11

When I say by itself I mean that it's not worn, carried or used to carry a time traveller. It also cannot be sentient, thinking or automated in anyway, no time traveling robots please!

I'm also only looking for items that arrived from the future into the present of the story.

I haven't found a good example that I can remember, but I am only interested in the earliest published fiction featuring this trope.

9
  • @user14111 As I read the question, a return trip (to the future) is not required. (Except perhaps by the Slow Path.)
    – DavidW
    Oct 7 at 2:56
  • @DavidW correct, no return necessary
    – AncientSwordRage
    Oct 7 at 8:27
  • @DavidW Among time travellers, the "slow path" is rather called "home, the long way round" Oct 7 at 12:41
  • Does 'by itself' mean unaccompanied by a creature, or somehow managed to time travel without assistance from a creature?
    – Jon Custer
    Oct 7 at 18:23
  • 1
    As an honourable mention, in H. G. Wells' The Time Machine (1895) there is a model time machine that travels through time by itself. However, it's not known whether it travels to the future or the past, and it's never shown arriving wherever it ends up. It's kind of implied that it will just keep travelling forever, since there is nobody on board to pull the lever to make it stop.
    – N. Virgo
    Oct 8 at 15:07

4 Answers 4

20

Let's try "Mimsy Were the Borogoves" 1943 to begin with.

"Mimsy Were the Borogoves" is a science fiction short story by Lewis Padgett (a pseudonym of American writers Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore), originally published in the February 1943 issue of Astounding Science Fiction Magazine.1

Millions of years in the distant future, a posthuman scientist is attempting to build a time machine and tests it by sending a box with a hastily gathered batch of educational toys into the ancient past. When the box fails to return, he constructs another and tests it the same way, but it also fails to return.
...
The first box of toys travels back to 1942 and is discovered by a seven-year-old boy named Scott Paradine, who takes it home.

4
  • 5
    My first thought was "Little Black Bag," but this beats it by 7 years.
    – DavidW
    Oct 7 at 2:54
  • @DavidW And it beats "Child's Play" (1947) by 5 years.
    – user14111
    Oct 7 at 3:29
  • 1
    This story was adapted into a movie a while back, by the name "The Last Mimzy" if I remember right.
    – Hearth
    Oct 7 at 13:42
  • It beats Asimov's thiotimoline too: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thiotimoline. Oct 10 at 11:35
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Page 210 of Paul J. Nahin's book Time Machine Tales: The Science Fiction Adventures and Philosophical Puzzles of Time Travel gives a 1928 example:

in Lord Dunsany’s short 1928 play The Jest of Hahalaba (the inspiration for the 1944 film It Happened Tomorrow), a man obtains (via supernatural means) a copy of tomorrow’s newspaper. In it he reads his own obituary, which so shocks him that he promptly expires—thus explaining the obituary notice.

The play is available in full here, it's very short. In it, the man gets an alchemist's help in summoning the "spirit of laughter", Hahalaba, and requests "a file of one year of the Times" for the upcoming year (1929). The spirit does not appear to travel to the future to retrieve it, he just pulls a cloth from the table and reveals the requested file. So although there is some ambiguity because a magical spirit is involved, it seems like the most natural interpretation is that Hahalaba just materialized a file from the future in 1928. Hahalaba also mentions that the man can only look at it briefly and then it must be returned to "the deeps of time", so it seems like this was an actual physical artifact from the future and not just a matter of the spirit creating a new file containing information gleaned from the future.

4

Many early science fiction and fantasy stories had frame stories explaining how knowledge of their events was acquired. In the case of stories set in the future, that would require physical orjects, or at least knowledge, to pass from the future into the past.

I thought of jack Williamson's The Legion of Space (1934) But the frame story says the account comes from a 20th century man who has prophetic visions of the lives of his future descendants.

And I thought of Mary Shelly's The Last Man (1826) set in 2073 to 2100, but:

Mary Shelley states in the introduction that in 1818 she discovered, in the Sibyl's cave near Naples, a collection of prophetic writings painted on leaves by the Cumaean Sibyl. She has edited these writings into the current narrative, the first-person narrative of a man living at the end of the 21st century, commencing in 2073 and concluding in 2100. Despite the chronological setting, the world of The Last Man appears to be relatively similar to the era in which it was written.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Last_Man#Introduction

And I remember reading that one early science fiction story whose title I don't remember had a frame story where a meteorite contained a metal capsule which contained a written account of events in the future.

And I remembered a very early story which was supposedly translated from a physical manuscript from the future.

Edgar Allen POe's "Mellonta Tauta", set in April 2848, was published in Godey's Ladies Book, February 1849, and begins with:

TO THE EDITORS OF THE LADY'S BOOK: I have the honor of sending you, for your magazine, an article which I hope you will be able to comprehend rather more distinctly than I do myself. It is a translation, by my friend, Martin Van Buren Mavis, (sometimes called the "Toughkeepsie Seer") of an odd-looking MS. which I found, about a year ago, tightly corked up in a jug floating in the Mare Tenebrarum- a sea well described by the Nubian geographer, but seldom visited now-a-days, except for the transcendentalists and divers for crotchets.

I note the "Toughkeepsie Seer" seems to be a scanning error for the "Ploughkeepsie Seer".

4
  • I came across one like this from the 18th Century but I can't find it.
    – Spencer
    Oct 9 at 13:59
  • @Spencer The book Origins of Futuristic Fiction by Paul Alkon mentions an 18th century story where letters from the future are given to the narrator by his guardian angel: Memoirs of the Twentieth Century by Samuel Madden (1733). But from the summary it doesn't seem clear whether the angel carried them through time or caused them to be supernaturally brought back unaccompanied.
    – Hypnosifl
    Oct 9 at 18:38
  • @Hypnosifl yes, I found it about an hour ago. At any rate, the letters had help.
    – Spencer
    Oct 9 at 18:41
  • @Hypnosifl The full text is linked in my comment to OP.
    – Spencer
    Oct 9 at 18:53
3

An early science fiction example would be "The Queer Story of Brownlow's Newspaper" (a short story by H. G. Wells published in 1932) about a man finding a newspaper from the futuristic year of 1971.

Wikipedia summary:

The story takes place on 10 November 1931 and opens with the protagonist, Brownlow, accidentally being delivered a newspaper dated 10 November 1971. The story is mainly a description of the contents of the newspaper, which features color photography throughout, with Wells taking the opportunity to issue some prophecies of what he thought 1971 might hold. His successful predictions include lower birth rates, an emphasis on psychological motivation in fiction, geothermal energy, and wider coverage of scientific news, while others include simplified spelling of English, a 13-month reformed calendar, the extinction of gorillas, and hints at some form of world government.

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