Story/Novel idea: The Unstuck Man

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Summary: Here's an idea that has been floating around in my head for a bit...a more subtle version of the The Unstuck Man style story, where all the changes are minor but start to add up over time.

BLOT: (23 Jun 2011 - 03:58:50 PM)

Story/Novel idea: The Unstuck Man

There have been a number of Unstuck Man style stories. Heinlein's Job, the TV Show Sliders, even the movie Butterfly Effect dealt with it. Someone (and for some reason, all variations I can think of it tend to focus on a male more than a female protagonist) has become unglued from their unique reality and has started drifting into others. Most cases, it tends to focus on the crazy and different. Worlds where cars were never invented but personal airplanes were, worlds where some other species evolved into "humanity". Big deals. What I am picturing is something different. Something more subtle.

There are a number of ways to diagram multiple word theories, but one that appeals to me is to map out "5th dimensional space". You make a line by connecting two points with an infinite number of other points. You make a square by connection two lines with an infinite number of lines. A cube using squares. That's simplistic, yes, but it will work. Time, then, as a forth dimension connects the start and end cube with an infinite series of cubes (each one a moment) and, in this version I am talking about, all possible variations of those moments between the start and end of time could be mapped out by taking that stream (of cubes) and connecting to another stream of cubes with an infinite number of streams.

If you accept this as a model worth telling a story about (whether or not it has anything like explanatory power), then the first thing that seems important is that jumps between streams would be indefinitely small. Each step would add up, but it would take an indefinite amount of time.

In my idea, the Unstuck Man shifts almost continuously between streams. Just, most of the streams he slips through don't have an immediate effect on him so he doesn't even notice. Every few thousand, something impacts his life. At first, everything is so tiny. He gets a glass of ice water and then, while drinking it, realize it's warm and not even sweating and so never was cold. Some favorite shirt of his changes color or logo. Some date he went on his wife never seems to have happened. His car loses some feature but gains another. As this continues, details of his life make less and less sense. Eventually, his wife gets swapped out for, say, a high school crush to whom he never got the courage to talk. His neighborhood shifts. One day he wakes up in someone else's house and has to find his own.

Towards the end, the little changes around the world mean every day or two, something fairly different than what he thought of as reality is in place, though maybe the little details in his own life still have some stability (switch out which brand of toothpaste a man buys, and you won't get much difference).

I've been interested in this idea for awhile. What if you woke up one morning, and your wife/husband's favorite t-shirt, which was always red, is suddenly blue. And there is no other change. You are in some new world, almost completely the same, but it is not your own. How do you handle that? In previous drafts, I pictured a man going increasingly insane. Now, I'm think I would make it much more akin to Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five. This Unstuck Person will at first freak out, and eventually accept his fate as a person who keeps intersecting fate at right angles. Eventually, something happens, I suppose, like his parents never met and so he ceases to be...but by that time understands that it's a possibility.


Written by Doug Bolden

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