With “The Branches of Time,” I want to take a slightly different approach from my usual review and summation of a tale. Ironically, it was an editor’s note that gave me the inspiration.
This post explores David R. Daniels’ “The Branches of Time”—a thoughtful, deep-dive of a time-travel tale from a little known author. The editors of Wonder Stories included a statement alongside the story to express their opinions.
To say that this short story contains some revolutionary time-travel theories would be putting it exceedingly mild.
When the author, new to our magazine, submitted this story to us, his accompanying letter stated that in it he had settled the time-travel question once and for all. We must admit that a broad, unbelieving grin spread over our countenances when the author dared make this assertion.
BUT—the smile soon left our faces after we had perused well into the yarn—for, to our chagrin, Mr. Daniels had really propounded so many brand new ideas about time and time-travel, and such logical ones—that he has not left one loophole in his argument!
You are perhaps smiling at this, as we did at first, but all we ask of you is to read the story, which task you will not find hard, for it is filled with as many thought-provoking theories as any science-fiction novel you have ever read and you will sit for long after finishing it, pondering upon the fantastic possibilities of this new kind of time-travel…
“The Branches of Time,” written by David R. Daniels, initially appeared in the August 1935 (volume 7 Number 3) issue of Wonder Stories.
Both the editors and I initially viewed the story through the lens of mere time-travel fiction. Only later came the realization of just how extremely unlikely it was that a 20-year old would be well-versed enough (with Ph. D.-level physics) to condense contemporary time-travel theories into a short story for a pulp-sci-fi magazine’s audience. Particularly, since the physics describing what is happening in the story would only be made public 22 years AFTER “The Branches of Time” had been published.
David R. Daniels was born in 1915 (though there is some question to this) and died on 17 April 1936. He is credited with publishing six short stories/novelettes; five appeared in Astounding Stories and one (“The Branches of Time”) in Wonder Stories. Each of his tales, with the exception of his final, appeared in 1935.
Daniels died, under questionable circumstances, from a self-inflicted gunshot wound; either via accident or suicide.
Daniels was 21 years old.
almost no biographical information readily available on Daniels. I could not
ascertain, where he was born or even where he died, with any certainty. There
is, however, one source that purports to reveal the grave marker of a David R.
Daniels who is buried in Ignacio Cemetery East in
record is to be believed, this David R. Daniels was born in 1914, not 1915 (no
month or day) in
Amazing Stories, by Hugo Gernsback, was among the first science fiction pulp magazines and began publication in 1926. After he lost Amazing Stories to bankruptcy, he founded Wonder Stories in 1929. Wonder Stories was an early science fiction magazine that appeared under several titles from 1929 through 1955. In 1936, Gernsback sold Wonder Stories to Beacon Publishing under the new title, Thrilling Wonder Stories. This title continued publication until the end of 1955, when it ceased due to the decline in the pulp magazine market.
The Pulp Magazine Archive at archive.org is a truly comprehensive source for pulps. In addition to countless other pulp magazines, it contains a good portion of the Wonder Stories print run in PDF format.
and the narrator are two friends from school who haven’t seen each other in
millions of years later,
So far, “The
Branches of Time” is a pretty
straight-forward time-travel-type tale. But, now it takes a significant turn.
I think so, too.
point on, I want to cease my detailed summation of the tale and instead, focus on a concept first put forth by
. . . the world has innumerable dimensions in the Cosmos, and that each one of those dimensions seems very different to us who see only three dimensional cross-cuts of them at a time. We and our world are like things seen by some one dimensional being. What, for instance, could such a creature make of an automobile, being able to see no more than a line along its surface. That’s how we look at infinity.
I live, and
yet I’ve seen the world which is this planet peopled by nothing besides races
of reptiles, a world into which I couldn’t possibly be born. And probably
somewhere—in the Cosmos—there is a me,
a James Bell who never invented a time-machine, but lived a normal
twentieth-century life as the other men around him did. However, I know nothing
of that, since at present—in absolute time— the ego-which-I-am inhabits the
body of the
there are other Bell-egos, I know. For instance, there was the me I took the
revolver from. Both men were
Very probably there is a you, John, who has traveled in time with me, whether you ever do in this consciousness of yourself or not. And as far as that goes, there may have been a planet Earth which fell into the sun ere it cooled, or was stolen by a passing star.
Well, this absolute theory of time-traveling, which must be the right one, takes away certain of the paradoxes which have baffled imaginative people.
I would like
to draw the reader’s attention to the third paragraph from the above quote that
begins “But that there are other . . .” In particular, I want to highlight the sentences:
“Both men were
Two individuals, who up to some previous point in time, had been one and the same being.
This is Many-Worlds! More than 20 years before
Branches of Time” wound down to its conclusion, Bell stated to his friend that
he intended to travel into the far future where he hoped to encounter beings
that could satisfy his questions concerning the nature of reality and time. As
it turned out, if
Of course, I am being flippant here. But this does provide a neat segue into what did occur in 1957.
A widespread and common definition (or explanation) of The Many-Worlds Interpretation is:
. . . an interpretation of quantum mechanics that asserts the objective reality of the universal wavefunction and denies the actuality of wavefunction collapse. Many-worlds implies that all possible alternate histories and futures are real, each representing an actual "world" (or "universe"). In layman's terms, the hypothesis states there is a very large—perhaps infinite—number of universes, and everything that could possibly have happened in our past, but did not, has occurred in the past of some other universe or universes.
Many-Worlds Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics was first laid out by Hugh Everett in his
there are several relevant points concerning
was born in 1930. He wrote, in 1955 and presented in 1957, his dissertation
introducing the Many-Worlds Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics. Yet, it would
not be until 1976, when general readers and especially readers of science
fiction were introduced to
It is not known whether
All this is fascinating from a history-of-science perspective. But, it still does not address Daniels and his relation to the origin of the Many-Worlds Interpretation. Therefore, I propose that the ideas or concepts underlying the Many-Worlds Interpretation were percolating in the popular zeitgeist, especially in the realm of pulp science fiction. Thus, almost making the appearance of the Many-Worlds Interpretation as a formal scientific theory seemingly inevitable.
But when did it all start? In the aforementioned biographical sketch, it is reported that the earliest known example of a story referencing ideas or concepts that would become Many-Worlds was 1938. It states: “As usual, it seems that writers invented it all before the scientists. Fans have found in a 1938 story by half- forgotten . . .” Moreover, the statement continues by claiming that these early stories, and the ideas espoused: “. . . were more anti-Everettian than either pre- or pro-Everettian . . .”
recall Daniels’ “The Branches of Time” was published in 1935. His notions of
what-would-be Many-Worlds far predate any other such tale in pulp sci-fi, to
the best of my knowledge. And not only that, he does it by presenting a
uniquely positive take on
Once again, very briefly (extremely basically) and in my own words, The Many-Worlds Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics implies the entire universe is fundamentally connected on a quantum level. Extrapolating from that, when confronting a choice—left or right, let’s say—only one choice can be taken. However, Many-Worlds Theory postulates that while one may determine to go left (continuing the example above), in an alternate universe/reality, one may determine instead to go right. From that point of determination, a new and wholly separate universe is split off.
The illustration above is an excellent visual representation of what I am talking about. From a place of decision, a split occurs, with a new reality encompassing each possibility and with each reality distinct from each other.
this is The Many-Worlds Theory. And, this is exactly what Daniels has his
In many ways, “The Branches of Time” is a very enjoyable time-travel tale. But, there is a lot more going on here as the editors pointed out. Those editors realized they had something special.
In addition, I believe this tale laid the groundwork for many subsequent time-travel tales, especially those that draw heavily from our current understanding of quantum mechanics and do not rely upon some mysterious technology to explain the means of time travel. In particular, I am thinking of Blake Crouch’s Dark Matter: A Novel from 2016. And, of course, Stephen King’s 11/22/63: A Novel from 2011. . .
Daniels, David R. “The Branches of Time.” Wonder Stories. Continental Publications. August 1935. Volume 7 Number 3. [PDF file]. https://archive.org/details/Wonder_Stories_v07n03_1935-08/mode/2up
Find a Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed 13 August 2020), memorial page for David R Daniels (1914–1936), Find a Grave Memorial no. 67888599, citing Ignacio Cemetery East, Ignacio, La Plata County, Colorado, USA ; Maintained by Frank Klein (contributor 47200843) .
Shikhovtsev, Eugene. “Biographical Sketch of Hugh Everett, III.” MIT Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research. 2003. Web. 09 August 2020. https://space.mit.edu/home/tegmark/everett/
Shoemaker, Dave. “The Many Worlds Theory is Wildly Fascinating.” Shoe: United. WordPress.com. 08 August 2017. Web. 10 August 2020. https://shoeuntied.wordpress.com/2017/08/08/the-many-worlds-theory-is-wildly-fascinating/
Von Ruff, Al. “Summary Bibliography: David R. Daniels.” The Internet Speculative Fiction Database. ISFDB. Web. 5 August 2020. http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/ea.cgi?1771
Von Ruff, Al. “Title: TheBranches of TIme.” The Internet Speculative Fiction Database. ISFDB. Web. 5 August 2020. http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/title.cgi?87537
Wikipedia contributors. "Many-Worlds interpretation." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 12 July 2020. Web. 30 July 2020. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Many-worlds_interpretation
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