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Time Police

There are many fictional sf organizations whose brief is to regulate Time Travel and attempt to nullify dangerous Time Paradoxes or rewritings of history through Changewar. Inevitably the time police also work to guard their own existence. An early story in Poul Anderson's Time Patrol series, "Delenda Est" (December 1955 F&SF), features some soul-searching about the elimination of an alternate – and in several ways attractive – timeline which through no fault of its inhabitants has replaced the version regarded by the Time Patrol as "real". Well-meaning guardians of time in Isaac Asimov's The End of Eternity (1955) steer history along safe paths which ultimately doom humanity to stagnation on Earth: Eternity, the policing body, must be eliminated for the sake of galaxy-wide Space Flight. This notion is echoed in the deliriously complex Dinosaur Beach (1971) by Keith Laumer, where the fabric of time is increasingly knotted and fragmented by successive, warring human time-regulators, and the stability of a final Time Travel-free history can be achieved only by AI time police willing to accept their own erasure. It goes without saying that both factions in a Changewar tend to regard themselves as legitimate time police and their counterparts as irresponsible chrono-criminals.

John Brunner's Times without Number (fixup 1962; rev 1974) ironically features a Society of Time struggling to preserve a history which is not our own – one in which the Spanish Armada overcame England. The time police of Robert Silverberg's comic Up the Line (1969) eventually put an end to the protagonist and his dangerous fixation on Sex with ancestresses. In Diana Wynne Jones's A Tale of Time City (1987), the eponymous City outside time functions like a more genial and shambolic version of Asimov's Eternity, attempting to maintain stability. Terry Pratchett's later Discworld stories feature the History Monks, who benevolently manipulate time and history, and whose operations are delineated with some hard-sf rigour despite the fantasy setting – most notably in Thief of Time (2001) and Night Watch (2002). The various secret British Civil Service departments in Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next sequence, opening with The Eyre Affair (2001), include a time-police division known as the ChronoGuard.

In H Beam Piper's Paratime Police/Lord Kalvan stories, such as Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen (fixup 1965; vt Gunpowder God 1978), there is no travel into the past or future. Here the Paratime Police prevent exploitation of Parallel Worlds by "sidewise" time-travellers based in more advanced timelines. The "Concern" in Iain Banks's Transition (2009) similarly operates sideways in time, shaping the futures of various Earths by use of foreknowledge gained from out-of-step timelines where history has progressed further.

Unusually, the Time Police of J G Ballard's "Chronopolis" (June 1960 New Worlds) are not concerned with Time Travel but enforce laws forbidding the manufacture and maintenance of clocks. Further stories featuring time police include Kaje Baker's Company novels, Barrington J Bayley's The Fall of Chronopolis (1974), and Warren C Norwood's Time Police sequence. The AI "Eschaton" of Charles Stross's Singularity Sky (2003) deploys various agents as anti-time-police to enforce its strict ban on any time travel which might affect or cancel the Eschaton's own emergence.

Television series featuring such history-preserving activities include Captain Z-Ro (1955-1956), Doctor Who (1963-current) in some of its storylines, and Voyagers (1982-1983). A relevant film is Timecop (1994); a relevant novel series is the Time Police sequence by Mel Odom and Warren G Norwood, beginning with Time Police: Vanished! (1988). [DRL]

see also: Chrononauts; The Journeyman Project; Secret Masters.

Entry from The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (2011-current) edited by John Clute and David Langford.
Accessed 05:23 am on 30 September 2023.