The Man Who Walked Home • 1972 • short story by James Tiptree, Jr.

★★★★

Major John Delgano is the Man Who Walked Home from a time far in the future back to his original time and place. Traveling in time seems to be the easy part – the hard part being the synchronization with changes in space, feeling like a stone skipping on water and gaining ever more momentum. At the time he was sent out, there happened to be an apocalyptic explosion leading to a world-wide atomar war, and throwing humanity back to bronze age. The stories follows the development of civilization in great leaps at the spot of the explosion in Idaho. Every year, a shape appears for only a second, the sight developing over the course of several hundred years into a tourist magnet and the object of religious beliefs and science.

Review

The interleaving of forward and backward time travel is an excellent sample of structural narrative techniques of SF. Tiptree manages it to start with expressive elements and only slowly uncovers the story’s essence. The initial panic in a stream of consciousness gives way to ever more reasoning just to turn into a very emotional scene: Science found out that the appearance is speaking, they even identified one single sillable, something like „ayt“, maybe „late“ or „date“. But in the final scene, John desperately calls out for his wife „Kate“. This moment stayed quite long with me, and it even gained with a re-read.

I highly recommend this as one of the best time travel stories.

Meta: ISFDB. First published in Amazing Science Fiction, May 1972. I read it in the collection Her Smoke Rose Up Forever.

 

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