Summary: Did Asimov's time travel novel The End of Eternity influence other writers?

In 1954, Isaac Asimov took a rejected short story and turned it into the clever time travel novel The End of Eternity, published in 1955 by Doubleday.

The Eternity of the title is an organization carefully isolated from the rest of the temporal world, staffed by male humans called Eternals recruited from different eras of human history commencing with the twenty-seventh century. The Eternals are capable of traveling “upwhen” and “downwhen” within Eternity and entering the conventional temporal world at almost any point of their choice, apart from a section of the far future which they mysteriously cannot enter. Collectively they form a corps of Platonic guardians who carry out carefully calculated and planned strategic minimum actions, called Reality Changes, within the temporal world to minimize human suffering. — Wikipedia

He describes the elaborate methodology that had been created to control temporal changes,

[Consider] the position of Asimov’s “Eternals,” the characters in The End of Eternity who stand outside of time, observing and controlling the vast majority who still live within it. The Eternals, contrary to what their name suggests, do not live forever; they age and die just as normal people do. But they have such extensive powers of technical analysis (their highest-ranked functionaries are called Computers, who are superior to Sociologists, who are above Technicians) that they are capable of predicting what will happen to any individual human or group of humans. And because they also have at their beck-and-call an easy form of time travel—consisting of “kettles” that whizz along preset pathways in the fourth dimension, taking them many centuries “upwhen” or “downwhen”—they can actually enter into history at specific points in time and repeatedly change it.

With a number of useful concepts and terms for any meddler in time.

These so-called Reality Changes might involve something as small as moving a container from one shelf to another, or as large as engineering the deaths of a dozen people in a crash. The aim is always to produce the Maximum Desired Response (M.D.R.) with the Minimum Necessary Change (M.N.C.): to insure, in short, that the unpleasant or anti-social or generally disruptive event does not occur, and thus to keep mankind in a state of comfortable if slightly dull equilibrium. — threepennyreview.com (I'm reponsible for the bold font.)

I find his concepts of the M.D.R. and the M.N.C. so compelling that were I to set out on a career of temporal incursions—to borrow a term from another fictional universe—I would try to find a way to employ them.

I've wondered if Asimov's book was a one-off, or if other writers have adopted the concepts, if not the terms. After all, the three laws of robotics spread far beyond his own work.

Robert Silverberg wrote a wonderful time travel story in 1969, Up the Line, but, while having much more human characters, it's also less rigorous in approach.

The closest I've come is the two part Voyager episode from 1997, The Year of Hell.

[Voyager attracted] the attention of the Krenim "time ship", the gigantic ship-based temporal weapon that is causing the temporal disruptions. Krenim scientist Annorax (Kurtwood Smith) had built the ship to cause "temporal incursions" to be used to erase events from history to strengthen the Krenim Imperium. However, the resulting changes also cause a plague that kills millions of Krenim, including his wife, and Annorax has been seeking a full restoration of his species for the past 200 years. — Wikipedia

Annorax is forever calculating, trying to figure out the correct set of changes to restore both the Imperium and his wife. It feels close to Asimov's imaginings.

But forty-two years separate the two works. I have to wonder if there was anything in between.


1 Answer 1


The basic plot of the novella Palimpsest by Charles Stross, published in 2009, is quite similar:

Welcome to the Stasis, the clandestine, near-omnipotent organization that stands at the heart of Charles Stross’s Hugo Award-winning novella, Palimpsest.
    By mastering the mysteries of the Timegate, the Stasis has repeatedly steered mankind away from the brink of utter extinction. Through countless millennia, through the “mayfly flickerings” of innumerable transient civilizations, its members have intervened at critical junctions, reseeding the galaxy with viable potential survivors. In the process, they have reconfigured the basic structure of the universe, all in the name of human continuity.

Charles Stross has acknowledged the connection on his blog:

Q: If you could re-write one sci-fi (or fantasy) classic, which one would you choose, and why?

A: If I wanted to do that, I wouldn't announce which one I was going to pick on in advance. But for what it's worth, I've already done it a couple of times, deliberately or accidentally. (I didn't re-read "The End of Eternity" before writing Palimpsest, for example, because Asimov's prose style back then was too painful to subject myself to voluntarily.)

  • Ah, I haven't read it. It seems to be sold out and only available is somewhat expensive used hardcover copies. Do you recommend it? Commented Mar 27, 2016 at 13:14
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    @rosesunhill "Palimpsest" is included in Stross's collection Wireless, which is in print.
    – Mike Scott
    Commented Mar 27, 2016 at 13:18
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    Yes, I recommend it. I've read it in the anthology The Time Traveler's Almanac, but as Mike Scott pointed out, it's also in the collection Wireless, which costs $7.99 as paperback.
    – Ubik
    Commented Mar 27, 2016 at 13:21
  • Well, that's a good price, thanks, and thanks @MikeScott as well. I'm going to pick it up. Did Stross create a set of time change terms at all similar to Asimov's? Commented Mar 27, 2016 at 13:29
  • Sorry, I can't remember.
    – Ubik
    Commented Mar 27, 2016 at 23:29

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