science fiction

#TimeTravelStories Review: Tapestry

It's no secret that I love stories about time travel--in fact, I just finished writing one! Time travel is a premise with endless possibilities. Whether the story's message is ultimately dark, funny, thought-provoking, or anywhere in between, I always enjoy the ride back to the past (or into the future!)

One of my favorite time travel stories is actually an episode from Star Trek: The Next Generation. "Tapestry" appears in the sixth season and features two of the best characters on the show: Captain Jean Luc Picard, fearless leader of the starship Enterprise, and Q, an irreverent practical jokester with god-like powers. 

"Tapestry" Star Trek Next Generation S6E15 || TV episode review on

In the episode, Picard is shot and (presumably) killed. He is then confronted by Q, and they have what is possibly the funniest exchange in the history of Star Trek:

Captain Jean-Luc Picard: Q, what is going on?
Q: I told you. You’re dead. This is the afterlife. And I’m God.
Captain Jean-Luc Picard: You are not God!
Q: Blasphemy! You’re lucky I don’t cast you out or smite you or something.

from "Tapestry" (Episode 6:15 of Star Trek: The Next Generation)

According to Q, Picard was attacked during a diplomatic mission and died from damages to his artificial heart--his original, human heart would have withstood the shot. Picard admits to Q that he received the artificial heart as a young man. It seems the commanding and imperious Captain Picard was actually hot headed and impetuous in his youth: when he was a young cadet, Picard got into a bar brawl and was nearly killed. Receiving the artificial heart saved his life back then, but he has always regretted his decision to get involved in the fight at all.

Q gives Picard the chance to go back in time and relive the moment he's always regretted. When he goes back, Picard does choose to live more cautiously and he avoids the tragic fight. However, he discovers that choosing not to be a risk-taker early on greatly impacts the rest of his life. Rather than becoming the Captain of the Enterprise, Picard's career plateaus as a Junior Science Officer, doing routine tasks and staying out of harm's way.

Faced with this unintended consequence, Picard tells Q that he would rather die as the Captain than live this safe but less meaningful alternate life. Q sends him back in time to the bar brawl again, where Picard is stabbed through the heart--just as he was originally. Picard returns to the present day and awakens in the sick bay of the Enterprise, where he discovers that his life has followed its original path. It's up to the viewer to decide whether it was all a dream or one of Q's infamous mind-games on the captain.

One of the coolest moments in the episode is when Picard recounts the events to his friend and first officer, Will Riker. Picard says:

There were many things in my youth that I’m not proud of... they were loose threads... untidy parts of myself that I wanted to remove. But when I pulled on one of those threads... I unraveled the tapestry of my life.
— Captain Jean-Luc Picard

from "Tapestry" (Episode 6:15 of Star Trek: The Next Generation)


I love the idea that the loose threads in our past are actually integral to the tapestry of our lives. But at the same time...I'm a writer, so I can't help but wonder "what if?"

  • What if it wasn't Picard's own failing that he regretted?
  • What if the one thing he would change about his past was a crime that somebody else committed?
  • What if that criminal offered to go back in time and take back what he did?

What can I say? The storyline in Tapestry puts my imagination into overdrive. This episode's take on time travel and past regrets is thought-provoking, compelling, and pretty darn funny, too. It's one of my all-time favorites--if you haven't seen it, you're missing out! You can get the full sixth season here (please note: link is an affiliate.)

Do you like time travel stories? So do I! I'm preparing to release EVERY LAST MINUTE, the first novel in my time travel trilogy, this fall! Drop your name and e-mail in the blue bar at the top of the page to receive news and updates!

How Much Science Should Be In Science Fiction?

I'm about a quarter of the way through editing my current work-in-progress, and believe me, it's slow-going. I'm checking every detail for consistency, ironing out the tone, and rewriting the scenes that I raced through during my marathon drafting sessions. At the same time, I'm trying to balance big-picture considerations. Who am I writing this story for? What readers will enjoy reading it? Just what genre is this story, anyway?

My current work-in-progress is a time travel romance that blurs the lines between science fiction and...well, romance. In the beginning of the novel, I introduce Will and Mara Sterling, a twenty-something couple starting off their new marriage with old scars:

Will and Mara first met six years ago. They were freshmen in college: young, ambitious, and full of plans for the years ahead. Within seconds, the actions of one gunman changed both of their lives. Although Will and Mara survived the campus shooting, the attack left them with permanent injuries, chronic pain, and post-traumatic stress disorder. The last six years have been challenging to say the least, but Will and Mara count themselves lucky. After all, they have each other.

So far, this story has the romance covered: while Will and Mara have struggled through horrifying circumstances, they're deeply and genuinely in love with each other and the life they share. Enter the science fiction elements, neatly disguised as their call to adventure:

A new initiative from the Justice Department offers Will and Mara the chance of a lifetime. The shooter has been rehabilitated and his crime qualifies for an event modification. With the consent of his victims, they can all travel back to the original scene of the crime, giving the gunman a chance to undo his deeds and put things right.

Event modification is my idea of how time travel would be used today if it existed. It's not fancy, flashy, or even a lot of fun. It's a heavily-moderated, overly bureaucratic system intended to give both offenders and victims a second chance. Since the criminal is rehabilitated, why not give him the opportunity to go back and undo his crime?

I know what facing this decision will mean for Will and Mara, and I know how the possibility of event modification will affect the culture around them, the justice system, and the gunman himself. Here's what I don't know: how much of an explanation do I give on how event modification works? How much of the mechanics of time travel would readers really want to know?

In other words: how much science should be in science fiction?

How much science should be in science fiction? |

The answer to the science-to-fiction ratio lies with the readers. Who would be interested in Mara and Will's story? Why would they pick up this book, and what would they expect to find?

"People who like science fiction," is an easy answer, but it's not the whole answer. Some sci-fi readers are into hard science fiction. They'd like a detailed description of how time travel works, along with the timeline for how it was developed and the blueprints to the machine. If I gloss over the mechanics of event modification, these hard sci-fi readers might stop reading for a minute and think, "Okay, Will and Mara went back in time, did it work? What was it like? What makes that possible?"

On the other hand, some readers prefer soft science fiction. These are the people who read about a new technology and think, "Ooh, and what will happen next?" rather than "Whoa! How did that happen?" They don't want to spend time in the engineering room of the Event Modification Division of the Justice Department, learning how it all works. They want to be up in the observation room, finding out just how people react when they're offered an unexpected second chance.

At its core, my work-in-progress is a combination of romance and soft science fiction. Time travel is a big part of the story, but it's not the center of the story. The focus needs to stay on Will and Mara, two characters that struggle to understand who they are and how the events of their lives have changed them, for better or for worse. much science should be in science fiction? I know my answer:

Just enough to cause a reaction.

How much science should be in science fiction? Just enough to cause a reaction. |