I read a short story in the late 70's or early 80's, but cannot remember the title or the author.

In the story a man opens a door in either a house or room and sees someone in the distance. He goes through a sequence of events where he ends up as that person, effectively stuck in a time-loop forever.

The story was in a book of short stories. When I was younger I thought the story was called 'By his Bootstraps'. I now know that it wasn't that story but it could have been in an anthology with that story.

I cannot remember much about the story except that the man only realised at the end of the story that he had seen himself and would have to keep repeating the sequence in a loop.

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    Welcome to the site, Alison. Any information you could add would be useful: When did you read this story? When do you think it was published? Did you read it in an anthology or a magazine? Do you remember anything else in that same collection or issue? Maybe a picture on the cover? Commented Jun 6, 2014 at 6:04
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    This was a common feature in "choose your own adventure" books, punishing you for cheating. You'd follow what appeared to be a fabulous prize, only to realise that you'd gotten caught in a timeloop.
    – Valorum
    Commented Jun 6, 2014 at 6:08
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    There are dozens of stories about time travelers meeting themselves and getting stuck in time loops. Can you tell us anything about that "sequence of events"? Is there anything in the story about an airplane, or a space mission, or falconry, or playing the stock market? Is the time travel effected by witchcraft or supernatural forces, or a black hole, or a time machine? If it's a machine, is it something like a car or a motorbike, or is it a wearable time machine, like a belt or a watch?
    – user14111
    Commented Jun 6, 2014 at 13:25
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    @Meat Trademark - I was thinking the exact same thing... Alison what makes you sure it's not By His Bootstraps? Perhaps that reason is something we can use to identify this story?! Commented Jun 7, 2014 at 7:59
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    Not an "answer" as this story also does not match all of the scenarios in the question, and all "answers" so far are only partial matches: "A Touch of Petulance" by Ray Bradbury does start out with the younger man seeing an older man who gradually convinces him that this older man is himself. However, as in Bootstraps, he is not stuck in any time loop forever. He is attempting to change his own history by convincing his younger self to take care in his marriage, so as not to murder his wife, as the older one had just done. Commented May 12, 2019 at 3:34

4 Answers 4


It could be Absolutely Inflexible by Robert Silverberg. Here's a summary (taken from here):

In the Robert Silverberg story Absolutely Inflexible, the main character, Bureau Chief Mahler, lives in a future where time travel is possible but only to the future. It is also a society where all diseases have been eradicated and no one has been immunized in decades. Thus it is not safe for these people to be released into the general population and they are quarantined on the moon. All of the time travelers are brought to Mahler and his "absolutely inflexible" attitude towards them means they are always quarantined. However, one day a man is brought to him in the regular decontamination suit and says he has a two-way time machine which will bring a person to the future and back. The man seems to recognize Mahler and realizes that he is doomed to be sent to the moon. Mahler decides to test the new machine and goes to the past and back to his present. When he arrives, he is immediately put into a decontamination suit and is brought to the bureau office where he talks to Mahler from his past. It is revealed that the time machine is stuck in a causal loop.


Is it 'the End of Eternity' by Isaac Asimov?

Harlan hides Noys in the Hidden Centuries then returns to her house to pick up some of her belongings. However he is careless and returns twice to exactly the same time. He sees the back view of himself from another room and closes the door, thinking it is an intruder.

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    Except that was a novel rather than a short story, and nobody is "stuck in a time-loop forever".
    – user14111
    Commented Jun 11, 2014 at 0:42

"By His Bootstraps" is a semi-match to that question description, but another story matches other parts of the question more closely.

The Bootstrap protagonist does see himself from the future, then visits himself in the past, to become triumphant and live a good life in his world. So, not really stuck in a time loop forever.

Robert Silverberg's protagonist ("victim" actually) in "MUgwump-4" https://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/title.cgi?424191 does not see himself, but does get stuck in a time loop.

He dials a phone, gets dimension-snatched, put on trial by mutants, and is finally (but not finally) sent back to the moment when he started dialing the phone.

There was no need for him to look up the number of the Friendly Finance Corporation; he knew it well enough. He began to dial. MUrray Hill 4— The receiver clicked queerly. A voice said, "Come in, Operator Nine. Operator Nine, do you read me?" Al’s jaw sagged in horror. This is where I came in, he thought wildly. He struggled to put down the phone. But his muscles would not respond. It would be easier to bend the sun in its orbit than to break the path of the continuum.

So this story is a partial match, like By His Bootstraps, but matching different parts of the question.

  • To be sure, people will remember things wrong, so the correct answer to an ID question may not match everything in the OP's description. However, when the description is as skimpy as it is here, I think we need to match everything. It seems to me all that matches here is "short story, man stuck in a time loop". There must be a dozen stories like that.
    – user14111
    Commented May 12, 2019 at 5:02
  • Without more help from the OP (who seems to have gone away), we probably aren't going to solve this one.
    – user14111
    Commented May 12, 2019 at 5:04
  • Yeah, if we throw up a dozen matches to the sparse question, one of them may be the match! Heh. Commented May 14, 2019 at 1:00

I think I know the story, since I have been looking for it myself. It's The Seventh Voyage by Stanislav Lem:

"The Seventh Voyage", in which a spaceship defect forces Tichy through a series of time vortices, creating a multitude of temporal copies of himself.

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    Hi, welcome to SF&F! You should edit in some quotes that show how The Seventh Voyage (if that's what you mean) matches the details of the question; link-only answers, especially to Wikipedia aren't very good because the contents of wikis can change at any time. Please read How to Answer.
    – DavidW
    Commented Oct 23, 2019 at 19:20
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    I don't think any of the stories in the Star Diaries matches. There are time loops, but Tichy does know that he's meeting himself.
    – b_jonas
    Commented Oct 23, 2019 at 22:30

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