Sidewise in Time

Murray Leinster

Sidewise in Time‘ is a science fiction short story by Murray Leinster that was first published in a 1934 issue of ‘Astounding Stories.’ In the story, professor Minott is a mathematician at Robinson College in Virginia who has determined that an apocalyptic cataclysm is fast approaching that could destroy the entire universe. The cataclysm manifests itself on June 5, 1935 (one year in the future in terms of the story’s original publication) when sections of the Earth’s surface begin changing places with their counterparts in alternate timelines.

A Roman legion from a timeline where the Roman Empire never fell appears on the outskirts of St. Louis, Missouri. Viking longships from a timeline where the Vikings settled North America raid a seaport in Massachusetts. A traveling salesman from Louisville, Kentucky finds himself in trouble with the law when he travels into an area where the South won the American Civil War. A ferry approaching San Francisco finds the flag of Czarist Russia flying from a grim fortress dominating the city.

Speculation concerning the untaken paths of history had a long history before ‘Sidewise in Time’ appeared, and H. G. Wells even wrote a story about people from our timeline traveling to another. Leinster’s story, however, introduced the concept to the pulp science fiction readership, bringing about the creation of one of the field’s subgenres. L. Sprague de Camp’s 1940 story ‘The Wheels of If’ followed a single man as he was involuntarily transported through a series of alternate timelines. H. Beam Piper’s paratime series (1948-1965) postulated the existence of a civilization that could travel at will across the timelines, a theme echoed in Larry Niven’s ‘All the Myriad Ways’ (1968).

In his comments on the story in ‘Before the Golden Age,’ Isaac Asimov writes that ‘Sidewise in Time’ had a long-term effect on his thinking: ‘It always made me conscious of the ‘ifs’ in history, and this showed up not only in my science fiction, as in ‘The Red Queen’s Race,’ but in my serious books on history as well. I also used the alternate-history theme, in enormous complexity, in my novel ‘The End of Eternity.”


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