June 23, 2008

Time is a face upon the water

Non-linear storytelling is not something new (The Odyssey begins in media res). It's was, I believe, rare to see being largely used until recent times though. It's been used to both dramatic and comedic effect, and is sometimes used because the story is non-linear (rare, but it does happen) or because it lends a story extra punch.

I've never seen Memento, but supposedly it's the standard piece for film non-linearity. Although, having not seen it, it could just reverse linearity (looking at the article I just linked, it appears not). Christopher Nolan also makes use of non-linear narrative in movie of The Prestige, through the use of journals. The novel is similar in its non-linearity, but it's narrative structure has longer bouts of linear narrative.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine posed the idea that even if our bodies exist linearly our minds don't, they constantly flit back to key moments in our lives. This point is illustrated by the "prophets" insisting the Sisko exists both at the point in time that he's speaking with them inside the wormhole and during the Battle of Wolf 359, when his wife died (which is to say, he still hasn't gotten past her death).

The Gunslinger, at least the original version, begins with Roland's pursuit through the desert but then unwinds to several earlier events. Even after it catches back up to the "present" we're still treated to flashbacks as Roland tells some of his story to Jake.

There was even an episode of Seinfeld that was effectively played in reverse order by scene.

But that's not why I'm here. I haven't finished it yet, but I'm past the half-way mark and feel I have to recommend The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. It's a love story told with a backdrop of inadvertant time travel to shake things up. I would put it only loosely in the category of Science Fiction, and that's only because of the time travel, mostly it's a work about life in extraordinary circumstances and could, therefore, also be standard dramatic fiction (it almost has a certain day-in-the-life quality). I'll post some other time about why I'm recommending this, but it's in this post because it is non-linear in the extreme (although you always know when you are).