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Déjà vu all over again
I remember asking this once here before, but it was in passing in a long and rambling post about something else, so I wasn't surprised that no one answered. Anyway, I'm still wondering what was the very first story (book, film, whatever) that used the device of someone going back in time (probably multiple times) to correct some misdeed, make good some omission, prevent some accident, etc.

The earliest example I can think of is Groundhog Day - but I really find it hard to believe that no enterprising SF writer had tried something similar before 1993. It seems a kind of obvious device - but maybe only in retrospect?

Anime seems particularly rich in examples: off the top of my head, there's Madoka Magica, Steins;Gate, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time and now (which is what put it in my head again) the recent series Erased (aka Boku Dake Ga Nai Machi) - which I'm about halfway through and very much enjoying.

Anyway, I feel sure I'm missing some obvious earlier examples, or simply showing my lamentable ignorance of them. Feel free to put me right!
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I used the device of multiple trips to the same event in a short story I wrote in 1990, and I'm sure it wasn't new then.

Apparently it wasn't (see comments below) - but it still predated GD!

Edited at 2016-03-22 08:34 am (UTC)

Groundhog Day itself was a ripoff of a 1973 story by Richard A. Lupoff and two films based thereon.

Not sure if the "re-create Earth" plot in HHGG counts.

In Moorcock's Behold the Man, the hero starts out just wanting to observe the past, and then finds he has to correct it.

Leiber and Anderson both did Time Patrol series in the 50s about patrolling time and making sure random time travellers didn't screw it up.

I remember a story in F&SF, probably in the 70s, about a man with the power to re-live his day, who spends so much time correcting things to perfection that he rarely gets on to the next day.

Leiber and Anderson both did Time Patrol series in the 50s about patrolling time and making sure random time travellers didn't screw it up.

Or, in Leiber's Changewar series, deliberately screwing it up in order to produce a specific future; both sides claim that they are restoring the timestream, correcting the interference caused by the other side, but nobody actually knows what the original future looked like anymore. There's the novel The Big Time (1958) and assorted short stories collected in Changewar (1983), originally published 1958–65.

[edit] "Try and Change the Past" (1958), available online at the Library of America, assumes audience familiarity with the concept from the title alone: "Change one event in the past and you get a brand new future? Erase the conquests of Alexander by nudging a neolithic pebble? Extirpate America by pulling up a shoot of Sumerian grain? Brother, that isn't the way it works at all!"

Edited at 2016-03-22 02:16 am (UTC)

Thank you. It's reassuring to know that others had trod this path before!

There's a study of this branch fo SF. I don't remember any of the details, but Helkekson's work will probably lead you there.

I don't know if it counts, but I'm pretty sure one of the children in E Nesbit's "Arden" books tried to warn a historical figure - I think someone had to be rescued from the Tower as a result. Alison Utteley's A Traveller in Time has the central character trying to warn the Babingtons I think.

I'd certainly put it early twentieth century.

Oh yes, I vaguely remember something about speaking to Anne Boleyn? And then Jane tries to put Caesar off invading Britain in The Story of the Amulet, too. Though that (like the Uttley) failed to change history (unless it did and we don't know it because we too live in the amended history?).

Actually Jane's intervention does change history- but not in the way she intended. Caesar was on the point of calling off the invasion- and Jane's speech (I forget what she says) persuades him to go ahead after all.

That's true. To be more precise, it doesn't change history from what she had always known it to be. It may be the first story where protagonists try to change history only to be the unwitting agents of the very history they were trying to change.

Replay, by Ken Grimwood, 1986. Quite interesting take on the scenario. The main character involuntarily replays his life multiple times, going through every possible iteration, getting more and jaded and despairing as time goes on (especially when he leads a really fun and satisfying life… and then re-sets.) A number of the scenarios are quite clever, especially the one where he goes public with very unexpected consequences.

Thank you. The fun and satisfying life that gets reset is an interesting twist.

Oh yes. And Replay does a fantastic job with it. Every time around feels novel. I re-read it recently, and it thoroughtly deserved to have won the WFA for best novel.

Anyway, I'm still wondering what was the very first story (book, film, whatever) that used the device of someone going back in time (probably multiple times) to correct some misdeed, make good some omission, prevent some accident, etc.

In L. Sprague de Camp's "A Gun for Dinosaur" (1956)—which I have always assumed was written in response to Ray Bradbury's "A Sound of Thunder" (1952), with its inadvertent redirecting of the timestream—the jackass survivor of a disastrous Tyrannosaurus-hunting expedition intends to return to the past in time to kill his guide, though he doesn't succeed because of some conservation of temporal paradox handwave which kills him rather than allow him to change the past. So he doesn't succeed, but he has the idea to do it. I am skeptical that it's the earliest instance of this trope, however. [edit] Heinlein's "By His Bootstraps" (1941), like his later and more famous "'—All You Zombies—'" (1958), features a protagonist who goes back in time to ensure the course of their life as they experienced it. I still bet there are earlier versions. I'd find out when physicists actually hammered out the rules of temporal paradox as we understand them and go from there.

[edit edit] Okay, I gave up and did research. The closed time loop à la Heinlein appears in Paul Bolton's "The Time Hoaxers" (1931), with time travelers from the future playing out a past supported by artifacts from their present day. The relevant issue of Amazing Stories does not appear to be available online, although a whole bunch of other pulp science fiction is, hence the rest of this comment.

Nat Schachner's "Ancestral Voices" (1933) runs the grandfather paradox without the paradox: a time traveler kills a man during the sixth-century sack of Rome and his descendants, including a not very disguised Hitler and the time traveler himself, immediately vanish from the historical record. As science fiction goes, it's pretty thin, but the author's letter at the back of the issue makes clear it was intended as "a satire on the almost universal myth of racial purity; on the attempt of certain important sections of our world population to arrogate to themselves dominance because, forsooth, they are of a strain that has come unfiltered through the ages," which I can respect, even if ending on an Irish joke slightly muddles the point.

David R. Daniels' "The Branches of Time" (1935) looks like the closest to the trope you're asking for: a present-day time traveler, witnessing the future destruction of humanity, repeatedly alters the past in an attempt to save it and then (under the guidance of an advanced super-being from the future he preserved) to understand what he's done. "You see, I changed the world . . . Everything up to then had happened as I saw it happen; but I went back and changed it, and all history turned out another way." The author's interpretation of time and the way that different histories exist within it almost prefigures Hugh Everett's many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics (1957), although in the end it sounds more like Eliot: "I did have an idea to get together a band of future-men and go back to make past ages more liveable. Terrible things have happened in history, you know. But it isn't any use. Think, for instance, of the martyrs and the things they suffered. I could go back and save them those wrongs. And yet all the time, somewhere in absoluteness, they would still have known their unhappiness and their agony, because, in this world-line, those things have happened." ("If all time is eternally present / All time is unredeemable.")

So we're talking the early '30's at least.

Edited at 2016-03-22 04:15 am (UTC)

Thanks very much. Early thirties feels right: I just didn't have the knowledge for the knowing. Post-"Sound of Thunder" it does seem inevitable that the same idea would be used deliberately and repeatedly within a story (even The Simpsons did it - just a year after Groundhog Day, too).

I rather like the 'Ancestral Voices' cutting out the paradox idea, though I suppose it does limit the possibilities for multiple resets...

Thanks very much. Early thirties feels right: I just didn't have the knowledge for the knowing.

You're welcome! I had to look up the specifics myself. There is some absolutely gonzo stuff in the pulp magazines.

(even The Simpsons did it - just a year after Groundhog Day, too).

That's great! The protagonist of "The Branches of Time" briefly replaces all humanity with intelligent lizard-men after shooting a prehistoric "reptile-thing . . . It was four-legged and scaly and crawled around blinking its eyes. It wasn't all lizard and was one of the most ugly things I had ever seen . . . [Y]ou see, I had killed the thing that was a direct ancestor of the first mammal; and it happened that no other animal like it developed after that." He restores the human timeline by returning to the vague Paleozoic point where "the reptile-thing was hatching on the sands in the earth's childhood" and stopping his earlier self, thus prompting a discussion of temporal paradox and divergent world-lines. It's really not much of a story as narrative goes, but unless it's recapitulating ideas from earlier fiction I haven't located yet—and Gernsback's introduction implies not—it really looks like it introduced a lot of the now-classic standbys of time travel into the literature.

I rather like the 'Ancestral Voices' cutting out the paradox idea, though I suppose it does limit the possibilities for multiple resets...

The specific idea of a repeating time loop, especially the kind where the protagonist has to make the right decisions in order to break out of it, has definitely gained momentum since Groundhog Day. I thought initially that it might have been popularized by the reset capacity of video games (when we saw Edge of Tomorrow (2014) last year at the 'Thon, derspatchel said it reminded him of interactive fiction), but there's a famously weird sci-fi noir called Repeat Performance (1947) which makes use of this concept with overtones of predestination—a woman who commits murder gets the chance to live the last year of her life over again, trying to avoid the decisions that led her to shoot her husband—so I suspect it's been around as long as humans have regretted their actions and worried a second chance might not work out for them as well as A Christmas Carol. Which I do include in this category, at least as a prototype, since it involves altering events seen to have happened through action taken at a prior point in the timeline.

[edit] io9 has thoughtfully collected a whole bunch of time loop stories. The Twilight Zone episode "Shadow Play" (1961) looks like the earliest entry on their list, although from the plot description its gimmick might be less time travel than solipsism. That reminds me that "The Last Flight" (1960) is very definitely time travel—a glimpse of the future ensures a decision in the past—and I recommend it.

Edited at 2016-03-22 07:35 pm (UTC)

Thank you for this! (In particular, I haven't read "A Gun for Dinosaur" but had wondered from other descriptions about its potential Bradbury connection.)

Thank you for this! (In particular, I haven't read "A Gun for Dinosaur" but had wondered from other descriptions about its potential Bradbury connection.)

You're very welcome! We had a bunch of L. Sprague de Camp in the house when I was growing up. Fortunately, we also had a bunch of Bradbury and I read "A Sound of Thunder" first.

Have you tried looking on TV Tropes. I know there were a lot of short-stories and books written about fixing the past during the 1950s and '60s. Some were later made into movies and TV shows. For earlier works, check literature sites, ".edu" sites, and those offering free e-books. (Many of the free books were written before copy-write laws came into being.)

Thanks. (I always forget about TV Tropes!)

I think Jack Finney's Time and Again would count?

I'd not come across that one, but from looking at a plot summary it looks like it. Thanks!

Short story SCi Fi "Sound of thunder" (?)

People have found earlier examples already, but presumably Terminator?

?

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