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The time viewer is a fictional, oracle-like device occasionally imagined in science fiction. In many cases the time viewer resembles a television, except it shows the viewer events in another time, either the past or the future.
In his short story "The Dead Past" (1956), Isaac Asimov calls the device a chronoscope, but this is also the name that the Victorian-era scientist Charles Wheatstone gave to his invention for measuring small intervals of time.
Father François Brune, a French Catholic priest and author, relates in his book Le nouveau mystère du Vatican (2002) how an Italian priest invented a time viewer in the 20th century. He calls the machine the chronovisor.
Time viewers in science fiction
T. L. Sherred
In the 1947 novella E for Effort, T. L. Sherred describes a time viewer built by a poor genius who cannot get people to take him seriously. The genius uses his invention to create historical movies which he then shows in his decrepit theater. He is discovered by a Hollywood producer, who is able to exploit the viewer to create first movies, then historical reconstructions, and finally political documentaries. The last part is his undoing, as he exposes every crime committed in the name of patriotism and ideology by world leaders, resulting in the collapse of government, followed by nuclear war.
For the short story "Private Eye" (1949), Henry Kuttner and C.L. Moore (writing together as Lewis Padgett) envision a society in which time-viewing makes it virtually impossible to commit a murder undetected, but which allows pleas of temporary insanity and right of self-defense. The protagonist schemes to provoke an attack by his victim, and then kill the man in (ostensible) self-defense. The murder weapon is an antique scalpel used as a letter opener, whose presence between them is carefully orchestrated by the murderer. The story was dramatized for BBC1 as "The Eye", an episode of the science fiction anthology series Out of the Unknown.
Philip K. Dick
In Philip K. Dick's short story "Paycheck" (1953), Rethrick Construction recruits an electronic engineer to build a machine that can view the future. After the job is done, the man's memory is erased, and he finds that he is pursued by secret police.
"The Dead Past" (1956) by Isaac Asimov concerns the clandestine invention of a time viewer after research into the subject is suppressed. The reason for this is revealed in the story's conclusion: Visual monitoring with a time viewer deprives others of privacy. A similar outcome features in Arthur C. Clarke and Stephen Baxter's "The Light of Other Days" (2000).
Damon Knight's 1976 short story "I See You" describes an invention that allows its operator to view anyone at any point in time.
For his 1983 novel Millennium, John Varley conceives a time viewer operated by time travellers. The viewer disallows its operators from viewing places where they have been or will be. When the viewer screens a temporal paradox, the image blurs as alternate futures overlap.
Adrienne Gormley's 2003 short story "Custer's Angel" features the "Time Tap" that the protagonist uses to study stories concerning General Custer's killer.
Other stories featuring time viewers
Time viewers have a relatively minor part in the following novels and short stories:
- "Childhood's End" (1953) by Arthur C. Clarke
- The End of Eternity (1955) by Isaac Asimov
- Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus (1996) by Orson Scott Card
- Cowl (2004) by Neal Asher
- The Brightonomicon (2005) by Robert Rankin (therein the time viewer is called the Chronovision)