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A time viewer is a hypothetical device, often featured in works of fiction, that can display events occurring in another time, usually in the past but also (less commonly) in the future.[1]

In the real world, telescopes are considered to be able to view into the past of celestial objects and events as seen from Earth, with NASA referring to the night sky itself as a "time viewer."[2][3]

Science fiction

T. L. Sherred

In the 1947 novella E for Effort, T. L. Sherred describes a time viewer built by a poor genius who cannot get people to take him seriously. The genius uses his invention to create historical movies which he then shows in his decrepit theater. He is discovered by a Hollywood producer, who is able to exploit the viewer to create first movies, then historical reconstructions, and finally political documentaries. The last part is his undoing, as he exposes every crime committed in the name of patriotism and ideology by world leaders, resulting in the collapse of government, followed by nuclear war.

Lewis Padgett

For the short story "Private Eye" (1949), Henry Kuttner and C.L. Moore (writing together as Lewis Padgett) envision a society in which time-viewing makes it virtually impossible to commit a murder undetected, but which allows pleas of temporary insanity and right of self-defense. The protagonist schemes to provoke an attack by his victim, and then kill the man in (ostensible) self-defense. The murder weapon is an antique scalpel used as a letter opener, whose presence between them is carefully orchestrated by the murderer. The story was dramatized for BBC1 as The Eye, an episode of the science fiction anthology series Out of the Unknown.

Horace Gold

Horace Gold's "The Biography Project"" (1949) published in Galaxy Science Fiction magazine featured a time viewer which could film the past without sound. According to author Paul J. Nahin, Gold's story may have influenced Italian Benedictine monk Pellegrino Ernetti to claim to have used a similar device called a "chronovisor" to obtain a photograph of the Crucifixion of Jesus.[4]

Philip K. Dick

In Philip K. Dick's short story "Paycheck" (1953), Rethrick Construction recruits an electronic engineer to build a machine that can view the future. After the job is done, the man's memory is erased, and he finds that he is pursued by secret police. It was adapted as the film of the same title in 2003.

Isaac Asimov

"The Dead Past" (1956) by Isaac Asimov concerns the clandestine invention of a time viewer called a chronoscope, after research into the subject is suppressed. The reason for this is revealed in the story's conclusion: Visual monitoring with a time viewer deprives others of privacy. The chronoscope is also a name that Victorian-era scientist Charles Wheatstone gave to his invention for measuring small intervals of time.

Damon Knight

Damon Knight's 1976 short story "I See You" describes an invention that allows its operator to view anyone at any point in time.

John Varley

For his 1983 novel Millennium, John Varley conceived a time viewer operated by time travellers. The viewer disallows its operators from viewing places where they have been or will be. When the viewer screens a temporal paradox, the image blurs as alternate futures overlap.

José Carlos Somoza

The novel Zig Zag (2006) by José Carlos Somoza describes a string theory-based technology that makes it possible to produce still images of past events.

Other stories

Time viewers have a relatively minor part in the following novels and short stories:

In film

In television

In video games

See also


  1. ^ "Themes : Time Viewer : SFE : Science Fiction Encyclopedia". Retrieved 2015-11-30.
  2. ^ Anderson, Alaric (February 2, 2015). "It Is Scientifically Possible To Physically See Back In Time, In Real Time". TechReader. Retrieved July 15, 2022. When we look out at the known universe, we are looking out into the past, essentially time-traveling into the past. The greater we build our telescopes, the further we see into the past.
  3. ^ "Enduring Quests - Daring Visions: NASA Astrophysics in the Next Three Decades" (PDF). National Aeronautics and Space Administration. 2013. p. 43. Retrieved July 15, 2022. Remarkably, the whole of cosmic history is laid out for our inspection. By looking at objects that are far away, we are looking back in time and seeing them as they were in the past. In a way, nature has provided us with a 'time viewer' that enables us to address the age-old question, 'How did we get here?'
  4. ^ Nahin, Paul J. "Holy Sci-Fi!: Where Science Fiction and Religion Intersect". Springer. p. 153. Retrieved 11 July 2022.