Short Fiction: Hold-Time Violations

Hold-Time Violations by John Chu

Ellie is on her way to visit her comatose mother when her sister sends her to repair physics. Each universe has skunkworks that generate the universe within it, making this multiverse a set of matryoshka dolls. The skunkworks that generate this universe have become faulty, and the physical constants suddenly...aren't. In order to fix the skunkworks, to make physics self-consistent again, and to make the world work as it's supposed to, Ellie will have to remember everything her mother has taught her.

I  missed a lot of good short fiction during my vacation. Hold-Time Violations is definitely one of them. John Chu is well known for his short fiction stories. One of his stories even won him the Hugo Award for Short Stories back in 2014. What drew me to Hold-Time Violations was the challenging and promising synopsis. I like my science fiction with a challenge and definite thought behind it and this is precisely what John Chu delivers. 


Hold-Time Violations starts of rather innocent. Ellie is on her way to visit her mother and needs to catch the train. But this is pretty much the only normal thing there is. Soon you learn that there is much more going on in the world. Because as of today nobody has tried to kill Ellie for starters. Apprently her sister Chris likes to "challenge" Ellie every now and again. The next thing that you learn about is the skunkworks that make the actual universe for what it is. Ellie herself is a skunkwork Builder, she build universes. Her sister made it apparent that there is something faulty in the current skunkworks that needs to be fixed. Ellie first has to do this before she can go to her mother. However it there is a catch. Besides the Builders of the skunkworks there are also other parties. Opposing parties, for example the Isolationist who see that the skunkworks are never wrong and if they change, aka turn faulty, it is what should have happened. And thus Ellie has to watch her step when correction said skunkwork. Danger lies at the end of each pipe. 

I have to give full credits to John Chu for world building. His imagining of a world connected with pipes and other plumbing things is something I haven't read before and definitely filled up my imagination. The backdrop of the story is an emotional story about Ellie and her mother, which the ending even more so verifies. 

However what left my mind in a spin was the plotline and thinking about the different parties. Ellie's mother is sick, but can be brought back to health by well tinkering with the skunkworks, what a builder like Ellie does. If you look at the Isolationists, who see every event as meant to be, I got to thinking that they actually have much more sense, because can you ethically change everything to suite your goal? Perhaps in this universe you can, but doesn't that then mean that as a Builder you play God? Can you go to far in changing the skunkworks each and every time? No wonder there are fights between them. Hold-Time Violations is a great provocative read. Make sure you read it guys. 

Read the full story here 

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