A time loop or temporal loop is a common plot device in science fiction (especially in universes where time travel is commonplace) where a certain length of time (such as a few hours, or a few days) repeats over and over. When the time loop "resets", the memories of most characters are reset, and behave as though they're not aware of the loop. The plot is advanced by having one or more central characters retain their memory or become aware of the loop, sometimes through déjà vu.
One well-known example of this is in the 1993 film Groundhog Day, in which the main character is the only one affected by the time loop. Stories with time loops commonly center on correcting past mistakes or on getting a character to recognize some key truth; escape from the loop may then follow.
The closed loop in time, in which an event becomes its own cause, is the simplest narrative form of the time-paradox story, seized upon by several of the contestants invited by the editor of Amazing Stories to find a clever ending for Ralph Milne Farley's "The Time-Wise Guy" (1940). More notable examples include Ross Rocklynne's "Time Wants a Skeleton" (1941), Bester's "The Push of a Finger" (1942), P. Schuyler Miller's "As Never Was" (1952) and Mack Reynolds's "Compounded Interest" (1956). Greater ingenuity is exercised when these loops become more complicated, forming convoluted sealed knots. Two classic exercises in this vein were written by Robert A. Heinlein, "By His Bootstraps" (1941) as Anson MacDonald and "—All You Zombies—" (1959), the latter being a story whose central character moves back and forth in time and undergoes a sex-change in order to become his own mother and father.
Types of Time Loops
Physical Time Loop
In a physical time loop (rarely seen in the media), the spacetime loops around to form several closed timelike curves. Since the time in that region is looped, a person could escape it only by leaving the affected area. Also, there would be an infinite number of copies of any matter in the area, unless an object left the loop. In that case, there would only be as many copies of that object as many times it completed the loop. This type of time loop cannot be ended or destroyed.
Conscious Time Loop
In a conscious time loop, everyone's consciousness loops through time. In such a time loop, causality could easily be violated.
In popular culture
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- Strange Life of Ivan Osokin (1915 (Russian); 1947 (English)) by P. D. Ouspensky. Unsuccessful struggle of Ivan Osokin to correct his mistakes when given a chance to relive his past.
- "12:01 PM", an influential 1973 short story by Richard A. Lupoff, adapted many times for film and television (see above).
- All You Need Is Kill (2004 (Japanese); 2009 (English)), a novel by Hiroshi Sakurazaka, featuring a soldier who relives an unwinnable battle endlessly, until he wins it.
- Before I Fall is a 2010 novel by Lauren Oliver, in which a teenage girl who dies in a car crash relives her last day seven times.
- The Dark Tower, a series of seven novels by Stephen King featuring many elements of time travel, including a time loop.
- The Day Room, a short play by Don DeLillo, features actors in a play who perform the roles of doctors, nurses, and patients in a "day room" of the Arno Klein Psychiatric Wing. However, the play is performed at unannounced locations and times.
- In a story in The Decameron, a dead man (Guido degli Anastagi) is ordered to catch his dead recalcitrant beloved and tear her apart, every Friday.
- The Details of Nikita Vorontsov's Life (1984) by Arkady Strugatsky, two friends investigate into the biography of a man who lives the life of the same personality many times and after his death always returns to a certain moment of this personality's childhood in late 1930s.
- "Doubled and Redoubled", a short story by Malcolm Jameson that appeared in the February, 1941 issue of Unknown. Accidentally cursed by a witch, the protagonist repeats a "perfect" day, including a lucky bet, a promotion, a heroically foiled bank robbery, and a successful wedding proposal. This story was a precedent to Groundhog Day and 12:01 PM.
- HELP! I'm Trapped In the First Day of School! (1994) by Todd Strasser. A boy keeps repeating his first day of school.
- Homestuck, a webcomic about four teenagers who play a reality altering video game labeled "SBURB". Although this is not a true time loop story, time loops do occur in it.
- I Am the Cheese (1977). Technically not a true time loop novel, but the young main character, who is revealed to be insane, acts out the same week over and over.
- "A Little Something for Us Tempunauts", a 1975 short story by Philip K. Dick.
- In Lord Sunday (2010), the last installment of The Keys to the Kingdom, a series of seven young adult fantasy novels by Garth Nix, the main character's mother is stuck within a time-loop.
- Lost in a Good Book (2002), the second of the Thursday Next novels by Jasper Fforde. The title character travels back in time to save her husband from being eradicated and experiences a time loop before returning to her present-day 1985.
- The Man Who Folded Himself (1973), by David Gerrold - A young man in possession of a time machine enjoys hedonistic adventures with a future version of himself who is one day (or more) older.
- Mathematicians in Love, a 2006 novel by Rudy Rucker.
- The Neverending Story, a book by Michael Ende - a time loop is deliberately set in motion at one point to force Bastian's hand. (Original German title: Die unendliche Geschichte: Von A bis Z) (1979).
- The Plot to Save Socrates, a 2006 novel by Paul Levinson.
- In The Rampage of Haruhi Suzumiya, there is a short story Endless Eight in which Haruhi Suzumiya creates a time loop because she feels her vacation is not yet complete.
- Rendezvous (2013), an adventure novella by Nowick Gray, turns on a series of time loops accessed through a dreamed hall of doorways, from a cabin in a mountain pass. The seven doorways/loops represent multiple endings, only one leading to survival. Thus Rendezvous is also a variation of the Choose Your Own Adventure narrative.
- Replay, a Ken Grimwood novel (1987) in which the main character suddenly shifts to much earlier in his life, then relives shorter and shorter periods.
- "That Feeling, You Can Only Say What It Is in French", 1998 short story by Stephen King.
- "This is Death," a story by Donald E. Westlake in which a man relives his suicide for eternity.
- Time loop logic
- Butterfly effect
- Eternal return
- Grandfather paradox
- List of television series that include time travel
- List of films featuring time loops
- Ontological paradox
- Predestination paradox
- Time slip
- Time travel
- Time travel television series
- Edwards, Malcolm; Stableford, Brian (1995). "Time Paradoxes". In John Clute, Peter Nicholls. The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (Updated ed.). New York: St Martin's Griffin. pp. 1225–1226. ISBN 0-312-09618-6.
- DeLillo, Don (1987). The Day Room. New York: Knopf.
- Peter Stockwell. The Poetics of Science Fiction. p. 143. ISBN 9780582369931.