By His Bootstraps

"By His Bootstraps" is a 20,000 word science fiction novella by American writer Robert A. Heinlein. It plays with some of the inherent paradoxes that would be caused by time travel.

The story was published in the October 1941 issue of Astounding Science Fiction under the pen name Anson MacDonald; the same issue has "Common Sense" under Heinlein's name.[1] "By His Bootstraps" was reprinted in Heinlein's 1959 collection The Menace From Earth, and in several subsequent anthologies,[2] and is now available in at least two audio editions. Under the title "The Time Gate", it was also included in a 1958 Crest paperback anthology, Race to the Stars.

"By His Bootstraps"
By His Bootstraps ASF Oct 1941
AuthorRobert A. Heinlein as Anson MacDonald
Genre(s)Science fiction
Published inAstounding Science Fiction
Media typeMagazine
Publication dateOctober 1941

Plot summary

Bob Wilson locks himself in his room to finish his graduate thesis on a mathematical aspect of metaphysics, using the concept of time travel as a case in point. Someone says, "Don't bother with it. It's a lot of utter hogwash anyhow." The interloper, who looks strangely familiar, calls himself "Joe" and explains that he has come from the future through a Time Gate, a circle about 6 ft (1.8 m) in diameter in the air behind Joe. Joe tells Bob that great opportunities await him through the Gate and thousands of years in his future. By way of demonstration, Joe tosses Bob's hat into the Gate. It disappears.

Bob is reluctant. Joe plies him with drink, which Joe (a stranger, from Bob's point of view) inexplicably retrieves from its hiding place in Bob's apartment, and Bob becomes intoxicated. Finally, Joe is about to manhandle Bob through the Gate when another man appears, one who looks very much like Joe. The newcomer does not want Bob to go. During the ensuing fight, Bob gets punched, sending him through the Gate.

He recovers his senses in a strange place. A somewhat older-looking, bearded man explains that he is 30,000 years in the future. The man, calling himself Diktor, treats Bob to a sumptuous breakfast served by beautiful women, one of whom Bob speaks admiringly of. Diktor immediately gives that woman to Bob as a slave. Diktor explains that humans in the future are handsome, cultured in a primitive fashion, but much more docile and good natured than their ancestors. An alien race built the Gate and refashioned humanity into compliant slaves, but the aliens are gone now, leaving a world where a 20th-century “go-getter” can make himself king.

Diktor asks him to go back through the Gate and bring back the man he finds on the other side. Bob agrees. Stepping through, he finds himself back in his own room, watching himself typing his thesis. Without much memory of what happened before, he reenacts the scene, this time from the other point of view, and calling himself "Joe" so as not to confuse his earlier self. Just as he is about to shove Bob through the Gate, another version of himself shows up. The fight happens as before, and Bob goes through the Gate.

His future self claims that Diktor is just trying to tangle them up so badly that they can never get untangled, but Joe goes through and meets Diktor again. Diktor gives him a list of things to buy in his own time and bring back. A little annoyed by Diktor's manner, Bob argues with him, but eventually returns to the past, back in his room once again.

He lives through the same scene for the third time, then realizes that he is now free. He collects the items on Diktor's list, which seem to be things a 20th-century man could find useful in making himself king in the future, intentionally writing a bad check for the purchases. After returning to the future, he adjusts the Gate to send himself back to a point ten years earlier, to give himself time to establish himself as the local chieftain. Thus he hopes to preempt Diktor's influence, charting his own course instead. While setting the Gate, he finds two things beside the controls: his hat, and a notebook containing translations between English words and the language of Diktor's slaves.

He sets himself up as chief, taking precautions against the arrival of Diktor. He adopts the name, which is simply the local word for "chief" (the etymology is not explained - "Diktor" might be derived from "doctor", "director" and/or "dictator"). He experiments with the Time Gate, hoping to see its makers. Once, he does catch a glimpse of one and has a brief mental contact with it. The experience is so traumatizing that he runs away screaming. He forces himself to return long enough to shut down the Gate, then stays away from it for more than two years. He does not notice that his hair has begun to whiten prematurely, as a result of the stress and shock. Having worn out the notebook through long use, he copies its text into a new, identical, one.

One day, upon setting the Gate to view his old room in the past, he sees three versions of himself in a familiar arrangement. Shortly, his earliest self comes through. The circle has closed. He is Diktor—the only Diktor there ever was.[3] Wondering who actually compiled the notebook, Diktor prepares to brief Bob, who has to orchestrate events to ensure his own future.


Floyd C. Gale of Galaxy Science Fiction said of "By His Bootstraps", "In 18 years I haven't seen its equal" as a temporal-paradox story.[4] Philosopher David Lewis considered "By His Bootstraps" and "'—All You Zombies—'" to be examples of "perfectly consistent" time travel stories.[5] Stating that it and other Heinlein time-travel stories "force the reader into contemplations of the nature of causality and the arrow of time", Carl Sagan listed "By His Bootstraps" as an example of how science fiction "can convey bits and pieces, hints and phrases, of knowledge unknown or inaccessible to the reader".[6]

See also


  1. ^ "Contents". Astounding Science Fiction. October 1941. p. 5.
  2. ^
  3. ^ Heinlein does not explain the etymology of "diktor". Bob White, in Fictional Languages (Ch. 3), points out that the title could have developed as a convergence of "doctor", "director" and "dictator", as the functions of a "diktor" include a bit of all three.
  4. ^ Gale, Floyd C. (December 1960). "Galaxy's 5 Star Shelf". Galaxy Science Fiction. pp. 123–127.
  5. ^ "The Paradoxes of Time Travel", American Philosophical Quarterly, April (1976): pp.  145–152
  6. ^ Sagan, Carl (1978-05-28). "Growing up with Science Fiction". The New York Times. p. SM7. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2018-12-12.

External links


2000X is a dramatic anthology series released by National Public Radio and produced by the Hollywood Theater of the Ear. There were 49 plays of various lengths in 26 one-hour programs broadcast weekly and later released on the Internet. Plays were adaptations of futuristic stories, novels and plays by noted authors. Producer/director Yuri Rasovsky and host/consultant Harlan Ellison won the 2001 Bradbury Award from the Science Fiction Writers of America for their work on this program.

Adventures in Time and Space

Adventures in Time and Space is an American anthology of science fiction stories edited by Raymond J. Healy and J. Francis McComas and published in 1946 by Random House. A second edition was also published in 1946 that eliminated the last five stories. A Modern Library edition was issued in 1957. When it was re-released in 1975 by Ballantine Books, Analog book reviewer Lester del Rey referred to it as a book he often gave to people in order to turn them onto the genre. It is now once again out of print.

The book and A Treasury of Science Fiction were among the only science fiction hardcover books from large, mainstream publishers before about 1950. The large (997 page) anthology collected numerous stories from the Golden Age of Science Fiction, which had originally appeared in pulp magazines (mostly Astounding Science Fiction) and are now regarded as classics of science fiction. According to Frederik Pohl, it was "A colossal achievement...the book that started the science-fiction publishing industry!" In 1954, Anthony Boucher described it as "the one anthology unarguably essential to every reader." In Astounding readers' surveys in both 1952 and 1956, it was rated the best science fiction book ever published.

All You Zombies

" '—All You Zombies—' " is a science fiction short story by American writer Robert A. Heinlein. It was written in one day, July 11, 1958, and first published in the March 1959 issue of Fantasy and Science Fiction magazine after being rejected by Playboy.

The story involves a number of paradoxes caused by time travel. In 1980, it was nominated for the Balrog Award for short fiction."'—All You Zombies—'" further develops themes explored by the author in a previous work: "By His Bootstraps", published some 18 years earlier. Some of the same elements also appear later in The Cat Who Walks Through Walls (1985), including the Circle of Ouroboros and the Temporal Corps.


A boot is a type of footwear and not a specific type of shoe. Most boots mainly cover the foot and the ankle, while some also cover some part of the lower calf. Some boots extend up the leg, sometimes as far as the knee or even the hip. Most boots have a heel that is clearly distinguishable from the rest of the sole, even if the two are made of one piece. Traditionally made of leather or rubber, modern boots are made from a variety of materials. Boots are worn both for their functionality – protecting the foot and leg from water, extreme cold, mud or hazards (e.g., work boots may protect wearers from chemicals or use a steel toe) or providing additional ankle support for strenuous activities with added traction requirements (e.g., hiking), or may have hobnails on their undersides to protect against wear and to get better grip; and for reasons of style and fashion.

In some cases, the wearing of boots may be required by laws or regulations, such as the regulations in some jurisdictions requiring workers on construction sites to wear steel-toed safety boots. Some uniforms include boots as the regulated footwear. Boots are recommended as well for motorcycle riders. High-top athletic shoes are generally not considered boots, even though they do cover the ankle, primarily due to the absence of a distinct heel. In Britain, the term may be used to refer to football (soccer) cleats.


In general, bootstrapping usually refers to a self-starting process that is supposed to proceed without external input. In computer technology the term (usually shortened to booting) usually refers to the process of loading the basic software into the memory of a computer after power-on or general reset, especially the operating system which will then take care of loading other software as needed.

The term appears to have originated in the early 19th-century United States (particularly in the phrase "pull oneself over a fence by one's bootstraps") to mean an absurdly impossible action, an adynaton.

Bootstrapping (disambiguation)

Bootstrapping is a self-starting process that is supposed to proceed without external input.

Bootstrapping or bootstrap may also refer to:

Bootstrap (front-end framework), a free collection of tools for creating websites and web applications

Bootstrap curriculum, a curriculum which uses computer programming to teach algebra to students age 12-16

Bootstrap funding in entrepreneurship and startups

Bootstrap model, a class of theories in quantum physics

Conformal bootstrap, a mathematical method to constrain and solve models in particle physics

Bootstrapping (compilers), the process of writing a compiler in the programming language it is intended to compile

Bootstrapping (electronics), a type of circuit that employs positive feedback.

Bootstrapping (finance), a method for constructing a yield curve from the prices of coupon-bearing products

Bootstrapping (law), a former rule of evidence in federal conspiracy trials

Bootstrapping (linguistics), a term used in language acquisition

Bootstrapping (statistics), a method for assigning measures of accuracy to sample estimates

Causal loop

A causal loop in the context of time travel or the causal structure of spacetime, is a sequence of events (actions, information, objects, people) in which an event is among the causes of another event, which in turn is among the causes of the first-mentioned event. Such causally-looped events then exist in spacetime, but their origin cannot be determined. A hypothetical example of a causality loop is given of a billiard ball striking its past self: the billiard ball moves in a path towards a time machine, and the future self of the billiard ball emerges from the time machine before its past self enters it, giving its past self a glancing blow, altering the past ball's path and causing it to enter the time machine at an angle that would cause its future self to strike its past self the very glancing blow that altered its path.

List of science fiction short stories

This is a non-comprehensive list of short stories with significant science fiction elements.

Off the Main Sequence

Off the Main Sequence: The Other Science Fiction Stories of Robert A. Heinlein (ISBN 1-58288-184-7) is a collection of 27 short stories by American writer Robert A. Heinlein, including three that were never previously collected in book form.

The title is a play on the astronomy concept off the main sequence.

Robert A. Heinlein bibliography

The science fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein (1907–1988) was productive during a writing career that spanned the last 49 years of his life; the Robert A. Heinlein bibliography includes 32 novels, 59 short stories and 16 collections published during his life. Four films, two TV series, several episodes of a radio series, and a board game derive more or less directly from his work. He wrote a screenplay for one of the films. Heinlein edited an anthology of other writers' SF short stories.

Three non-fiction books and two poems have been published posthumously. One novel has been published posthumously and another, an unusual collaboration, was published in 2006. Four collections have been published posthumously.

Heinlein's fictional works can be found in the library under PS3515.E288, or under Dewey 813.54. Known pseudonyms include Anson MacDonald (7 times), Lyle Monroe (7), John Riverside (1), Caleb Saunders (1), and Simon York (1). All the works originally attributed to MacDonald, Saunders, Riverside and York, and many of the works originally attributed to Lyle Monroe, were later reissued in various Heinlein collections and attributed to Heinlein.

The Door into Summer

The Door into Summer is a science fiction novel by American writer Robert A. Heinlein, originally serialized in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction (October, November, December 1956, with covers and interior illustrations by Frank Kelly Freas). It was published in hardcover in 1957.

The novel is fast-paced hard science fiction, with a key fantastic element and a romantic element.

In three separate Locus magazine readers' polls from 1975 to 1998, it was judged the 36th, 29th, and the 43rd all-time best science-fiction novel.Its title was triggered by a remark which Heinlein's wife Virginia made when their cat refused to leave the house: "He's looking for a door into summer."Heinlein wrote the novel in 13 days.

The Man Who Folded Himself

The Man Who Folded Himself is a 1973 science fiction novel by American writer David Gerrold, dealing with time travel. It was nominated for the Nebula Award for Best Novel in 1974 and the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 1974. The book explores the psychological, physical, and personal challenges that manifest when time travel is possible for a single individual at the touch of a button. References to both the American Airlines Flight 191 crash and the destruction of the World Trade Center Twin Towers, events which did not occur until 6 years and 28 years respectively after initial publication, were added in the 2003 edition.

The Menace from Earth (short story collection)

The Menace From Earth is a collection of science fiction short stories by American writer Robert A. Heinlein. It was published by The Gnome Press in 1959 in an edition of 5,000 copies.

The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume Two

The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume Two is an English language science fiction two-volume anthology edited by Ben Bova and published in the U.S. by Doubleday in 1973, distinguished as volumes "Two A" and "Two B". In the U.K. they were published by Gollancz as Volume Two (1973) and Volume Three (1974). The original U.S. subtitle was The Greatest Science Fiction Novellas of All Time.

Twenty-two novellas published from 1895 to 1962 were selected by vote of the Science Fiction Writers of America, as that body had selected the contents of The Science Fiction Hall of Fame Volume One, 1929-1964, a collection of the best-regarded short stories. SFWA had been established in 1965 and that publication year defined its first annual Nebula Awards. Introducing the collected novellas, Bova wrote, "The purpose of the Science Fiction Hall of Fame anthologies is to bestow a similar recognition on stories that were published prior to 1966 [sic], and thus never had a chance to earn a Nebula."The selection process generated both a top ten stories and a top ten authors.

Although the original publication dates ranged from 1895 to 1962, only two stories were published before 1938, "The Time Machine" by Wells (1895) and "The Machine Stops" by Forster (1909).

Theodore Sturgeon reviewed the anthology favorably, praising the decision to issue it in two volumes rather than scale back the contents.

Bova's introduction thanks Doubleday science fiction editor Larry Ashmead for that.

The Time Traveler's Wife

The Time Traveler's Wife is the debut novel of American author Audrey Niffenegger, published in 2003. It is a love story about a man with a genetic disorder that causes him to time travel unpredictably, and about his wife, an artist, who has to cope with his frequent absences and dangerous experiences. Niffenegger, frustrated in love when she began the work, wrote the story as a metaphor for her failed relationships. The tale's central relationship came to her suddenly and subsequently supplied the novel's title. The novel, which has been classified as both science fiction and romance, examines issues of love, loss, and free will. In particular, it uses time travel to explore miscommunication and distance in relationships, while also investigating deeper existential questions.

As a first-time novelist, Niffenegger had trouble finding a literary agent. She eventually sent the novel to MacAdam/Cage unsolicited and, after an auction took place for the rights, Niffenegger selected them as her publishers. The book became a bestseller after an endorsement from author and family friend Scott Turow on The Today Show, and as of March 2009 had sold nearly 2.5 million copies in the United States and the United Kingdom. Many reviewers were impressed with Niffenegger's unique perspectives on time travel. Some praised her characterization of the couple, applauding their emotional depth; others criticized her writing style as melodramatic and the plot as emotionally trite. The novel won the Exclusive Books Boeke Prize and a British Book Award. A film version was released in August 2009.

There Will Be Time

There Will Be Time is a science fiction novel by American writer Poul Anderson. It was published in 1972 in a hardback edition by Doubleday and in 1973 in a paperback edition by New American Library.

The story is about a young man who has a genetic mutation that allows him to move through time. It was nominated for the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 1973.

Time travel

Time travel is the concept of movement between certain points in time, analogous to movement between different points in space by an object or a person, typically using a hypothetical device known as a time machine. Time travel is a widely-recognized concept in philosophy and fiction. The idea of a time machine was popularized by H. G. Wells' 1895 novel The Time Machine.

It is uncertain if time travel to the past is physically possible. Forward time travel, outside the usual sense of the perception of time, is an extensively-observed phenomenon and well-understood within the framework of special relativity and general relativity. However, making one body advance or delay more than a few milliseconds compared to another body is not feasible with current technology. As for backwards time travel, it is possible to find solutions in general relativity that allow for it, but the solutions require conditions that may not be physically possible. Traveling to an arbitrary point in spacetime has a very limited support in theoretical physics, and usually only connected with quantum mechanics or wormholes, also known as Einstein-Rosen bridges.

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