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I'm looking for the title and author of this short story. The premise is that the main character invents a time machine, but when he travels to the past, there is nothing but void and when he travels to the future there is nothing but chaotic, unformed matter.

The conclusion of the time traveller is that the present is like a train on a single track using the unformed matter of the future to create existence in the present, and once the matter has been used it leaves nothing behind, hence the void of the past.

The story was in an anthology and was probably written in the 50s, 60s or 70s, possibly 80s, but not later. I can't remember if it was an anthology from just one author or several.

I have checked the Wikipedia page List of time travel works of fiction but the premise doesn't appear to be there.

I've also tried searching The Internet Speculative Fiction Database but with not much information to go on, my advanced searches were fruitless.

As always your help will be much appreciated.

Edit 2018-01-20

I don't want to send people off on the wrong track but I have a vague feeling the story is either one of Michael Moorcock's or in an anthology he edited.

Edit 2018-02-10

I have been through most of the titles in this advanced ISFDB search, but am no nearer to finding the answer. Unfortunately, a lot of titles do not contain a synopsis.

I have also asked this question at the Science Fiction and Fantasy Community

  • 2
    This sounds like the Langoliers. – Valorum Jan 6 '18 at 14:48
  • Except that nobody time travels in The Langoliers – Mr Lister Jan 6 '18 at 15:18
  • 5
    @MrLister - The entire premise of The Langoliers is time-travel. The people on the plane end up a few minutes or hours. Unlike classical time-travel stories the past isn't a place you can visit, it's just a slowly decaying still moment – Valorum Jan 6 '18 at 18:14
1

It's "Escape From Evening", a direct sequel to the aforementioned short story "The Time Dweller" in the eponymous collection.

  • Well I found the story online at Sribd but just as it was about to confirm my memories it ended! Is that how it ends in the story, or is there more? – M. Robert Gibson Mar 6 '18 at 20:45
  • There is more. Shame the story in the link is incomplete. I'm going on decades-old memory, but I recall there's a lot more after that, including a concluding conversation about the nature of time. – Paul Beardsley Mar 7 '18 at 21:43
  • You must have a good memory then! A friend of mine has got a copy of The Time Dweller and he's confirmed it's the story I was thinking of, so thank you. – M. Robert Gibson Mar 8 '18 at 19:32
  • You're welcome. My memory is great when it comes to decades-old stories about time travel. When it comes to important things... Not so great! – Paul Beardsley Mar 9 '18 at 21:35
5

This could be "Flux" by Michael Moorcock (actually this is a collaboration with Barrington J Bayley, but often the author attribution solely given to Moorcock). Originally published in 1963.

The story has been reprinted multiple times. As shown in this entry on the Internet Speculative Fiction Database. This makes it likely that it could have been encountered at any time from the 1960s to the early 21st century.

ADDENDUM:

I have read "Flux" and while it has some concepts similar to the story I thought I remembered It's not exactly what I recalled. That story was basically about a fellow taking a time machine into either the past or future and only finding a formless void. Essentially the past and future do not exist beyond the present.

There is a second possibility. A Moorcock short story published in New Worlds in 1964, so it is in the same ball park, called "The Time Dweller". I regret don't have access to a copy of this story, so I can't any comparisons. Hopefully someone with a more extensive collection of Moorcock's works may have better luck at confirming or refuting the possibility of it being 'The Time Dweller."

On the positive side, so far everyone seems to think it's a Moorcock story.

  • The OP's description reminded me of "Flux" but the premise seems different to me. The OP's "train on a single track" analogy does not really seem to describe the "Flux" world. If the OP wishes to check out "Flux" it's available at the Internet Archive. – user14111 Jan 20 '18 at 9:09
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    @user14111 I'm not entirely sure myself. This is the problem with memory. I definitely remember a Moorcock story where only the present seems to exist & not the past or future. So this may not be it. Thanks for the link to the story. The OP can decide for himself if it's right. – a4android Jan 20 '18 at 9:19
  • In the back of my mind I had an idea it was Moorcock, but I could only find reference to Behold The Man in relation to time travel. It could be the one I'm looking for but my memory has twisted how I remember it. Interesting that @a4android remembers a similar story, so we might be onto something. I'll just have to re-read all my Moorcocks! – M. Robert Gibson Jan 20 '18 at 11:07
  • @user14111 I gave "Flux" a quick read through. There are distinct similarities, but enough differences to suspect it might not be the correct story. I have a second suggestion for a possible candidate. I edited my answer accordingly. Good luck with the hunt. – a4android Jan 20 '18 at 12:48
  • 1
    @RossPresser Too true! Bayley outweirded the best of them. His writing deserves more love for its sheer audacity and verve. – a4android Oct 12 '18 at 1:29
3

This is a bit of a long shot, but how about Time Is the Simplest Thing by Clifford D. Simak? Time travel isn't the main point of the novel (in spite of the title!), but the main character does discover that he can move into the past and future.

Only things that are dead in the present appear in the past -- so it is a desolate place with no plants, no animals, no people. Furthermore, while non-alive things people built -- bridges, houses, machines -- are visible, they are ghosts that he can see but not touch.

The future is a gray formless chaos/void.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Time_is_the_Simplest_Thing Written in 1961 and published by Doubleday and in Astounding in a shorter form, a novella, "The Fisherman."

  • @user14111 Quite right! Project Fishhook, was the paranormal space travel organization. I've edited it. – Mark Olson Feb 10 '18 at 21:27
  • It's still not clear from what you've written that "The Fisherman" was the title given to the ASF serial. (By the way Astounding had officially changed its name to Analog by that time.) philsp.com/visco/Magazines/ASF/ASF_0365.jpg – user14111 Feb 10 '18 at 21:46
  • @MarkOlson this is a contender, but I do seem to recall some sort of machine was involved. The problem, of course, is the passage of time (mine) and my memory perhaps confusing things. – M. Robert Gibson Feb 11 '18 at 11:23
  • @M. Robert Gibson: Yes and no. In Time Is the Simplest Thing, they have what are called the "Star Machines" which assist the telepath to send his or her mind to the stars, but unless I'm misremembering, the hero doesn't need them any more. In fact, his time travelling is done first to escape a mob, but second to remove a Star Machine from the hands of a bad guy.I don't know if that helps any! (And I know what you mean about memories getting melded. I remembered the interesting images of the past and future, but until I re-skimmed the book, had forgotten entirely why he time traveled.) – Mark Olson Feb 11 '18 at 13:06

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