Non-Linear Timelines: Modelling Time in Speculative Fiction

A broad range of speculative fiction narrations incorporate non-linear timelines. Such timelines are affected by relativistic effects, they occur because of actions like time travel and (fictive or real) phenomena like time dilation, anti-time (opposite orientation of time flux relative to a reference frame), frozen time (time stands still relative to an observer), or alternate realities/parallel universes. These phenomena are enabled or entered via diverse (fictive or real) technologies like time machines and engine systems, astronomical anomalies like wormholes and black holes, or magic.

The author will present a way of meaningfully modelling and visualising time spans of such non-linear fashion, and events that take place during that time. Since the concept of (non-)linearity is only applicable when considering at least two dimensions, the model incorporates several temporal reference frames: one for a subject of interest (“anomaly frame”), e. g. a person travelling through time, and one for each involved universe’s chronology as perceived by an inert observer within that universe, pursuing a conventional (and thus continuous) world line (“observer frames”).

This means that the model allows to incorporate several timelines/universes as well as an unlimited number of non-linear chronologies independent from one another. Chronologies have a proper time (time as perceived by an object following that course) and are subdivided in time spans that can take place in different timelines. Time spans have a start date and end date in the observer frame, as well as a time dilation factor (in special relativity called the Lorentz factor) that defines the time “speed” ratio of anomaly frame and observer frame.

The 3D visualisations of non-linear chronologies provide an intuitive understanding of what is going on with a subject of interest experiencing time non-linearly.

Also, a web application for creating such non-linear timelines is presented. With the application, users can compute the proper durations of time spans and generate 3D visualisations themselves.