28 October 2003
Pullman has introduced this book in these words:
"This book contains a story and several other things. The other things might be connected with the story, or they might not; they might be connected to stories that haven't appeared yet. It's not easy to tell.
It's easy to imagine how they might have turned up, though. The world is full of things like that: old postcards, theatre programmes, leaflets about bomb-proofing your cellar, greetings cards, photograph albums, holiday brochures, instruction booklets for machine tools, maps, catalogues, railway timetables, menu cards from long-gone cruise liners - all kinds of things that once served a real and useful purpose, but have now become cut adrift from the things and the people they relate to.
They might have come from anywhere. They might have come from other worlds. That scribbled-on map, that publisher's catalogue - they might have been put down absent-mindedly in another universe, and been blown by a chance wind through an open window, to find themselves after many adventures on a market-stall in our world.
All these tattered old bits and pieces have a history and a meaning. A group of them together can seem like the traces left by an ionising particle in a bubble chamber: they draw the line of a path taken by something too mysterious to see. That path is a story, of course. What scientists do when they look at the line of bubbles on the screen is work out the story of the particle that made them: what sort of particle it must have been, and what caused it to move in that way, and how long it was likely to continue.
Dr Mary Malone would have been familiar with that sort of story in the course of her search for dark matter. But it might not have occurred to her, for example, when she sent a postcard to an old friend shortly after arriving in Oxford for the first time, that that card itself would trace part of a story that hadn't yet happened when she wrote it. Perhaps some particles move backwards in time; perhaps the future affects the past in some way we don't understand; or perhaps the universe is simply more aware than we are. There are many things we haven't yet learned how to read.
The story in this book is partly about that very process."