Trying to find an old scifi short story about time travel
August 4, 2011 5:06 AM   Subscribe

I'm trying to find a SciFi short story I read as a kid - I read this story as a kid in the '70s or '80s. It was in a paperback collection of SF short stories I got from the school library, it could have been published anytime from the '50s to the late '70s. I have no idea of the title or the author, just my memory of the story. It involved someone who was walking backwards through time to get home. Some scientific accident had propelled him hundreds of years forward in time. On the wreckage of the lab, he appeared, briefly, once every year (or maybe every decade or century?). From an observer's point of view, someone flashed in and out of existence predictably on that spot. I think a holiday formed around the appearance. From the person's point of view, he was walking backwards through time, from the far future back towards the date of the accident. Each "flash" was a step in that walk. Anyone know what this story is called or who wrote it?
posted by Cranialtorque to Media & Arts (14 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
This rings a bell... I believe it was written by Ursula Leguin but I can't remember the title.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 5:24 AM on August 4, 2011

Wow, I was going to say that it rang a bell and was in a collection of classic Sci-Fi from the '30s and '40s that I had as a kid. That would rule out U.K.L-G (in my mind, not reality. my mind is often wrong).
Now I am intrigued.
This afternoon I shall dive into my books and see what I can find.
posted by Seamus at 5:42 AM on August 4, 2011

Best answer: It's called the "The Man Who Walked Home" I think. I read it in a SF collections of my parents.
Internet says it is by James Tiptree, Jr.
posted by antiwiggle at 5:58 AM on August 4, 2011 [6 favorites]

... SF collection belonging to my parents'. sigh
posted by antiwiggle at 6:02 AM on August 4, 2011

Best answer: antiwiggle is right, it's Tiptree Jr. Here's a synopsis.
posted by methroach at 6:04 AM on August 4, 2011

Best answer: And here's the ISFDB's list of anthologies it appears in.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 6:14 AM on August 4, 2011

Response by poster: Yes, it is the James Tiptree, Jr. story! Thank you! Now to find a copy of one of those anthologies. AskMeFi, you are amazing.
posted by Cranialtorque at 8:59 AM on August 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: It also turns out that James Tiptree, Jr. was a pen name for Ms. Alice Bradley Sheldon.
posted by Cranialtorque at 9:06 AM on August 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yup, and that biography referred to on the blue page is fantastic. Recommended!
posted by methroach at 9:28 AM on August 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Tag-on question: Is it a detail of "The Man Who Walked Home" that something happened during one of his yearly flashes that caused him to trip and fall, and it was that that led to the cataclysm?

(I've read something very similar that has that little detail - the title's familiar, but I don't remember it was by Tiptree. It was in a collection of soft-porn-ish sci-fi my parents bought me when I was a young teen, but none of the anthology titles in ManyLeggedCreature's link ring a bell.)
posted by Pinback at 7:49 PM on August 4, 2011

Tag-on question spoiler answer.

I don't think the cause of the time traveller tripping is ever revealed. The people waiting for his yearly appearance speculate on his fall but since it happens in their future they don't know.

The bit from the time traveller's perspective only covers the beginning of his journey back, desperately trying to follow the fading route back home. I don't think it gets to the trip.

As far as I remember the man's return home brings future matter into the lab, which causes a nuclear like explosion that in turn triggers a nuclear war. I don't know if the trip caused matter from the future to be brought back. The time travel experiment had gone wrong anyway, hence the man having to walk back.

It has been more than 20 years since I read "The Man Who Walked Home" and it's entirely possible I'm wrong on any or all the details.
posted by antiwiggle at 12:58 AM on August 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Thanks for that - now I'm going to have to dig up that old anthology (or try and find it elsewhere) to read it again!
posted by Pinback at 2:08 AM on August 5, 2011

Great story. I don't think I'd read it before today. It was definitely worth a trip to the library.
posted by neuron at 10:03 PM on August 6, 2011

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