editorial committee has made in the past decade (I would say two decades, but editorial influence on the X-Men franchise back in the early to mid Nineties made some really, really stupid decisions that I don't feel like reviewing to see which were dumber), and while I would love, and see numerous ways to, change it, at the time I kind of had to agree with the nay-sayers about time travel in Star Wars. Basically, I agreed that time traveling within the franchise could/should not change anything we see explicitly or implicitly stated in a novel's text.

Then with the release of Legacy of the Force, Jacen used it to spy on the slaughter of the Jedi Temple. Interestingly enough, the author (I think it was Karen Traviss in Bloodlines, but I'm not 100% certain) broke the rules of Flow Walking by allowing Jacen to be some location in the past that he could not be in the present (the new Jedi temple in LOTF is a glass pyramid rather than the spired building of the Prequels so when Jacen watched Anakin Skywalker slaughter the younglings, he was standing in what was either a wall or open air). This is 'fixed' in Inferno by Jacen claiming that their bodies then are "anchored" to the present with the assumption being that Jacen could travel around a lot more if he unanchored his body. Additionally the whole be in the same place for the present and the past is rather hard to reconcile with physics, because location is not necessarily a matter of latitude & longitude coordinates on a planet, as it is a point in space, and since planets are doing that whole moving thing all the time (not to mention stars, stellar groups, galaxies, galactic neighborhoods and the universe in general), it'd be hard to get in the exact spot for flow-walking.

Of course, this could be a simple matter of a) Jacen lying to Tahiri, he is a Sith after all or b) Jacen not quite knowing how this power works.

Me, I think it's both.

Jacen lying to Tahiri about how he THINKS this power works. So, with the possibility of lying taken out of consideration, let's just assume that Jacen believes that he needs to be in the same place to do his Flow Walking, that it is more of a limitation on his power imposed by his own sense of self than any firm limitation of the Force and Flow Walking. After all, he identifies the Jedi Council Chambers of the LOTF time frame with the Council Chambers of the ROTS time frame and is able to travel to them with no problems, despite the differences in location (not only on the planet itself, but in the exact coordinates of the universe as a whole). Since Jacen believes in the limitation, but doesn't necessarily think through all the inherit problems of being in the exact same spot as something was in the past, he just needs to be in a location which he relates to the location of the past.

And with the background information done, onto the actual meat of the article...

So, in the opening scene of Inferno we have Jacen and Tahiri Flow Walking back in time to Anakin's death. Jacen does this in order to corrupt Tahiri, and bring her in on his side, in effect turning her into a spy for him, so that she can continue to get her 'fix' of seeing Anakin in the past.

Before I begin, let us remember that the prevalent theory for Flow Walking was that it could never change anything that happened in the past. So, once an event was shown to us via written text, it could not be modified by Flow Walkers. This was the argument used that Anakin could not be brought back to life. Of most importance is the fact that Jacen explicitly tells Tahiri this while they are in the past. He states that they are unlikely to alter the present, but he thinks that it is impossible.

Now the important scenes in the prologue for our discussion today are thus:

"It's us doing harm that worries me" Tahiri replied. "What if we change something we shouldn't--something that alters the present?"

"That's unlikely." Actually, Jacen should have said impossible. Any change they made in the past would be corrected by the Force, and the flow would return to its present course. But he did not explain that to Tahiri. He needed her to believe they were taking a small but terrible chance, risking temporal catastrophe to deal with her unresolved grief. "I won't let you do anything wrong. Just relax."


Even through a pressure suit's auditory sensors, Anakin's voice sounded weak and anguished, and it was clear that he had known even then he was about to die. A growing tightness began to form in Jacen's throat, and he was surprised at the effort of will required to make it go away. Jacen had loved his brother--and apparently still did--but he could not let his emotions draw him into the past. As he had warned Tahiri, any reaction at all would make them easier to see, and if the other strike team survivors suddenly started to recall a pair of blurry, pressure-suited apparitions at the battle, someone might realize he had flow-walked here with Tahiri--and that would make her useless to him.

and finally,

Knowing by the sullen weight of the Force--and by his own breaking heart--that they were being drawn ever more deeply into the past, Jacen pulled the older Tahiri back to his side. If they were still there when the kissed ended, Tekli would certainly see them. In thirteen years or so--when Jacen and Tahiri returned to their own time--the Chadra -fan would begin to recall seeing them here in their pressure suits. Once she reported her memory flashes to the Council, the Masters would realize that Jacen had flow-walked Tahiri back to the battle and begin to ask themselves why, and his plan would be ruined.

What's most interesting here is that despite Jacen's protestations that the past cannot be altered, the whole reason for their trip is to force Tahiri in the past to give Anakin the kiss she denied him. Think about that. Jacen claims they can't change the past yet their trip was designed to do just that. And they then succeed.

Despite the common wisdom regarding Flow Walking (if anything concerning Flow Walking can be construed as wisdom) we now have explicit canon text showing where the past has been changed. Despite Jacen's own claim that they cannot change the past, they do specifically that. Their whole mission to the past is in fact to do that.

I've read thousands of books in my lifetime. I have a collection of well over four hundred books, probably closer to five these days (and that's not counting my comics). I've read all manner of books, some which I have thoroughly disliked. Yet I don't think I have ever wanted to smack my head against a hard object within the PROLOGUE until I had read Inferno.

How's that for an endorsement?

But wait, it gets better!

I have a disclaimer to make here. It was at this the point where I wanted to put the book down, and drive back to the B Dalton in Asheville's mall (I bought Inferno on vacation in NC, and was staying just outside of Waynesville, so a trip into Asheville was not a minor thing, plus the mall had already closed) and demand a refund. And then jump from the second floor landing (where B Dalton is at in that mall) and pummel myself against the floor.

Multiple times.

Maybe holding sharp pointy things while doing so.

And don't forget, we're still less than twenty pages into the book. And by twenty pages, I'm including the title page, the copyright/publisher information the Dramatis Personae and the acknowledgments. Basically, the prologue begins on 13th literal page and finished on the 20th one (with one literal piece of paper counting for 2 pages).

Now, Jacen in his internal dialog (i.e. he's talking to himself, like a good little Sith Lord should) worries about Tekli getting new memories of seeing Flow Walkers upon his return to 40 ABY with Tahiri. His worry is that seeing Flow Walkers appear in her memory would make her talk to the Council, rendering Tahiri useless to him as a spy. Yet he seems oddly unconcerned about Tekli's memory of the kiss changing in the same manner. Because, don't forget, she's watching Anakin and Tahiri at this point in an effort to follow Anakin's lead and get Tahiri out of the way.

That thumping noise you hear is my smacking my head against the desk as I'm writing this. I Flow Walked to the present from the past while reading this novel, to make sure that I did that while writing this article. And again as I'm re-reading this the morning after writing it before I post it on No Krakana.

But that logical nuance aside, let's notice the fact that he's worried about her getting new memories when he returns, not at the moment that she might possibly see them.

So, what this tells us is that Jacen believes that the timeline will remain unchanged from the original events in 27 ABY until his return to 40 ABY. Everything that occurred previously will still do so, despite whatever changes Jacen has made. Then suddenly, upon his return to 40 ABY from the past, the present will shift and alter to accommodate those changes, while those being changed will retain their previous memories and recognize the change for being a change.

Which is an odd thing, since there is supposedly only a single timeline which they flow walk up and down on. Therefore any changes which Jacen makes in the past, should instantly be accounted for, and the present should alter around that. But hey, it's Star Wars, high fantasy and everything, so let's go with Jacen knowing what he's talking about this time, after all the text supports that he does here, as Tahiri remembers not kissing him, she remembers kissing him, she remembers that she used to think she didn't kiss him and she remembers that she went back in time and forced herself to kiss him.

Now can you understand why I was looking for blunt objects to beat about my head with?

We have Jacen and Tahiri going back on a mission, which Jacen clearly states to her is impossible to do, and they succeed. Why, oh why, does Tahiri not recognize the inherent... well stupidity and contradiction in Jacen's statements/actions here? My guess is the tendency for the YJK/JJK characters to be somewhat brain dead while under Denning's pen. Don't get me wrong, I happen to like Denning's novels and his writing style, but sometimes... well, all the time, the YJK/JJK crew do incredibly stupid things in his books. Things that leave me wondering just where is their intelligence and/or common sense. Tahiri is a Jedi Knight! She should have at least a smattering of intelligence and common sense, as well as the ability to logical connect a thought and a corresponding action which she is about to tak-

OK, I'm back, having taken some ibuprofen and gotten a nice cup of coffee, and am now ignoring Tahiri's blond moment which is commonly called the post-NJO EU.

And now that I'm once more on track with this article, let's not forget the butterfly effect. I like this theory which is basically everything that happens can and does cause unforeseen repercussions. The tiniest change for one person, might have huge ramifications to other lives that that person may or may not touch due to the past or the present or whatever.

By Tahiri changing whether or not she received/gave that last kiss could do untold modifications to the timeline, just because it is a change. The simplest, and most direct change possible, is one voiced by Tahiri herself. She wonders if having received that last kiss, would it make Anakin's death easier for him. My question would be would it make him fight harder to live? The kiss is a change, and like it or not, a girl is a powerful driving force in male biological and psychological drives, and that kiss would have woken those drives in Anakin.

Jacen makes a point to consider that Anakin's voice sounds like he is EXPECTING to die once he sends Tahiri away with Tekli. It is this pessimistic view which could have been ultimately responsible for his death. It is this pessimistic view which that kiss could and would change. Anakin might make a considerable effort to live. He might actually believe that he can survive and come back to her. Such a belief would make a world's of difference in how things turned out. Or at least could.

But I'm wandering from my original point again...

Basically, what this whole thing boils down to is a question on just how mutable the timeline is.

Can the past be changed via Flow Walking to the past?

Can the future be fixed by Flow Walking to the future?

Those are the two main questions we have. The first was answered in the affirmative during the DN3 where Flow Walking was first introduced. We know that Jacen affixed the future when he chatted with Leia near the wreck of the Tachyon Flyer.

Amusingly enough, it can be discerned that Jacen changed the past when we went back in time and gave Rayner the strength to climb from the wreckage. Of course, since we are given those views for the first time in DN 3, it could be assumed that Jacen was predestined to go back in time, since he had already done so. Likewise, that was the argument given on how Jacen was able to change the past during DN 3 (i.e. he changed it because he had always changed it and he couldn't change other things in the past, because he hadn't done so).

Of course now, that argument can no longer be used. We now have canon proof that Flow Walking allows the walkers are able to modify the past that we have literally seen in a novel. They have changed events that have already happened. Things that we can say with 100% certainty that he was not predestined to change, because the first time we saw it happen, he wasn't there changing the past.

Queue the heated discussions once again.

Since both questions were answered in the affirmative, the argument shifted to believe that there are levels of mutability which the Force would allow to happen. Basically, it's being said that the overarching flow of time is immutable, and that only specific, minor changes can occur, and that if the change is major, then it would not be allowed to occur, that the Force would somehow stop it. They get this from Jacen's notion that the Force would correct any change.

How they get this, I'm not sure, as I didn't receive that at all. From what Jacen thinks, my understanding is that once they return things will be modified to fit the past that they had thus created. Everyone would be aware of the modification to the past, aware of their new memories, aware of the change, but the present would have been changed, regardless of the change.

Additionally, the thought that the Force somehow decides what level of change is acceptable boggles my mind. Even above and beyond the normal boggling inherent in keeping track of Flow Walkers. After all, what can be considered a minor change? Could Jacen conceivably take a small step back in time to Kashyyk and set Luke's StealthX to explode once it left atmosphere? It's a small change that would ultimately have large implications against the narrative.

Likewise, the small change of Tahiri getting the kiss could have much larger implications over the nearly fifteen years between Star by Star and LOTF. We don't know what changes have happened. Besides the YJK's memories of the kiss, we can't know what else has been changed, at least until the changes have been revealed.

Ultimately, we just don't know.

And in the end, we don't--we can't--know what can or will be changed next.

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