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Publishers Sell Space: Time Travel, That Is : Publishing: 'It's a labor of love. This magazine is for the hundreds and thousands of people who think of time travel not as fiction, but as a real possibility,' says one of the partners who put out Travels in Time.

November 26, 1989|TRACEY KAPLAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Bill Hicks wants to travel back in time and get to know the father who deserted him when he was 7 years old.

Michael Darrow Baker has a longer journey in mind--back 4 billion years to the Precambrian Age, before life on Earth began.

Though many believe that time travel is out of this world, neither Hicks nor Baker are passively waiting for scientists to come up with a device capable of bursting through the time barrier.

Instead, the two San Fernando Valley residents are doing their part by publishing a slick newsletter every other month called Travels in Time in hopes that it will spur a major breakthrough in time travel. Although they also hope that the publication will eventually make a profit, both men acknowledge that they are unlikely to see a return on their $10,000 investment.

"It's a labor of love. This magazine is for the hundreds and thousands of people who think of time travel not as fiction, but as a real possibility," said Hicks, 42, a computer systems manager at Universal Studios.

"Someone on the East Coast--New York for instance, could read something we print that someone on the West Coast has thought of, and the whole puzzle of time travel could be solved," said Baker, 30, who worked as a technical writer before establishing his own barter company.

But even science fiction buffs, many of whom believe in the power of dreams to foster technological advances, are skeptical about the prospects of time travel.

"I wouldn't rule it out entirely, but let's just say I'm not ready to buy my ticket," said Lydia Marano, who owns Dangerous Visions, a science fiction and fantasy bookshop in Sherman Oaks. Marano is one of several bookstore owners in Los Angeles who are carrying free promotional copies of the magazine.

Baker and Hicks are not fazed by such skepticism. They say they are on a quest to unravel the mystery of time, and to prove it, they have spent about $10,000 so far to publish their newsletter.

"Time travel is the most important topic around," Hicks maintains. "Just look at all the movies and TV shows and books written about it."

But since the first issue was published in August, only about 200 people have bought subscriptions, which sell for $17.50 and include a T-shirt imprinted "Time Traveler" and a plastic membership card identifying the holder as willing to hop on a time machine, should one be invented in their lifetime. Astronomer Carl Sagan, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author and TV personality, is a subscriber, but Hicks and Baker are sending him the newsletter for free.

Bruce Pelz, a librarian at UCLA's engineering library and a science fiction historian, said Travels in Time is one of about 350 "fanzines" published monthly in the United States. He describes fanzines as magazines published by one who is fanatical about some aspect of science fiction.

But Pelz said Hicks and Baker's fanzine is unusual because they pay to have it printed, rather than typing it up on a home computer or typewriter and then photocopying it.

Baker, the younger and more effusive of the two, said he was fascinated by time travel even as a small boy. Sitting in a trendy restaurant near Universal Studios, Baker broke into song upon request, dredging up from memory ditties from defunct TV shows such as "It's About Time." Patrons looked up from their pizzas when Baker trilled, "It's about time, it's about space, it's about people from a different place. . . ."

Yet both men say their venture generally has been greeted with enthusiasm.

"They say, 'Oh, how original,' but I think they mean it tongue in cheek," Hicks said.

Last fall, on a day Baker and Hicks hope will be entered in the annals of time travel history, they were jogging in Griffith Park. They were talking about their favorite subject--the possibility of traveling backward or forward in time--when Baker proposed putting out a newsletter on the topic.

Time has whirled by since, as the two novices set out to master the art of publishing, including how to send things at bulk mail rates. (All you need do is send 100 identical pieces to qualify, Baker said.)

The six-page newsletter is printed on glossy paper sprinkled with time motifs such as drawings of clocks and hourglasses. There are articles on the physics of time travel, short stories, editorials and reviews of movies and TV shows.

Baker said he may run a classified ad in mainstream newspapers to find people who have been in comas for long periods of time. He believes they would make interesting subjects to interview for the newsletter because "they are time travelers who have stepped out of the normal flow of time."

Of course, the ultimate time traveler would be someone who was frozen and awoke in the future, Baker and Hicks said.

Then why are they personally more interested in traveling back, rather than forward, in time?

"It's human nature to think, 'What if I had done that differently?'--to erase your regrets," Hicks said.

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