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Dec 7, 2009

Time Loop


How do I get my ideas? By thinking and thinking and thinking till I'm ready to jump out the window. -Isaac Asimov
I have no doubt that Asimov was a great thinker and blessed with a great memory. He grew up as an avid science fiction fan and claimed to have not just read some of the science fiction pulp magazines but, rather, all of them. How did Asimov's personal experiences in life and his reading influence his writing?

Possibly the most famous single Asimov story is Nightfall. The story idea was given to him by Astounding Science Fiction magazine editor John Campbell. Of course, Asimov created the story, but he had to draw upon his past experiences. Asimov felt that Nightfall was the most original story he ever wrote, but he admitted that there are similarities between part of his own story and a Jack Williamson story that Asimov had read at the age of 14. Asimov was perfectly happy to accept that he probably made unconscious use of elements from the Williamson story.
I suppose that any thoroughgoing scholar who was willing to spend several years at the task could trace about every quirk in Nightfall to one story or another that appeared in science fiction magazines in the 1930s. -Isaac Asimov
In writing The Start of Eternity I wanted to include Asimov as a character in a time travel story that builds upon Asimov's own time travel novel, The End of Eternity. Of course, I could not resist putting Asimov into a time loop where future events have a causal impact on past events.

Jasper Fforde's novel The Eyre Affair includes the idea of sending back in time a copy of a play. Imagine that Shakespeare takes credit for the play without having written it. Could that actually be a Shakespeare play? What if the "actual" author of the play could not be found? What if Shakespeare then wrote other plays after having been inspired by the one (from the future) that he never wrote?

In The End of Eternity, Asimov included the "Cooper time loop", by which advanced knowledge from the future was sent back in time in order to allow a time travel device to be built in the past at a time before it should have been possible to build one. Asimov also shows the main character, Andrew Harlan, traveling through time and seeing a "copy" of himself.

Asimov's version of time travel includes the Reality Change. Time travelers can alter events in the past and create a new Reality, a new sequence of events. If a person from one Reality meets his analogue in another Reality it might not actually be "meeting yourself", but it seems close to being so, from a psychological perspective. In The Start of Eternity, Isaac Asimov from 1947 travels back in time to 1939 and meets his earlier self.

If the older Asimov from 1947 gave the younger Asimov in 1939 an idea for a story then I do not think that we would have any hesitation in saying that it was an "Asimov story". However, what if the older Asimov had a close encounter with a robot who transferred memories into Asimov? Further, what if an attempt was made to prevent Asimov from having conscious access to those robotic memories? Would there be anything significantly different about Asimov unconsciously drawing upon those "lost memories" while writing a science fiction story and what he did to write Nightfall by calling upon his experience of reading hundreds of science fiction stories?

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More importantly, is it particularly offensive to have some fun and create such a plot in a piece of fan fiction? If Asimov were here to see it, would he take offense? I hope not. Asimov wrote that time travel seems to defy physics, but science fiction writers just have too much fun with time travel to resist it.

Top Image. Photoshop was used to merge a younger and an older Asimov into one image.

Related ReadingRecursive Science Fiction.

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