Let’s Kill Hitler

If you find yourself suddenly gaining access to a time machine, what’s the first thing you’d do? If you said “kill Adolf Hitler”, then congratulations; you’re a science-fiction character. Actually, the whole “access to a time machine” thing suggested that already, but the desire to kill Hitler clinches it.  – Dean Burnett   

Everybody kills Hitler on their first trip. It always gets fixed within a few minutes, what’s the harm? – Desmond Warzel  

This turns out to be demonstrably true. Looking at the for-real history of the timeline in which we currently live, we find plenty of evidence to support the conclusion that every Western-born time traveler, except perhaps the ones who want the South to win the American Civil War, kills Hitler on their first excursion. And that somebody else fixes the timeline immediately thereafter.

There were thirty-two assassination attempts on Adolf Hitler between 1921 and 1945. In and of itself, this is perhaps not notable; horrible evil dictators do tend to attract assassins, as do incompetent strategists who refuse to surrender the war they are actively losing.

Here’s what is remarkable:

1) Four of the attempts occurred before he seized power in 1933.

2) In more than one case, the perpetrator was never discovered, and the attempt is credited to “unknown assassin” or “unknown Pole” or “unknown German soldier” or “unknown man in SS uniform.”

3) The bastard survived them all by the most bizarre skin-of-his-teeth coincidences. Rescheduled speeches and canceled parades, explosives that detonated too soon or inexplicably not at all, bomb-holding briefcases moved too close to thick wooden table legs.

The night one of Hitler’s own SS bodyguards fired into the Fuhrer’s car, succeeding in killing the man in the back seat, Hitler just happened to be driving, and it was his luckless chauffeur who died.

The German soldier who planted a bomb under the stage where Hitler was to give a speech got locked in the bathroom, no I am not kidding, and was unable to detonate it.

Georg Elser’s elaborate and well-thought-out plan was foiled by Hitler’s decision to, for the first time, take an early train from the Beer Hall Putsch anniversary rally instead of staying for all the speeches.

And on and on and on. It’s almost as though there was some sort of duel going on, across time and space, possibly involving time-traveling Nazis.

You know, hypothetically.

The story you think you’re reading

Time travel stories come in different flavors. There are the “fish out of water” historical fiction or futurefic stories; alternate history “what-if” stories; and stories where the actual mechanics of the time travel are a crucial part of the plot. Most take a little from column A and a little from column B, of course. Stephen King’s 11/22/63 does hinge on time travel mechanics and does present a (brief) alternate 2011, but what really makes that book tick is its lovingly crafted descriptions of life in the late 50s and early 60s. Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series is weighted the same way, with the historical fiction immersion the biggest selling point (although the mechanics of time travel have become more plot relevant in the more recent books). Connie Willis’s Doomsday Book is definitely weighted toward the historical fiction side of things; Blackout and All Clear are more evenly balanced between “historical fiction” and “the sort of story that can only be told through time travel”; and To Say Nothing Of The Dog, though a delightful romp through Victorian manners and mores, definitely hinges on mechanics. And misunderstandings. Lots and lots of misunderstandings.

The sort of time travel story that prioritizes mechanics is almost by definition a story that hinges on misunderstandings and misinterpretation—or perhaps it would be more accurate to say on multiple-perspective interpretation. These are the stories that tend to show you the same scene more than once, the second time with additional context that changes its place in the story arc. Done right, that sort of perspective flip leaves the reader gutted—or barely restraining a cheer. Sometimes both. I love it when the story I think I’m reading turns out not to be the story I am actually reading.

My favorite example of this is a Star Trek episode—and it’s not even one of the franchise’s actual time travel stories. I like a bunch of those too, but at its core, Yesterday’s Enterprise is really an alternate history story. The Voyage Home is really a fish out of water story (seewhatIdidthere?). And I love them both, but not the way I love Timescape.

Timescape is a sixth season TNG episode that rarely shows up on anyone’s “best of” list. And yet. Picard, Troi, Data, and LaForge return to the Enterprise from a conference to find that A) the ship is frozen in time, having encountered a temporal anomaly wandering about, as my husband phrases it, in search of a plot to adhere to, and B) Romulans were in the process of taking over the ship when time froze. One Romulan is in Sickbay shooting Dr. Crusher, another has taken over the conn (and the conn officer lies injured on the floor), a third is looming threateningly over a fallen Commander Riker. The evidence absolutely 100% percent supports the hypothesis of a Romulan attack.

But sometimes the story you think you’re watching isn’t the story you are actually watching. When Our Heroes back time up (you know, like you do) and start it again, we see the Sickbay Romulan firing at a third-party mutual-enemy threat temporarily between him and the doctor. We see the ship shake in a distortion field, throwing the conn officer out of his seat and knocking Riker to the floor. We see the young Romulan lieutenant smoothly take over for the injured conn officer and the looming Romulan senior officer reach out a hand and help the stunned Riker to his feet. The same evidence can support more than one hypothesis, particularly when you haven’t gathered all the evidence yet.

Which also is how a well-constructed mystery works, with clues that appear to lead to one conclusion equally well supporting another, once the entire context is uncovered. And it’s how prophecy works, when prophecy is used as a story element in speculative fiction. Audience perspective is a tool you can use in branching interactive fiction as well, and oh, I do. (The same scene can be a beat in the arc where you overthrow the government, put down the rebellion, or become Jack the Ripper. Just ask Garrett Finch.) Nor is this technique confined to genre fiction; any nonlinear narrative can gut-punch the reader by suddenly providing the contextual clue that alters the reader’s entire perspective. The story you think you’re reading is often not the story you are actually reading. Time travel is just one of the more fun ways to pull that off.

And sometimes it works on the writer too. Sometimes the writer is as surprised by the story she finds herself writing as any member of her audience. Oh. That’s what this is about.

I loved Babylon 5, back in the day, among other reasons for its masterful use of prophecy and time travel. And also because the character arcs of Londo Mollari and Ambassador G’Kar are beautifully constructed even just when viewed by themselves, never mind the way they reflect and refract and amplify each other as they twine together. Londo is one of my very favorite characters. “I can’t shake the feeling,” someone wrote on a fan website back in the day, “that this whole story is really about him.”

This whole five-year ensemble-cast multi-plotted story is really about a character who doesn’t even have top billing? Really? But JMS posted to that website all the time. And didn’t say she was wrong.

I finally got traction on writing Timebound when I realized who the Keeping Time story is really about.

It’s not Elizabeth. She plays a starring role in her story, as Bilbo does in his, but The Lord of the Rings cannot correctly be described as Bilbo’s story.

It’s not Maxwell either. I thought of Timebound as “Maxwell’s story” for a long time, and it is, admittedly, largely Maxwell’s story; but it isn’t entirely Maxwell’s story, and as far as the whole story goes, Keeping Time, the trilogy and the tendrils of it that stretch before the beginning of book one and past the end of book three—it is so not Maxwell’s story. Maxwell plays one supporting role of many to the person whose story might equally well be described as a self-created epic and a long con.

You might guess who, from what I’ve just said here, by sheer process of elimination. But you haven’t been given enough clues in Timepiece or Timekeeper to logically infer. You haven’t seen the beginning of the story yet. Any of its beginnings. You’re about to become acquainted with at least three. Maybe four; it depends how you count. Timebound, weirdly enough, turns out to be a series of beginnings.

I think you’ll like it, when you see whose story this actually is. I found myself surprised and delighted in equal measure.

Sometimes the story you think you’re writing isn’t the story you’re actually writing. Sometimes that’s okay. And sometimes it’s wonderful.


Intercon anecdote

Intrigue In The Clouds is a famous convention LARP, but I didn’t know that when I went to sign up for games at Intercon. If I had known of its fame, I would have put it as my first choice. Putting it as my second choice got me on the waitlist. Live and learn.

I spent the next few weeks hoping enough people would drop that I would get to play. By Saturday of Intercon, it was clear that this had not happened, but experienced Interconners encouraged me to put on a costume and show up at the game anyway, just on the off-chance. You never know, they said. A lot of people are sick with flu, after all.

So I put on my starched white blouse and crinoline petticoat and long full skirt (not quite the right decade, but close enough) and got it all arranged so I could walk without tripping. Collected my fan and reticule and presented myself to the game masters at twenty minutes to eight.

They shook their heads. “We haven’t had any drops – ”

“No problem,” I started to say. “Thanks for – ”

“But.” The GM held out a packet, and I stopped talking. “I wrote this for my eleven-year-old son to play the last time we ran. It’s not a very complicated character, but you don’t have time to learn a complicated character anyway. Would you mind playing a newsboy?”

I put my hand right out for it. “I’d love to play a newsboy.”

He eyed my outfit. “You can’t wear that, is the only thing. Can you come up with a costume in time?”

“Absolutely,” I said. “I’ve got twenty minutes. I’ll be right back.”

Cue me flying down the halls of the Crown Plaza as fast as the ridiculous crinoline would allow, texting to my compatriots once I hit the elevator: “I’m in! I can play Intrigue if I play a newsboy! Where the hell am I going to find costuming for that in 19 minutes??? :D”

Compatriot #1: “LOL”

Compatriot #1: “You just need to find a newsboy cap somewhere.”

Compatriot #2: “That’s exactly what I was going to say!”

It was something I already knew. But I didn’t own one, let alone have one on hand. I knew some people at the con had them…I’d seen at least one for sure, maybe more than one…maybe I could ask at the registration desk? Would that be crazy?

The elevator doors opened to reveal a lady dressed in a mirror image of the same over-the-top Victorian garb I was wearing, except her skirt was green, and she’d added a wig.

It couldn’t possibly hurt to ask, right? “Excuse me,” I said. “Are you playing Intrigue In The Clouds?”

She smiled. “Yes I am!”

“So am I!” I said. “I just got in off the waitlist, and they gave me a newsboy character. So I have to go change. Would you by any chance know anyone who might be able to lend me the right kind of cap?”

“Actually,” she said, “I have one. Come with me.”

Back into the elevator! All the way up to the sixth floor! I texted my companions: “I just found a lady who will lend me one!!! I love Intercon!”

She rummaged through a box of costumes and came up with the cap. I told her she was my new favorite person. With fourteen minutes to go, I booked it for my room.

I tore off and left heaped on the floor my belt, skirt, blouse, and crinoline. I left on the black leggings I’d been wearing under the skirt and pulled a plain black shirt over my head. I swapped out my black flats for high black boots, grabbed my black-and-gray patterned scarf and tied it so it hung long, like a muffler, then added the cap. The cap helped a lot. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do for a jacket. Ideally, I’d need a man’s suit coat a little too big for me, sleeves rolled up, but with seven minutes to go before game start, idealism was going to have to bow to reality. I searched my collection of paperwork from other games for something that might serve as a newspaper prop.

My roommate (aka Compatriot #2) entered in search of something he had forgotten, and admired the effect of the cap – “Wow. That really works.” I asked if he had a suit jacket. He didn’t. I pulled on my purple velveteen jacket – too fancy for the character, but nothing to be done about it – and checked the mirror. The cap made all the difference; with it pulled low over one eye, I could look up in an appropriately ragamuffin sort of way.

“I just need something that looks like a newspaper – ” I told my friend, turning back to my search.

He handed me his day-old Wall Street Journal.

I love Intercon.

Then I ran down the hall and down the elevator and down the other hall to the event space, skidding to a stop in front of the GM at two minutes to eight.

“Paper, mister?” I said.

He raised his eyebrows. “Very nice. And right on time.”

And the game was awesome, by the way. Its fame is justified, and if you’re going to play something that complicated with no prep, a paperboy is an ideal way to do it, since you can wander all around and nibble little bites from all the intersecting plots. I had a blast inhabiting that universe for four hours.

But my favorite part was the nineteen minutes before the game began. Best part of Intercon. No question.

Boskone 2018!

Join me at Boskone (February 16-18, 2018) in Boston, MA for New England’s longest running science fiction and fantasy convention!

I will be moderating two panels and involved in two different group readings. AND, to my delight, I have been given a solo slot to give a talk on applying live action design principles to augmented reality games! It’s a shortened version of the talk I gave at the East Coast Game Conference last April, so if you’re a Boston local who’s interested in the topic but found Raleigh an untenable commute, I’d just like to point out that the Westin Waterfront is closer. 🙂

Curse Your Inevitable Romantic Subplot!

16 Feb 2018, Friday 16:00 – 17:00, Burroughs (Westin)

Just when things are getting good, somebody has to go and fall in love. Are romantic subplots required? And what makes them work or fail in the larger storyline?

Heather Albano (M), Suzanne Reynolds-Alpert, J. Kathleen Cheney, Kevin McLaughlin, Juliana Spink Mills


The Sword in the Stone: A New Beginning for the Arthurian Legends?

16 Feb 2018, Friday 18:00 – 19:00, Marina 2 (Westin)

First published in 1938 as a stand-alone tale, T. H. White’s The Sword in the Stone departs from older sources to (wonderfully) imagine King Arthur as a boy in Merrie Olde England. What did it bring to now-popular tropes such as shapeshifting, the hidden prince, or the magical education? Later incorporated into the first part of White’s 1958 novel The Once and Future King, it helped spark the musical Camelot. (And, of course, Spamalot.) Would we remember much about King Arthur, his Knights, and their Round Table without these books? How did they influence the wider fantasy genre? Have they been replaced by the stories they inspired?

Faye Ringel, Elizabeth Bear, E. Ardell, Auston Habershaw, Heather Albano (M)

Group Reading: Cambridge SF Workshop

16 Feb 2018, Friday 20:00 – 21:30, Griffin (Westin)

A rapid-fire reading by the members of the long-running Cambridge SF Workshop, featuring writers Heather Albano, James L. Cambias, F. Brett Cox, Gillian Daniels, Alex Jablokov, Steve Popkes, Ken Schneyer (M), Sarah Smith, and Cadwell Turnbull.

Group Reading: Broad Universe

17 Feb 2018, Saturday 17:00 – 18:00, Griffin (Westin)

Join members of Broad Universe — a nonprofit association dedicated to supporting, encouraging, and promoting female authors of science fiction, fantasy, and horror — as they read tidbits of works and works in progress. Celebrate 17 years of “Broads” with Elaine Isaak, Heather Albano, Roberta Rogow, LJ Cohen, and more!

Beyond Pokemon Go: Writing For Augmented Reality Games

17 Feb 2018, Saturday 20:00 – 21:00, Marina 1 (Westin)

Location-based augmented reality games are becoming increasingly popular in the mobile marketplace, and their unique structure offers new and exciting storytelling opportunities to writers and game designers alike. But AR games are not the first to incorporate the real world as a design element; live action roleplaying games have been doing this for decades. Veteran LARP designer Heather Albano will discuss how the best practices of live action design are being applied to early augmented reality games right now, and how game writers can leverage these design principles to create memorable (and successful!) AR games in the near future.


Arisia 2018!

Will you be at Arisia this coming weekend? So will I!

Come and see me at:


“If You Don’t Know, Now You Know” – Friday 5:30pm Marina2

SFF Authors use foreknowledge of events, whether predictive models, visions, or prophecy, to give characters future knowledge, often to solve story problems. In this panel, we’ll look at the problems this foreknowledge creates, for the characters, for the author, and for the reader.


“Broad Universe Rapid Fire Reading” – Saturday 10am Adams

Come discover your new favorite writer as we read short excerpts from our work. Each writer has just a few minutes to show you what she’s capable of!  We offer chocolate and the chance to win prizes.

Broad Universe is an international organization dedicated to promoting, encouraging, honoring, and celebrating women writers and editors in science fiction, fantasy, horror, and other speculative genres.


“Frankenstein Turns 200” Sunday 10am Douglas

Mary Shelley’s novel “Frankenstein” was published in London in 1818, and is often considered to be the first science fiction novel. I will moderate the panel discussing its impact on the genre and culture in general, including its role in the genre canon, its status as a classic novel, works inspired by it, and whether or not it’s even really that good a book.


The Broad Universe table in the Dealers’ Room

…various times during Saturday and Sunday, selling Timepieces and Timekeepers!

A Christmas excerpt from Timebound

A merry Christmas to all you who are celebrating today, and a peek at Christmas 1815 in the Carrington household!


If you have not yet tried Timepiece, you still have a few hours to enter the Goodreads giveaway!


William Carrington woke from a dream of hot Spanish sun to the depressing certainty that the temperature had plummeted at some point in the night. The dim blue-gray light filtering into the bedroom was insufficient to allow him to see the rafters, but he expected the nails were frosted. He wondered whether this winter were truly colder and snowier than those that had gone before it, or whether it was only an illusion caused by his newly-acquired poverty.

Very likely it was the latter. The autumn’s sunsets had similarly seemed more magnificent than any he had previously beheld, after all, and that was no doubt to be attributed to watching them with the woman he loved. It was remarkable how one’s frame of mind could change one’s perceptions.

Beside him, Elizabeth stirred. She cautiously extended one hand out of the bedclothes, then groaned and burrowed deeper, simultaneously squirming closer to him. He curled around her gladly, only partly to share the warmth. “Cold,” she muttered.

“Very.” The water in the wash-basin had doubtless frozen again. It was not possible to have a fire in this little bedroom, and the downstairs fire had very likely gone out sometime in the night. There was no one to build it up again unless and until he did it himself. No one, in fact, to even make breakfast unless and until the lady of the house did it herself. They had no live-in servants, and Mrs. Brewer, who did for them by day, was taking Christmas as a well-deserved holiday with her own family.

He and Elizabeth had thought themselves very clever, eloping to Gretna Green and not only avoiding parental insistence on a long betrothal, but avoiding the fuss and bother of a formal betrothal at all. No new clothing, no new carriage, no unpleasant relations descending for the wedding-breakfast, not one element of the fashionable wedding circus. They had even saved the cost of half the journey, arriving as they did by pocket watch from 1895 and only needing to scrape up the funds for lodgings.

But their cleverness had failed to take one key fact into account: Elizabeth’s parents were far angrier than their daughter had expected. Elizabeth had assumed her family would be so anxious to put a good face on the elopement that they would let her have her dowry, but her parents, most likely egged on by her aunt, had instead dispatched a servant with one trunkful of her belongings and forbade her to darken their door ever again.

It was the wrong move for the Bartons to make on the chessboard of society, anyone could have told them that—the one sure way to fan instead of dampen the flames of a scandal. But Mr. and Mrs. Barton, in the first flush of rage at the daughter who had so defiantly married “to displease her family,” had fanned the flame regardless, and that left William and his wife subsisting upon his lieutenant’s half-pay and a miniscule allowance grudgingly meted out to him by his own exasperated father. They would be counting pennies and living month to month until Elizabeth received her inheritance in just over three years’ time. At least the terms of her grandfather’s will had stipulated the thirty thousand pounds was to be hers “upon attaining her majority” if she had not previously married with her father’s permission, so there was no way for her furious parents to utterly deny her the funds.

But a lean three years stretched out before young Mr, and Mrs. Carrington. William had endured greater privation on the Penninsula, to be sure, but it hurt a man’s pride to be forced to subject his wife to a lack of the comforts to which she was accustomed. By dint of careful cheeseparing, they had managed to hire the cottage in Danby that had once, in the future, in a vanished timeline, housed Charles Wilton and Christopher Palmer. The rent was comparatively low, but there was still little enough left over for housekeeping, and all sorts of unusual economies had been forced upon them. It was a poor young couple indeed who could not afford even one scullery maid, and this bedroom of theirs would have been considered too comfortless for any but a servant, in his father’s house or in hers. William wondered, as he had wondered before, if Elizabeth had made a bad bargain.

She chose that moment to remember what day it was. “Oh,” she said in a tone of discovery, muffled by the quilt. “Happy Christmas, my love.”

The hesitation before he replied told her his thoughts.

She answered them in a tone of affectionate exasperation. “Will you please stop it. I’d rather be here with you than anywhere else.”

“If we were anywhere else for Christmas, someone would have brought up tea by now,” he couldn’t help pointing out.

“Yes, and then we’d have to dress and go down to breakfast and make polite conversation with the relations who have made clear the esteem in which they do not hold us. And then we’d have to go through a formal dinner and charades and word games and company manners and all the rest of the nonsense. I’d rather be here.” She turned over, nestling her head against his chest. “It seems something of a gift to have the house to ourselves, now I come to consider it. I can think of some amusements we might pursue before that lovely sitting room fire, knowing we could not be interrupted…”

William snorted. “Mrs. Carrington, you are a most willful and depraved creature.”

“A reputation I am glad to deserve,” Elizabeth responded tranquilly.

William was in no hurry to sacrifice the pleasures of an idle morning in bed with his wife, but eventually the twin demands of hunger and cold could not be any longer ignored. With nothing for it but to brave the icy air, they did so with feigned enthusiasm—throwing back the quilt all at once, breathing deeply, breaking the ice in the basin without wasting breath on complaint. On the one hand, it seemed absurd to don full formal attire for a day spent alone in one’s own house in pursuit of carnal pleasure—surely one was meant to wear a dressing gown for that sort of dissipation—but it was too damned cold to do anything but keep up the standards. Fully dressed, William at last followed his wife downstairs, intending to stir up the fire so she could make toast and tea.

He saw the shadow move in the sitting room while they were both still on the stairway. He caught Elizabeth’s arm to stop her, but she had already stopped, alert and watchful like a startled deer. She too had seen movement in a house that should have been deserted. And the first floor of the cottage, now he came to notice, was not the bone-deep barn-like chill he had expected. That shadow had been cast by the light of a gaily leaping fire in the sitting room—hopefully in the hearth, hopefully not a twin the leaping flame that had destroyed (would never destroy) that very room in 1885. Emil Schwieger had tracked Palmer and Wilton to this same house in that vanished timeline, had set that very fire to smoke out their secrets. He or another enemy could have as easily pursued Elizabeth and William here—

Maxwell stepped into the doorway.

For a long moment, nobody moved. Then their visitor cleared his throat. “Er, good morning.”

Elizabeth let out a breath she seemed to have been holding for six months, and ran down the rest of the stairs to embrace him.

William’s knees went momentarily so weak he had to put a hand to the bannister to steady himself. “Oh, thank God.”

Maxwell’s arms had closed awkwardly around Elizabeth and now he looked over her head at William, in what might have been a mute appeal for guidance. William closed his eyes for a moment against the stinging.

When he opened them again, Maxwell was holding Elizabeth off with his hands on her shoulders. “You, er…I take it you worked it out.”

“You did leave us your locket,” Elizabeth pointed out. “But yes, we were most of the way to working it out before we opened it. Oh, I’m so glad you’re well. We’ve been so worried.”

“We wanted to look for you,” William said, coming down the stairs to join them, “but it would have been foolish, with all of space and time to search. We’ve been telling each other for six months that we had to trust you, and you’d be bound to find us instead.” He held out his hand. “Welcome home.”