Time's Arrow (short story)

Last updated

Time's Arrow
by Arthur C. Clarke
CountryUnited Kingdom
Published in Science Fantasy
Publication typeMagazine
Publication date1950

"Time's Arrow" is a science fiction short story by British writer Arthur C. Clarke, first published in 1950 in the first issue of the magazine Science Fantasy . The story revolves about the unintended consequences of using time travel to study dinosaurs.


The story was included in the 2005 anthology The Best Time Travel Stories of the 20th Century . The title matches Sir Arthur Eddington's second law of thermodynamics. [1]


The story follows a group of scientists, two geologists (Barton and Davis) and a palaeontologist (Fowler), who are excavating dinosaur footprints. They come across two physicists (Barnes and Henderson) who are investigating a strange liquid that exhibits negentropy, which Davis describes as being akin to "Time's Arrow" as "Any clock you care to mention – a pendulum for instance – might just as easily run forward as backward. But entropy is a strictly one-way affair – it's always increasing with the passage of time. Hence the expression, 'Time's Arrow'". [1] :53 This causes the realisation that negentropy could result in a reversal of time.

Fowler is invited to visit Henderson's lab, during which time the two geologists come to believe that the physicist is trying to effectively build a way to view the past firsthand. Henderson confirms their conclusion and asks Fowler to join him during the machine's first test run. The dig continues and the team discovers that the footprints give off the impression that the dinosaur was chasing something. Fowler sets off for the lab via Jeep, shortly after which Davis sees the lab explode and the surrounding area ripple. He returns to alert Barton, who has discovered that the dinosaur tracks are accompanied by Jeep tyre prints, implying that the dinosaur had chased after and subsequently trampled Fowler. [2]


In the preface for Reach for Tomorrow, Clarke notes that "Time's Arrow is an example of how hard it is for the science-fiction writer to keep ahead of fact. The quite – at the time the story was written – imaginary discovery described in the tale now actually exists, and may be seen in the New York Natural History Museum." [3] Eric S. Rabkin likewise commented that "this paleontological possibility.... [slowly uncovering the petrified mud tracks of a huge dinosaur being stalked by some other animal] had not been found in life before Clarke's story, but has been since". [4]


"Time's Arrow" was first published in the inaugural issue of the magazine Science Fantasy, [5] which failed to sell well. [6] The short story was republished in 1956 as part of Clarke's Reach for Tomorrow , which collected several short stories published by the author between 1942 and 1953. [3] It has subsequently been reprinted in collections such as the 1959 omnibus Across the Sea of Stars and the 2005 anthology The Best Time Travel Stories of the 20th Century . [7] [1]

It has been translated into German, Portuguese, Japanese, and French. [8]


"Time's Arrow" focuses on the theme of time travel, [9] [2] with Clarke using negative entropy as a possible avenue. [10] On the topic of time travel Clarke has stated that the "most convincing argument against time travel is the remarkable scarcity of time travelers", an issue that author Jack McDevitt discusses in his response to "Time's Arrow". He argues that if time travel were possible, it would have been done and "If that happens, history would be littered with tourists." [10]


The story has been mentioned as an early example of criticism of the time travel concept in fiction. Michael Ashley has lauded the tale as indicative of "the quality that Science Fantasy had from the word 'go'". [11] [12] Rabkin discussed the story in his 1980 text about Clarke, noting that the author "adds his own twists to the classic tale of time travel". [4]

Related Research Articles

Hard science fiction Science fiction with concern for scientific accuracy

Hard science fiction is a category of science fiction characterized by concern for scientific accuracy and logic. The term was first used in print in 1957 by P. Schuyler Miller in a review of John W. Campbell's Islands of Space in the November issue of Astounding Science Fiction. The complementary term soft science fiction, formed by analogy to hard science fiction, first appeared in the late 1970s. The term is formed by analogy to the popular distinction between the "hard" (natural) and "soft" (social) sciences, although there are examples generally considered as "hard" SF, such as Isaac Asimov's Foundation series, built on mathematical sociology. Science fiction critic Gary Westfahl argues that neither term is part of a rigorous taxonomy; instead they are approximate ways of characterizing stories that reviewers and commentators have found useful.

Science fantasy Science fiction genre

Science fantasy is a hybrid genre within speculative fiction that simultaneously draws upon or combines tropes and elements from both science fiction and fantasy. In a conventional science fiction story, the world is presented as being scientifically logical; while a conventional fantasy story contains mostly supernatural and artistic elements that disregard the scientific laws of the real world. The world of science fantasy, however, is laid out to be scientifically logical and often supplied with hard science-like explanations of any supernatural elements.

<i>The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction</i> American magazine

The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction is a U.S. fantasy and science fiction magazine first published in 1949 by Mystery House, a subsidiary of Lawrence Spivak's Mercury Press. Editors Anthony Boucher and J. Francis McComas had approached Spivak in the mid-1940s about creating a fantasy companion to Spivak's existing mystery title, Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. The first issue was titled The Magazine of Fantasy, but the decision was quickly made to include science fiction as well as fantasy, and the title was changed correspondingly with the second issue. F&SF was quite different in presentation from the existing science fiction magazines of the day, most of which were in pulp format: it had no interior illustrations, no letter column, and text in a single column format, which in the opinion of science fiction historian Mike Ashley "set F&SF apart, giving it the air and authority of a superior magazine".

<i>Reach for Tomorrow</i>

Reach for Tomorrow is a 1956 collection of science fiction short stories by British writer Arthur C. Clarke. All the stories originally appeared in a number of different publications.

<i>New Worlds</i> (magazine) British science fiction and fantasy magazine

New Worlds was a British science fiction magazine that began in 1936 as a fanzine called Novae Terrae. John Carnell, who became Novae Terrae's editor in 1939, renamed it New Worlds that year. He was instrumental in turning it into a professional publication in 1946 and was the first editor of the new incarnation. It became the leading UK science fiction magazine; the period to 1960 has been described by science fiction historian Mike Ashley as the magazine's "Golden Age".

Fantasy literature Literature set in an imaginary universe

Fantasy literature is literature set in an imaginary universe, often but not always without any locations, events, or people from the real world. Magic, the supernatural and magical creatures are common in many of these imaginary worlds. Fantasy literature may be directed at both children and adults.

Time travel in fiction Concept and accompanying genre in fiction

Time travel is a common theme in fiction, mainly since the late 19th century, and has been depicted in a variety of media, such as literature, television, film, and advertisements.

Colin Greenland British science fiction writer

Colin Greenland is a British science fiction writer, whose first story won the second prize in a 1982 Faber & Faber competition. His best-known novel is Take Back Plenty (1990), winner of both major British science fiction awards, the 1990 British SF Association award and the 1991 Arthur C. Clarke Award, as well as being a nominee for the 1992 Philip K. Dick Award for the best original paperback published that year in the United States.

Michael Raymond Donald Ashley is a British bibliographer, author and editor of science fiction, mystery, and fantasy.

<i>Tales of Wonder</i> (magazine) 20th-century British science fiction magazine

Tales of Wonder was a British science fiction magazine published from 1937 to 1942, with Walter Gillings as editor. It was published by The World's Work, a subsidiary of William Heinemann, as part of a series of genre titles that included Tales of Mystery and Detection and Tales of the Uncanny. Gillings was able to attract some good material, despite the low payment rates he was able to offer; he also included many reprints from U.S. science fiction magazines. The magazine was apparently more successful than the other genre titles issued by The World's Work, since Tales of Wonder was the only one to publish more than a single issue.

<i>Worlds of Tomorrow</i> Anthology edited by August Derleth

Worlds of Tomorrow is an anthology of science fiction stories edited by American writer August Derleth. It was first published by Pellegrini & Cudahy in 1953. Many of the stories had originally appeared in the magazines Worlds Beyond, Fantastic, Fantasy, The Magazine of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Science Fiction, If, Fantastic Adventures, Future, Startling Stories, Astounding Stories, Weird Tales, The Fantasy Fan and Thrilling Wonder Stories. Abridged editions were published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson in 1955, Berkley Books in 1958 and Four Square Books in 1963.

<i>Tales of Tomorrow</i> US science fiction TV series, 1951–1953

Tales of Tomorrow is an American anthology science fiction series that was performed and broadcast live on ABC from 1951 to 1953. The series covered such stories as Frankenstein starring Lon Chaney Jr., 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea starring Thomas Mitchell as Captain Nemo, and many others.

Immortality in fiction

Immortality is a common theme in fiction. The concept has been depicted since the Epic of Gilgamesh, the oldest known work of fiction. Originally appearing in the domain of mythology, it has later become a recurring element in the genres of horror, science fiction, and fantasy. For most of literary history, the dominant perspective has been that the desire for immortality is misguided, albeit strong; among the posited drawbacks are ennui, loneliness, and social stagnation. This view was challenged in the 20th century by writers such as George Bernard Shaw and Roger Zelazny. Immortality is commonly obtained either from supernatural entities or objects such as the Fountain of Youth or through biological or technological means such as brain transplants.

<i>Imaginative Tales</i> American science fiction magazine

Imaginative Tales was an American fantasy and science fiction magazine launched in September 1954 by William Hamling's Greenleaf Publishing Company. It was created as a sister magazine to Imagination, which Hamling had acquired from Raymond A. Palmer's Clark Publishing. Imaginative Tales began as a vehicle for novel-length humorous fantasy, early issues featuring stories by Charles F. Myers and Robert Bloch. After a year, Hamling switched the focus to science fiction and it became similar in content to Imagination, publishing routine space operas. In 1958, with public interest in space high, Hamling changed the title to Space Travel, but there was little effect on sales. Magazine circulation was suffering because of the rise of the paperback, and the liquidation in 1957 of American News Company, a major magazine distributor, made it even harder for small magazines to survive. Hamling eventually ceased publication of both Imaginative Tales and Imagination in 1958, preferring to invest the money in Rogue, a men's magazine he had started in imitation of Playboy in 1955.

<i>Dynamic Science Fiction</i> US pulp science fiction magazine

Dynamic Science Fiction was an American pulp magazine which published six issues from December 1952 to January 1954. It was a companion to Future Science Fiction, and like that magazine was edited by Robert W. Lowndes and published by Columbia Publications. Stories that appeared in its pages include "The Duplicated Man" by Lowndes and James Blish, and "The Possessed" by Arthur C. Clarke. It was launched at the end of the pulp era, and when publisher Louis Silberkleit converted Future to a digest format in 1954, he decided not to do the same with Dynamic, simply cancelling the magazine.

<i>Marvel Science Stories</i> American pulp science fiction magazine

Marvel Science Stories was an American pulp magazine that ran for a total of fifteen issues in two separate runs, both edited by Robert O. Erisman. The publisher for the first run was Postal Publications, and the second run was published by Western Publishing; both companies were owned by Abraham and Martin Goodman. The first issue was dated August 1938, and carried stories with more sexual content than was usual for the genre, including several stories by Henry Kuttner, under his own name and also under pseudonyms. Reaction was generally negative, with one reader referring to Kuttner's story "The Time Trap" as "trash". This was the first of several titles featuring the word "Marvel", and Marvel Comics came from the same stable in the following year.

<i>10 Story Fantasy</i> US pulp science fiction magazine

10 Story Fantasy was a science fiction and fantasy pulp magazine which was launched in 1951. The market for pulp magazines was already declining by that time, and the magazine only lasted a single issue. The stories were of generally good quality, and included work by many well-known writers, such as John Wyndham, A.E. van Vogt and Fritz Leiber. The most famous story it published was Arthur C. Clarke's "Sentinel from Eternity", which later became part of the basis of the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Fantasy was a British science fiction magazine, edited by Walter Gillings, which published three issues from 1946 to 1947. Gillings began collecting submissions for the magazine in 1943, but the publisher, Temple Bar, delayed launching it until the success of New Worlds, another British science fiction magazine, convinced them there was a viable market. Gillings obtained stories from Eric Frank Russell, John Russell Fearn, and Arthur C. Clarke, whose "Technical Error" was the first story of Clarke's to see print in the UK. Gillings published two more stories by Clarke, both under pseudonyms, but Temple Bar ceased publication of Fantasy after the third issue because of paper shortages caused by World War II. Gillings was able to use some of the stories he had acquired for Fantasy in 1950, when he became editor of Science Fantasy.

Far future in fiction The far future as a theme in fiction

The far future has been used as a setting in many works of science fiction. The far future setting arose in the late 19th century, as earlier writers had little understanding of concepts such as deep time and its implications for the nature of humankind. Classic examples of this genre include works such as H.G. Wells' The Time Machine (1895) or Olaf Stapledon's Last and First Men (1930). Recurring themes include themes such as Utopias, eschatology or the ultimate fate of the universe. Many works also overlap with other genres such as space opera, science fantasy or apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction.


  1. 1 2 3 The best time travel stories of the 20th century. Harry Turtledove, Martin Harry Greenberg. New York: Del Rey/Ballantine Books. 2005. ISBN   0-345-46094-4. OCLC   54693159.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: others (link)
  2. 1 2 Nahin, Paul J. (24 December 2016). Time Machine Tales: The Science Fiction Adventures and Philosophical Puzzles of Time Travel. Springer. pp. 133, 239. ISBN   978-3-319-48864-6.
  3. 1 2 Clarke, Arthur C (1956). Reach for tomorrow; [stories. New York: Ballantine Books. OCLC   1629643.
  4. 1 2 Rabkin, Eric S. (1 January 1980). Arthur C. Clarke. Starmont House. pp. 53–54. ISBN   978-0-916732-21-9.
  5. John Wade (30 January 2019). The Golden Age of Science Fiction: A Journey into Space with 1950s Radio, TV, Films, Comics and Books. Pen & Sword Books. p. 253. ISBN   978-1-5267-2926-2.
  6. Mike Ashley, "New Worlds", in Tymn & Ashley, Science Fiction, Fantasy and Weird Fiction Magazines, pp. 423–437.
  7. Clarke, Arthur C (1959). Across the sea of stars: an omnibus containing the complete novels of Childhood's end and Earthlight and eighteen short stories. New York: Harcourt, Brace. OCLC   225641.
  8. "Title: Time's Arrow". ISFDb. Retrieved 20 February 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  9. Westfahl, Gary (14 June 2018). Arthur C. Clarke. University of Illinois Press. pp. 35–36. ISBN   978-0-252-05063-3.
  10. 1 2 Nahin, Paul J. (20 April 2001). Time Machines: Time Travel in Physics, Metaphysics, and Science Fiction. Springer Science & Business Media. pp. 66, 235. ISBN   978-0-387-98571-8.
  11. Paul J. Nahin (20 April 2001). Time Machines: Time Travel in Physics, Metaphysics, and Science Fiction. Springer Science & Business Media. p. 66. ISBN   978-0-387-98571-8.
  12. Ashley, Michael (1974). The History of the Science Fiction Magazine: 1946–1955. New English Library. p. 64. ISBN   978-0-450-03051-2.