Writing About Time, In Steampunk

Time, we think we control it, but we don’t.

This morning I was in Tucson for the Wild Wild West Steampunk convention. At 6:30 I walked down to the lobby to get some breakfast. The breakfast nook was closed.

I asked the check at the front desk when the breakfast area would be opened. He said 6:00 AM. I said that the clock in my room said 6:30 and I showed him my cell phone which also said 6:30.

He said that Arizona does not observe daylight savings time. I said I know that and I did not change the room’s clock and the cell phone company knows that.

He said his cell phone also had changed to daylight savings time and he had to reset the phone to get it to read right.

Ten minutes later I came back to the front desk to hand in my room keys and there were several people in the lobby waiting for coffee. One guy was in his jammies. These non-morning people were not in any condition to go driving around Tucson to find coffee in their morning zombie mode.

What happened? We were inconvenienced by modern conveniences. The clocks, in our rooms, are bought in bulk for the whole chain of hotels. Arizona is the only state in the 48 continuous states that does not observe daylight savings time. The clocks have a feature where they automatically correct for daylight savings time. If you’re in Arizona you get the wrong time, twice a year until someone goes to each room and resets the clock. Of course the guy at the front desk couldn’t understand that, so all the early raisers had to wait for their coffee. For a non-morning person that is a big deal.

What does this have to do with writing about time. First take a look at decimal time. Introduced in France in 1792, it came before the metric system. It divides the week into ten days, the day into ten hours. An hour is 100 minutes and a minute is 100 seconds. Why didn’t it stick?

Workers only got one day a week off in the 1700s. The old way is you got a day off for every 7 days. The new decimal time way you got one day off for every ten days. Not a good deal in the workers eyes.

For an example of using decimal time in a story, see Dune by Frank Herbert. The character gets a watch and it’s a decimal time system watch.

Now imagine a kingdom where it is noon everywhere in the kingdom when the sun is highest in the sky at the place where the king is. Now add to that that it takes hours or days for messengers to get from where the king is (summer place or winter place, visiting someone) to the various major cities of the kingdom to tell them what time it is. Add to that, everyone has to eat lunch at the same time the king eats lunch. Your hero is thousands of miles or klicks away from the king and has to eat lunch while it’s still dark.

Or imagine that each airship company has divided the world up into time zones, but the zones are different for each company. Getting airship from different companies to land at the same place and the same time gets complicated.

Now mix together and stir. Imagine the king is planning an invasion a year in advance, using three different companies of airships. What time will everyone arrive?

Stay strong, write on, and change the battery in your pocket watch.

What does time and a comma have in common. Compare the title to this; Writing, About Time In Steampunk. Both can cause havoc if used incorrectly.

Professor Hyram Voltage

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