I read a story a long time ago, I think in a short story collection. The main idea was that a TV had been invented that could be set to any place and time in the past, and you could see what happened there and then.

Anybody know what it was?

  • 2
    That's been done more than once. Do you remember anything else about that story? What time periods were viewed? What were the consequences? Who had access to the machine?
    – user56
    Commented Oct 4, 2013 at 16:32
  • This isn't relevant to your question, but thought you may be interested to know that there's a novella called Legion by Brandon Sanderson that addresses this idea but with a camera instead of a TV.
    – RuthP27
    Commented Oct 7, 2013 at 13:13
  • This is probably not what you mean, so I won't add this as an answer: The 1956 short story No Future in This by Robert Silverberg and Randall Garrett deals with a camera hooked up to a TV screen that shows the future. Actually, since there are multiple futures at any given time, it shows all of them, and the less probable they are, the less vividly they appear.
    – Ubik
    Commented Mar 7, 2014 at 1:07

5 Answers 5


Sounds like The Dead Past by Asimov, where there is a very rare device like a television called the Chronoscope that can look at events that in the very distant history. The story goes on to reveal that the chronoscope can in fact:

Only view up to a little over one hundred years in the past, but importantly it can
view up to the immediate past, essentially the 'living present', making it a device
that could destroy privacy for anyone on the planet.

As a result, in an attempt to keep this fact secret, and to prevent smaller and cheaper chronoscope's being invented, scientific freedom is rigidly controlled by the government, research outside your field being banned and with the techniques required to develop a Chronoscope being mysteriously unfunded.

You can see an adaptation of the story on YouTube.


There's also Damon Knight's "I See You" about an inventor who, as anonymously as possible, creates and distributes a machine which allows people to view anything that happened at any time, completely eliminating crime and also privacy.


It's not presented so much as a television, but Orson Scott Card's "Pastwatch: The redemption of Christopher Columbus" (one of Card's better books even if it is preachy and I completely disagree with its premise) has a device that lets the past be viewed.

  • 1
    I thought of Pastwatch too and find it less about preachy or what I think you mean by its premise, but almost the opposite: a real exploration of when people think how things "ought to have been" doesn't mean much without understanding the longterm changes that would occur or that there aren't an infinite number of ways history could have gone down as mostly there are only a couple/few choices available. It actually cured me of much utopianism and moral judgment. Ain't it fun how we can read the same book and learn different things. I recommend it highly to history fans and idealists.
    – Hebekiah
    Commented Feb 20, 2018 at 0:07

E for Effort by T. L. Sherred comes to mind.


This is unlikely to be the story you were thinking of as it is a full novel, but The Light of Other Days by Stephen Baxter, based on a synopsis by Arthur C Clarke, deals with the same premise. I remember reading it and thinking it was overly similar to Asimov's The Dead Past, which was suggested above.

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