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Entry updated 21 June 2022. Tagged: Theme.

Time Travel need not employ the specific technological focus of a Time Machine. Rather than deal with a machine's theory and construction, or such consequences of its (or a Time Gate's) repeated use as Time Paradoxes, many authors prefer to stipulate a "natural", usually one-off, accident that effects whatever time-transfer the story requires. In this encyclopedia's Terminology, the device is referred to as a timeslip. It is popular – especially in fantasy – for its narrative economy, minimizing sf explanation and proceeding directly to the story. The avoidance of overt sf trappings has likewise made the theme especially attractive to Mainstream Writers of SF.

A classic sf example is the lightning bolt which in L Sprague de Camp's Lest Darkness Fall (December 1939 Unknown; 1941; rev 1949) hurls the twentieth-century protagonist into the past; this transit is described within the book itself as a "time-slip". Mark Twain uses the impact of a crowbar to similar if less plausible effect in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (1889; vt A Yankee at the Court of King Arthur 1889), while earthquakes are responsible in J Leslie Mitchell's Three Go Back (1932; cut and bowdlerized 1953). The Hiroshima bomb causes the unfortunate title character of Gerald Kersh's "The Brighton Monster" (21 February 1948 Saturday Evening Post as "The Monster"; vt in The Brighton Monster, coll 1953) to timeslip 200 years into the past. Isaac Asimov makes then-fashionable play with unknown side effects of nuclear reactions to explain away a transfer into the Far Future in Pebble in the Sky (1950); a World War Three nuclear attack does the same in Robert A Heinlein's Farnham's Freehold (1964); and an accident with a wrongly configured radio telescope projects a man's mind into the far future in James Blish's Midsummer Century (April 1972 F&SF; rev 1972). Less dramatic but equally convenient timeslips occur in Jack Finney's Time and Again (1970) and Richard Matheson's Bid Time Return (1975; vt Somewhere in Time 1980), in both of which the mechanism is self-Hypnosis; the latter was filmed as Somewhere in Time (1980).

J W Dunne's theories of Time gave some respectability to the notion of timeslips, leading to their use in the time plays of J B Priestley. In John Dickson Carr's three timeslip detective novels, twentieth-century visitors encounter past crimes, like the London police officer transported to the early days of Scotland Yard in Fire, Burn! (1956); the notion is reprised, with a smaller shift from 2006 to 1973, in the BBC television series Life on Mars (2006-2007) (see Life on Mars).

Timeslips in Military SF generally bring modern Weapons – or knowledge of how to construct them – into past conflicts: Dean McLaughlin's "Hawk Among the Sparrows" (July 1968 Analog) thrusts a missile-armed fighter plane into World War One and The Final Countdown (1980) takes the USS Nimitz back to just before the Pearl Harbor attack (to little effect), while Eric Flint's 1632 (2001) and its many sequels see a modern American community stranded in seventeenth-century Germany during the Thirty Years' War (whose course it drastically reshapes). S M Stirling's Nantucket trilogy, beginning with Island in the Sea of Time (1998), displaces the modern island of Nantucket 3000 years into the past, again precipitating an Alternate History. A notable Japanese take on the theme is Ryō Hanmura's Sengoku Jieitai ["Civil War Self-Defence Force"] (1974), filmed as Sengoku Jieitai (1981).

The possibility of altering the past is anathema to Marxist historical materialism, making the very prospect of timeslip stories unpopular with authoritarian Communist states. Such objections led to the so-called "ban on time travel" imposed by censors in China in the wake of Huang Yi's Xun Qin Ji ["Searching for the Qin"] (1997); whereas their removal in post-Soviet Russia led to an explosion, early in the twenty-first century, of so called popadantsvo novels, in which a figure from the present day is magically whisked, usually through Identity Transfer, into the mind of a historical figure at a particular Jonbar Point. Notable examples include the many Alternate History novels of German Romanov and Georgiy Savitsky, in which veterans of Russia's wars in Afghanistan and Chechnya use their acquired expertise in the service of Changewars for the good of Russia's future, or indeed the survival of Russia's imperial past. Popadantsvo stories, as with similar tropes in many a Light Novel in Japan, often dismiss the why of time-travel in a couple of sentences, keen to rush as swiftly as possible to the exercise of changing history. The Japanese variant, however, often has less to do with travel in time, and more to do with travel to a Parallel World, particularly that of a cherished Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game.

On a smaller scale, there are numerous stories in which future newspapers and similar information sources reach the present day via timeslip. Some examples are: The Jest of Hahalaba (January 1927 Atlantic Monthly; 1928 chap) by Lord Dunsany, a play loosely adapted for Cinema as It Happened Tomorrow (1944) directed by René Clair; The Gap in the Curtain (1932) by John Buchan, granting a vision if not a physical copy of the London Times from one year hence; "The Queer Story of Brownlow's Newspaper" (February 1932 Strand) by H G Wells, with a 1971 newspaper; "Snulbug" (December 1941 Unknown) by Anthony Boucher, whose newspaper proves to be only notionally futuristic; "Of Time and Third Avenue" (October 1951 F&SF) by Alfred Bester, with a 1990 almanac; "What We Learned from This Morning's Newspaper" (in Infinity Four, anth 1972, ed Robert Hoskins) by Robert Silverberg; and The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy (1979) by Douglas Adams, in which a complete set of the Encyclopedia Galactica slips back through time for the sake of a punchline. A Cinema example is Back to the Future Part II (1989), where a future book of sports trivia provides useful information for placing bets; in Television, the future-newspaper trope is central to the series Early Edition (1996-2000).

Another view of timeslips considers them as analogous to slipped geological faults in Time, bringing different strata of history into geographical proximity. Slippage of this kind features in "Sidewise in Time" (June 1934 Astounding) by Murray Leinster – in which, strictly speaking, portions of different Parallel Worlds rather than different eras are brought together; October the First Is Too Late (1966) by Fred Hoyle; "Lost Ground" (December 1966 New Worlds) by David I Masson – which wittily refers to its patchwork of adjoining time-zones as the "poikilochronism"; the Television series The Fantastic Journey (1977); and Time's Eye (2004) by Arthur C Clarke and Stephen Baxter, which inter alia pits Alexander the Great against the Mongol hordes of Genghis Khan. A similar geographical slip seems to occur in Robert Charles Wilson's Darwinia (1998), with Europe reverting in 1912 to a kind of Alternate History prehistoric ecology: in fact this Earth inhabits a Virtual Reality simulation which has become corrupted.

Several authors have played with the concept of minimalist timeslips which displace individuals very slightly in time, so that they are both part of yet subtly alienated from the present. Brian Aldiss's "Man in His Time" (April 1965 Science Fantasy), with its displacement of just 3.3077 minutes, is the definitive treatment. The notion makes an earlier appearance, though to little effect, in the film Timeslip (1956) and – based on his script for this film – Charles Eric Maine's The Isotope Man (1957). Eric Brown homages the Aldiss story in "The Time-Lapsed Man" (Summer 1988 Interzone). [DRL/JonC]

see also: Ronald A Knox.

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