The Dead Past

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Asimov, Isaac. "The Dead Past." Astounding Science Fiction April 1956. Collected Earth is Room Enough. New York: Doubleday, 1957. The Best of Isaac Asimov. London: Sidgwick & Jackson, 1973. Others.[1] Discussed in Stephen Baxter's "The Technology of Omniscience: Past Viewers in Science Fiction," our original source for this entry.

In a world in which research is government controlled, a historian is denied access to a chronoscope — a neutrino-based "past viewer" (Baxter's term) — and builds his own. It turns out "that the government chronoscopy agency, far from suppressing scientific research out of blind authoritarianism, was trying to protect the people": the chronoscope can only look back to the recent past — including just an instant back, meaning an end to privacy.[2] Baxter sees the conclusion of the story as dystopian surveillance (p. 105). The specifications of the chronoscope get publicized, and the supervising government bureaucrat becomes "resigned to the exposure of the chronoscope, and leaves the three academics" responsible "with the insightful line: 'Happy goldfish bowl to you, to me, to everyone, and may each of you fry in hell forever. Arrest rescinded.'"[3]

RDE, Initial Compiler, 19Mar19