In Search of Lost Time

Two interesting science-fiction stories that I read years ago stay in my mind, but I don’t recall the authors or titles. If you remember either of these, please let me know. (My vague feeling is that the first story is by someone famous, perhaps Asimov or someone like that, and that the second story is by someone less known.)

Piercing the veil 1. A device is invented to see into the past. But it can’t go farther than a few decades back, so it’s no use for finding out the truth about ancient history (by contrast with the next story). The ultimate upshot of the story is that the device means a drastic social change, the end of privacy forever, because five seconds ago is still the past, and so anyone can watch what anyone else is doing anywhere. (Libertarian sidenote: if this were indeed to happen it might initially seem to make resistance to government much harder, since the state could spy on everyone easily; but I’m not sure it would, since – assuming, as the story does, that everyone has one of these devices – the true actions and motivations of government officials would be much easier to expose. Also, determining guilt or innocence in court would be a lot easier. But these are my own remarks; the story didn’t explore these political implications.)

2. A team of time travelers is going back to the first century to observe the life of Jesus and find out what’s true and what’s false in the Biblical account of his career. A Catholic priest is invited to join the team but is reluctant. Everyone assumes that his reluctance stems from fear of finding out that the Church’s teachings about Jesus are mistaken. But in fact it turns out that the priest’s belief in the historicity of the Gospels is perfectly firm, and the real reason for his reluctance is his fear that he couldn’t honestly look Jesus in the eye and claim to have been a “good and faithful servant.”

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9 Responses to In Search of Lost Time

  1. iceberg June 12, 2007 at 10:10 pm #

    I remember the first story you mention- I think its a short story by Arthur C. Clarke.

  2. iceberg June 12, 2007 at 11:21 pm #

    It was Asimov after all, though Clarke also collaborated on a book called “The Light of Other Days” featuring the same technology called “WormCam”.

    Check this out: –

    A few other treatments not listed in that afterword are worth noting. All turn on the realization that the ability to view any segment of the past extends to effectively present times, just a second or a millisecond ago. T.L. Sherred’s 1947 `E For Effort’ is deeply pessimistic about a time-viewer’s impact on society, and argues — without going into issues of personal privacy — that the paranoid military would launch a devastating first strike before their secrets could be laid bare. Isaac Asimov’s `The Dead Past’ (1956) leads up to `There will be no such thing as privacy’ as its shock punchline, and closes on a note of tight-lipped horror at the anticipated new era of sickly voyeurism. But in `I See You’ (1976) Damon Knight responds or seems to respond to Asimov with his contrary vision of an ultimate glass-walled utopia free from guilt and shame: `Forever.’

  3. Joel Schlosberg June 12, 2007 at 11:39 pm #

    Yeah, “E for Effort” is a famous device-that-can-see-back-in-time story, and the idea of being able to find out what really happened with Jesus plays a big part in the plot.

    Another famous one that the article didn’t mention is “Private Eye” by Lewis Padgett — the premise for this was that since all human activity can be seen, criminal law depends completely on motive, since that’s the only thing that’s still private; and the protagonist tries to get away with murder by spending a lot of time setting it up so that it will look like an accident. It’s also known for a great, pulpish cover:

    “The Rescuer” by Arthur Porges is about a time traveler who attempts to go back in time to rescue Jesus from crucifixion — what happens (spoiler!) is that the time travel machine is sabotaged by somebody who realizes what he’s up to, and in the story time travel is such a massive, Apollo-like project that it can’t be repeated. The thing is, the story was relatively late (1962) but that particular area had almost never been done by the time, it was still considered a hot potato (and the story was controversial at the time); even though there had been plenty of stories about, say, trying to save Lincoln from assassination. The story pointed out that if a typical Christian really had to choose a figure to save, they’d choose Jesus (since after all, the stakes are higher).

  4. Norman Horn June 13, 2007 at 8:39 am #

    A recent Denzel Washington film, Deja Vu, uses a mechanism similar to Story #1… But you should watch the film. it’s pretty good except for the statism. you know the drill.

  5. Tim June 13, 2007 at 9:15 am #

    I think Arthur Clarke wrote a short story that is vaguely similar to story #2 too. It was a space rather than time travel yarn. A jesuit scientist monk is recruited to a mission to explore the archaeological finds on a remote planet whose civilization has been destroyed by a nearby super-nova. The devout monk discovers a great and wonderful culture he comes to love. Then he deciphers a text that enables him to determine the date of the great disaster. It coincides with the nativity and the Star of Bethlehem.

  6. Joel Schlosberg June 13, 2007 at 10:47 am #


    The story you’re thinking of is indeed by Clarke, it’s called “The Star”.

  7. Dominic June 13, 2007 at 1:41 pm #

    Might I also point you to an earlier story also titled “The Light of Other Days” by Bob Shaw. It concerns a method of viewing the “recent” past via “slow glass”. The story is online until Friday at’s fiction archive, at

    After Friday, it will be gone when the site takes its fiction offline, so get it while you can.

  8. Matthew Claxton June 13, 2007 at 7:22 pm #

    Wow. I sold two stories to scifiction a couple of years ago, and nobody even told me they were shutting down. Thanks for the notice, Dominic.

    Here’s the last plug I’ll ever do for my scifiction stories: read them. They’re not crap.

  9. Administrator June 13, 2007 at 8:52 pm #

    Thanks, all.

    By the way, when scifiction goes away it will (presumably) leave its shadow at the wayback machine.

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