To think about the temporal theories presented in The Red Wing (TRW), the reader needs to consider the importance of sound waves, or really the nature of what a wave is. Waves are an inseparable part of existence–from waves of light to waves of sound the principles of waves are enlightening. With that said, however, we do not need a degree in physics to understand the basic functions of waves as needed in understanding what is put forth regarding time and travel in TRW:
1) Sound waves decrease or increase depending upon how close or far away they are from you;
2) Light waves decrease or increase in intensity depending upon how close or far away they are from you.
By accepting these two simple rules (if you are familiar with the doppler effect, those should sound familiar), the theory of time travel in TRW is plausible. Hickman has two major ideas concerning time travel in TRW: That time is not linear, therefore, there is no paradox; and Alcubierre’s warp engine theory. Both of those ideas concern the applicability of waves.
Time is not linear, therefore, there is no paradox
While time not being linear is a conceit that mainly exists in the narrative to pay off the resolution and most of the action, it is presented in two visual themes in the series. First, the symbol of ouroboros is utilized.
Ouroboros is the symbol of the snake that eats its own tail. Hickman models his ouroboros on the image of the feathered serpent Quetzalcoatl derived from Mesoamerican beliefs. Essentially it is a symbol of knowledge and understanding that history, time , and existence is cyclical, and for Hickman, paradox free. This is an interesting juxtaposition of the ancient put against futuristic representations of the same concept and that circular nature of history plays into the second visual representation.
An early part of exposition in the series drops us in a star wars-esque briefing room, where pilots (and the audience) are briefed on how time travel is possible. A hologram is presented, in which it is explained that time is perception, and that perception of linear time is and has been misguided for most of human existence. In this future, this time and place,perception has been adjusted to realize that time is instead circular, where the temporal is realized to be “a stack of all moments, all happening at once, just at a different frequency”. Hickman is presenting the universe and its composition as being stacked upon infinite vibrating mini-layers (for more on this, check out physics scholarship on superstring theory) cause waves, or frequencies.
So Hickman uses a theory of vibrations and waves to support his idea that time is not linear and therefore no paradoxes in traveling through time can occur. This is important in moving into how time travel is possible in TRW–that the ships are using those waves to travel.
Alcubierre’s Warp Engine
All physical time travel is possible in TRW based on the theoretical idea of Miguel Alcubierre. Alcubierre (whom one of the characters in TRW mentions), theorizes that a ship could travel through time without violating a cardinal rule of physics–that nothing can travel faster than the speed of light. Alcubierre proposed an engine, one that would take an unheard of amount of energy to run, that would create a “warp bubble” around the vessel in question. As the “bubble” travels, following along the path of light, it utilizes the frequencies or waves of space. Therefore, as the ship travels in a bubble, maintaining a course with light, time expands behind it (ala a red shift) and contacts in front of it (ala a blue shift). Remember that in this concept of time in TRW time is happening all at once, and the ship travels those “different frequencies” that the cadets learned about in training allowing them to “jump” from time frequency to frequency, much like adjusting an antiquated audio dial or perhaps even a light fade switch in a household.
There is marvelous theoretical logic at work in The Red Wing concerning temporality. Like some of our most beloved hard sci-fi writers (e.g., Asimov, Clarke), Hickman and Pitarra test the theories on the page through a story of fathers, sons, and how it is hopefully never too late for us all. While the power of the familial narrative is something that Hickman has mastered as a storyteller, TRW is another example of work in the medium of comics as an inexhaustible, spectacularly inexhaustible space for creators; a space functioning as a means of communication of thoughts, ideas, speculations, and opinions about so much of our curiosity, our foibles as human beings.