[Spoiler Alert: Parts of the discussion below reveal aspects of the book that the first-time reader may not want to know…which, I suppose, is the basic definition of “Spoiler Alert”.]
Son of Man is the oldest of my published works—oldest in the sense that it’s the oldest of my story ideas that has been fully written and published. It is also oldest in the sense that it is the published book I started writing longest ago. I began it in the nineties, while I was in med school and was living in White Plains, New York. I don’t recall the exact amount that I wrote at the time; it may have been only the first five or six pages. But the book as it now exists begins with a scene almost identical to what I wrote then, reconstructed from memory, including the names of the first three characters introduced. The character Michael was also present in the original idea. I might have gotten as far as his introduction into the story at the time; certainly, his entrance, and even his initial words, have been fully present in my head for the last two decades.
However, medical school—this may surprise you—consumes a lot of one’s time and energy. After that, residency and medical practice also require a fair amount of one’s mental resources. This may be excuse-making, but it’s also true, so I never did get any further along than I had in those first several pages, at least not until I had already written Mark Red, Paradox City, and The Chasm and the Collision.
I don’t recall what first triggered the idea for this story, but it quickly evolved into what I consider a slightly ham-handed—but acceptably so to me—play on the notion of the Trinity. There have been a squillion things written on the Trinity, that notion that God is a being in three parts: The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. I don’t personally buy into the concept, and most of the theological descriptions I’ve encountered amount, in the end, to saying, “Ooooh, it’s a Mystery!” but I thought it might be fun to have a science-fiction version of something like the Trinity, with an attempt to make a scientifically colorable, if not literally possible, explanation for such a phenomenon.
Of course, time travel fiction, from TimeCop to Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, often includes multiple “versions” of the same person being present at one time, but ultimately, the situations usually resolve themselves, since the different versions are just the same person at different points along his or her personal time-line. I wanted to do something a little more extreme than that. I wanted there to be literally more than one version of the same person. I recognized that, if someone could copy the quantum state of every particle in a person’s make-up, one could create a literally identical version of them…but the laws of quantum mechanics, including the Uncertainty Principle, seem to make it impossible to copy a person this way without destroying the original. I wondered if there could be any way around that.
I was inspired by reading Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time, in which he introduced (to me, anyway) the notion of “complex time.”* This, according to Hawking, would give an apparent singularity—such the beginning of time, or the center of a black hole—a smoothly rounded shape, eliminating problems with the apparent breakdown of spacetime in those regions, and also definitively making the concepts “before the beginning of time” or “after the end of time” no more sensible than describing something as north of the North Pole. But to me this implied an added sideways dimension to time—beyond even that which is implicit in Special and General Relativity. Well, I thought, what if there were some way to explore reality through that dimension? Could one read the states of the particles of a person (or anything else) using that added dimensionality and, because one is coming at it sideways, so to speak, not interfere with it or change it? I know that one could not completely bypass the Uncertainty Principle in this way, but one could still, in principle, get the shape of a particle’s wave equation at a given point in time. It’s almost certainly not possible—even in principle—but it can be made internally consistent, and so it provided me a way to produce literal multiple versions of the same being that are each equally valid instantiations of his or her existence.
I also wanted to fiddle with another notion that appears in much science fiction. In many stories—including the Back to the Future movies—we find a time traveler going back in time and changing the past, potentially altering the future from which they came. But time is, after all, a dimension, in which the past and future are every bit as real as the present. So why does causality have to go only one way? I wanted a circumstance in which events in the “future” actually cause events in the past, forcing them to follow a path that leads to that specific set of outcome. What would it be like to be caught within such a trap of causality?
I brought in some parallels of biblical events, most specifically the idea of a global catastrophe created by God, as in Noah’s flood. Despite God’s proverbial rainbow promise, how could a race of created beings ever trust such a god again, once the flood happened? And if trust is lost, how much love can there be? Also, could a god that had once wiped out all but a few of his creations ever be innocent again? Perhaps (I speculated, not actually believing any of it) this was what might have required such a god to create a duplicate version of itself—the so-called Son—that would not have been involved in horrific acts of destruction. It could thus be innocent with respect to its subjects, and a legitimate recipient of love. Of course, none of my dealings with this set of concepts has anything to do with supernatural or mystical notions; it’s all science-fiction. And, like I said above, I feel it might be a little ham-handed, but it was too much fun not to do it.
Also, of course, if I was going to play with the notion of the origin of a three-fold godhead, it seemed a shame not to play with the origin of the Devil.
Of course, there are other things I wanted to explore in the story, and one of the most obvious is the enforced “domestication” of humanity. We know that, in breeding for domesticity in dogs (and in foxes, it turns out!) in addition to producing the desired behavioral changes, we bring about unexpected consequences—physical ones, in the case of canids, including floppy ears and patchwork spot coloration—that may or may not be beneficial or desirable.
And it’s usually good fun to have a “time-travel” story that offers reversal of the heartbreak of tragically unrequited love, both as a plot device, and as a sense of wish-fulfillment. However, I tend to be hard on myself, so I couldn’t let the redeemed love bear exactly the results that the character might have wished. That would be just too convenient.
I threw a lot of notions and ideas into what is, for me, a relatively short novel. I also put a tale of global and potentially universal consequence into a story arc that spans only a few days’ time in the lives of a handful of characters. I might have tried to squeeze too much in, but the story wanted to be the way it wanted to be. I’m ultimately just the messenger. If it succeeded, that’s great, and it means I didn’t drop the ball too much. It was certainly great fun to write, and it was wonderful finally to give shape to something that had started perhaps twenty years earlier. I may yet produce works that have their origins even farther back in my own personal time-line—if I have world enough and time, I plan to do at least two of them—but for now, Son of Man holds its place of honor.
*Complex numbers are numbers containing two portions: A real-number component and an “imaginary” component…imaginary numbers being real-number multiples of i, the square-root of negative one. Though this may sound like airy-fairy nonsense, it has turned out to be essential to the description and understanding of quantum mechanics, among other things, and thus—despite its name—is very much real.