John Pierce | published Mar, 1936

added May 31, 2024
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First Date of Publication
Mar, 1936
Original Source
Astounding Stories
Original Source Type
Magazine - Pulp
Short Story
Original Language
Kasman Review
Summary: A clever idea poorly executed, utilizing a mathematical solution to Maxwell’s equations as a basis for building a time-viewer to peer into the near-future…

Story Tag Line: “While the advanced (anticipated) potentials, as well as the retarded potentials, satisfy the electro-magnetic equations, the former have generally been discarded for the reason that it has been more in accord with the trend of scientific intuition to consider the resent is determined by the past course of events than by the future. However, if it is once admitted that the present state is uniquely determined by any past state , it follows that the future is also determined, and hence the employment of a future as well as a past state in specifying the present marks no inherent departure from our accustomed methods of description.”

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  • Vijay Fafat
    Published on

    The story hangs its hat on a clever observation made long ago by many physicists, including Einstein, about the nature of solutions of Maxwell’s equations. Since the equations are time-symmetric, they entertain both causal (past to future, “retarded” waves) and anti-causal (future to past, “advanced” waves which originate in the future and propagate to the past in just the right manner to converge on a charged source) solutions. At one point, it was thought that a combination of these solutions could explain the stability of Bohr’s atom, before Quantum Mechanics came to fore, with the associated price that you had to allow effects preceding cause in at least some limited domain of Physics. The natural question was: if we see light as a manifestation of the retarded solution, why don’t we see some kind of “anti-light” from the future as well? [see Feynman-Wheeler’s absorber theory]

    Pierce has used this “light from the future” idea as a central theme of a very weak story. A mathematician (world’s best, naturally. “He’s the man, who at the age of 20, found the Stuart-Binnet solution to the unified field equations…”) picks up on the “Lorentz,-Maxwell-Mahler equation” (Mahler is fictitious) and predicts that the “advanced potentials” solution will be found to have an independent physical reality. He goes on to build a time-viewer which can look into the future (about 10 minutes or less; the author makes heavy weather of it and does not really specify this), love with his employer’s daughter follows, an accident is averted and all ends pulpy well.

    This really could have been quite a strong story if the author had spent some time building a proper plot and explained the principles.