When I was at school - some 40 years ago now - I recall reading a science fiction story in which at one point the boy protagonist meets a visitor from the future (or maybe just another planet) and the thing that really struck me then was the description of how he operated his "devices".

The author described how the visitor had a very small device in his hands, and made tiny movements to manipulate the device - which both the protagonist and I found remarkable. ( This was a time when radios, tvs and phones sat on the shelves and had big dials etc. )

Now that this has basically come true, I'd love to be able to re-read that.

I know it's not much to go on... but... anything?

I was into Clarke, Asimov and the likes at the time.

2 Answers 2


Perhaps you are thinking of The Mote In God's Eye, written by Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven and published in 1974. It was a small, handheld device that could communicate with other people, record audio and video, and share data with central computers.

It doesn't have time travel, but it appears to everything else.

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    That's definitely a book I've read, though I remember nothing about it, so it will be good to dig it out and see! Commented Mar 12, 2016 at 0:13
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    I read that book recently, I don't remember any device like you describe, and there was no "boy protagonist". Generally the Moties made one-time-use devices to do what they needed.
    – Paul
    Commented Mar 12, 2016 at 0:13
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    @Paul true about the boy. Even if it doesn't match, it's a great read. Heinlein called it the best first contact novel ever. Commented Mar 12, 2016 at 0:15
  • @Paul It wasn't a Motie device. Renner and, oh what's her name, the aristocrat Blaine marries, both use it. Commented Mar 12, 2016 at 0:18
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    @rosesunhill That makes sense, but doesn't match the question. No one was amazed by the little tablet things they had, and the question indicates that the time traveler/alien is the one who has the amazing device.
    – Paul
    Commented Mar 12, 2016 at 0:24

You may be remembering either 'The Traders' or 'The Merchant Princes' from the Foundation novel by Isaac Asimov. It has been a long time since I read them, so I can't remember which for sure. In one of these stories it is shown that the protagonist has far smaller and more efficient technology than any of the planets they visit, and there is a point where someone is impressed by how small the devices are. One scene I remember is when the protagonist is shown to have a personal shield, which no one had ever seen before because shields were extremely large devices, restricted to use on battleships due to their size.

  • Sounds like a similar concept - I guess sci-fi authors of the time were all seeing that our devices would go this way. It doesn't match my specific memory, though, because in this case the protagonist was a boy observing the foreign devices. Commented Mar 12, 2016 at 1:03

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