The Chronology Protection Case
A Film by Jay Kensinger
based on the short story by Paul Levinson.

Paul's Website:  www.sff.net/people/paullevinson

The Chronology Protection Case is available in eBook format from:
Fictionwise List Price $1.05

But first, a brief (and somewhat edited) excerpt from the Chronology Protection Case...

"Dr. D'Amato?" she asked.

"Yes?"

"I saw you on television last week--on that cable talk show. You said you had a passion for physics." Her voice had a breathy elegance.

"True," I said. Forensic science was my profession, but cutting edge physics was my love. Too bad there wasn't a way to nab rapist murderers with spectral traces.

"Look, I'm calling you about my husband--he's disappeared. I haven't heard from him in two days."

"Oh," I said. "Well that's really not my department. I can connect you to--"

"No, please," she said. "It's not what you think. I'm sure his disappearance has something to do with his work. He's a physicist too."

Our Story So Far...

Left:  Author Paul Levinson, Filmmaker Jay Kensinger / Right: Jay autographs a program.

The Chronology Protection Case started out as a short story by Paul Levinson. One of his more noted ones and the one where he introduced his popular recurring character, the forensic scientist Phil D'Amato.

Film student Jay Kensinger had done a variety of short subjects and wanted to tackle a full length piece, something that told a story from beginning to end.

He decided on Paul's novelette because he liked the story, got together a case of friends, wrote the screenplay, bought donuts for the volunteer crew...and made a pretty good SF Film.

He didn't tell Paul until quite a while later, but when he met author Greg Bear at a signing and told him about it, Greg told Jay that Paul would be delighted, and that he could tell him that Greg had said so.

Paul was, especially at how well his character had been realized. Then the two of them started looking for a venue to show it in.

Paul and Jay grabbed me at I-Con. Come see our film tonight. It's a premiere they said. There'll be limos and starlets they said. It'll be fun.

Well, it was fun anyway.

Now, make no mistake, it's not a slick production. Jay said that the total cost of the project could be measured in digital video tape and donuts. But I like that. To me it just means the audience has a chance to get a little more involved in the picture as they let their minds smooth over the rough edges. If this had been done with a real budget, I'm sure I wouldn't have liked it as much. True, there are places where shooting with one camera and no real lighting yield less than perfect results, but so what?

It's also fun to watch because Jay made use of a variety of desktop video techniques to add some decent effects here and there...which add a lot to the film.

If the Sci-Fi Channel is looking for some interesting original content, they should start with films like The Chronology Protection Case. A late, late night student SF film feature would be worth watching, and might give Jay and others some useful exposure.

Chronology Protection Case (stills)

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Paul Levinson, on the origins of "The Chronology Protection Case".

The seed of "The Chronology Protection Case" resided in a very short essay -- "Telnet to the Future?" -- I published in WIRED Magazine in July 1994. It argued in about 250 words that time travel was impossible -- grandfather paradox, contrary to free will, ad hoc hypotheses for alternate universes, etc. It contended that even if time travel were possible mathematically, theoretically, that the paradoxes it engendered would make it impossible to ever realize.

I got a whole bunch of e-mail in response -- most from theoretical physicists saying that mathematical possibility trumped paradox in reality. One e-mail, however, conceded that Hawking felt the same way as I did, and even coined a phrase -- "chronology protection conjecture" -- to describe how the universe would prevent time travel, even if mathematically possible.

What Hawking had in mind was that the Universe would move into place certain physical obstacles, certain physical states, to prevent time travel from occurring. In other words, it would alter conditions -- gravity, heat, weak force, whatever -- to prevent the time travel conduit from working.

But to my deranged, sf-mind, another possibility suggested itself: Hawking had been using the Universe as a metaphor, instead of conditions changing to prevent time travel, the Universe changed them. But why not carry that perspective a little further? If the Universe was bent on stopping time travel, why stop at just altering physical conditions at the last moment? Why not strike at the human beings who were trying to start to time travel, who were mucking with the Universe, in the first place? And so, "The Chronology Protection Case" was born.

I wrote it in a fever pitch -- about 10 days -- in July 1994. My father had just died, and I was in one of these states in which everything else -- including writing a thousand words a day -- seemed easy. I sent the story off to Stan Schmidt, editor of Analog, at the end of the month.

At that stage in my writing career, I had sold but one story to Stan -- a 1000-word tiny piece called "The Way of Flesh". I was a barely published science fiction writer. But Stan loved the story. And I knew, as soon as I heard back from him, that this story -- as well as my career as an sf-writer -- had legs.

Stan made his customarily savvy suggestions. The most significant was about Phil D'Amato, which I don't want to reveal here, because it would be a spoiler for the movie. But suffice to say that Stan encouraged me to expand the tale, to give Phil more room, and in fact I ended up adding about 2500 words.

This proved to be a crucial development, indeed, as Phil D'Amato would go on to tell his tales in "The Copyright Notice Case" and "The Mendelian Lamp Case" both published in Analog, and The Silk Code (1999) and The Consciousness Plague (2002), two novels from Tor. I'm currently working on my third Phil D'Amato novel, Last Takes.

"The Chronology Protection Case" was published in Analog in September 1995. It was not a cover story; my name was not even listed on the spine. But I knew from the day it was published that it would have an impact. I received e-mail and phone calls. The story was nominated for Nebula and Sturgeon awards. It went on to be reprinted four times, and still counting...

And, then, in February of 2002, I received an e-mail from Jay Kensinger.... but I'll let him tell that part of the story. I'll just say, here, that there are few pleasures as exquisite for an author as seeing your story brought to life -- and brought to life so well, so truly to its spirit -- on the screen....

          -- Paul Levinson

There was a letter in the mailbox...Paul knew it could mean only one thing...

Namely that he had mail. What he couldn' know was that the relative anonymity of his life, I mean, sure he's written some pretty good SF, and been SFWA President through some interesting times, but none of that could compare with what the universe, and Jay, had in store.

He tore open the letter. He read:

Dear Mr. Levinson:

I've made a short amateur student film based on one of your novellas for my own education on the whole process of film making.

The film is about 40 minutes long, shot and edited on Hi8 video. The  story is based on "The Chronology Protection Case", a story you published in Jack Dann's Nebula Awards 32.

I would first of all like to apologize for making a film based on your own story without your permission. Please understand that this was only for my own personal experience in filmmaking, and I wanted to concentrate on the craft of filmmaking and not worry about writing my own story. I needed something thought-provoking, character driven, and entertaining; your novella had all these qualities.

I completed this short film last year, and was nervous about telling you about it, especially due to your increase in stories about Phil D'Amato.

It was shown only once at a party for about fifty of my friends, who thought it was very nice--although I did provide free beer so I can't be certain of their judgment.

I obviously do not plan to make any revenue from this film; it was a student exercise only, and now that the film is done the used Hi8 tapes will go in a  box in my room to gather dust...However, I was wondering if you'd like a copy for your own amusement. At the very least, the tape would be good evidence if your publisher decided to sue the crap out of me or something.

I was thinking of putting this film away without telling you about it, however, I had spoken with Greg Bear at his book promotion at the Book Cafe in Capitola, California and he said that you'd be cool with it; in fact, he told  me to tell you that he said you'd be cool with it, so there you go...

Please think of me as a simple fan-boy who just wanted to have a good vehicle for his first journey into the world of filmmaking. In fact, the more harmless image of me you can think of, the better.

If you'd like a copy, please email me back, or you can call me at the numbers below.

Respectfully yours,

-- Jay Kensinger

sa 05.22.02