Needle in a Timestack by Robert Silverberg – The Time Traveler’s Almanac

Welcome to the third story for #TimeTravelThursday.  As you know, this is a group of five (including me) bloggers who are going to read one story a week out of The Time Traveler’s Almanac.  That will take us into January of 2017.  Feel free to jump on and off whenever you need to.  I hope you enjoy this ride.


Needle in a Timestack
Robert Silverberg

Robert Silverberg is an American writer widely known for his science fiction and fantasy stories.  He is a many-time winner of the Hugo and Nebula awards, was named to the Science Fiction Hall Of Fame in 1999, and in 2004 was designated a Grand Master by the Science Fiction Writers Of America.  His books and stories have been translated into forty languages.  Among his best-known titles are NightwingsDying Inside The Book Of Skulls, and the three volumes of the Majipoor Cycle:  Lord Valentine’s CastleMajipoor Chronicles, and Valentine Pontifex.  His collected short stories, covering nearly sixty years of work, have been published in nine volumes by Subterranean Press.  His attraction to the time travel theme is most notable in his novel-length work in books such as Hawksbill StationHouse Of Bones, and Up The Line.  This story was originally published in Playboy in June of 1983.

***Brief Summary***

Mikkelsen and Janine live in a time where time travel (phasing) happens all the time.  Your life could change on a daily basis.  Someone is trying to split them up.  Who is it and will they be able to survive it?  Or will they lose each other forever?

Of this story, Robert Silberberg said:

“At a science-fiction convention many years ago I heard a friend of mine say to an annoying young man who was trying to interrupt our conversation, “Go away, kid, or I’ll change your future.” Whereupon I said, without thinking much about it, “No, tell him that you’ll change his PAST,” and suddenly I realized that I had handed myself a very nice story idea.

I wrote it in January, 1982 – its intricate time-travel plot unfolded for me with marvelous clarity as I worked – and sent it off to PLAYBOY, which was publishing a lot of my science fiction back then. It ran in the July, 1983 issue, and a few years later Miramax bought it for filming, but I’m still waiting for them to make the movie. I do love writing time-travel stories, though, and this is a particular favorite of mine among all of that sort that I’ve done.”


For Mikkelsen, it was the taste of cotton in his mouth.  For others it might be a ringing in the ears, a tremor of the little finger, or a tightness in the shoulders.  That is how he knew Tommy Hambleton messed with his past.  Tommy wanted to undo Mikkelsen’s marriage to Janine.

Mikkelsen calls the house to make sure Janine is still there, still his wife.  In this time period they have video phones, Janine appears on the screen when he calls.  She felt the disturbance as well.  They run through the checklist to make sure nothing has changed: name, address, are they married, and how many kids.

Everything is normal.  What did Tommy change?  They aren’t sure.  Mikkelsen tells us, “When your past is altered through time-phasing, all records of your life are automatically altered too, of course, but there’s a period of two or three hours when memories of your previous existence still linger in your brain.”  They then check other dates:  Mikkelsen’s birthday, parents’ names, and educational record.  But then they find something.  Their wedding date has changed.  Their new wedding date is February 8, 2017, they both remember an August 24th wedding.  “Then five months of our marriage are gone, Janine.  He couldn’t unmarry us altogether, but he managed to hold us up from summer to winter.”

Mikkelsen wants to go back and do some kind of phasing to Tommy, but he can’t.  If he does he runs the risk of never meeting Janine and completely changing their lives.  Janine makes him promise he will not go and do any kind of phasing to Tommy.


The first phasing happened when Mikkelsen was coming home.  He pulled up at his house and called for Gus.  Gus was their cat and usually came running to greet him, just like a dog.  He could not find Gus.  He goes inside and asks Janine where Gus was.  She said they didn’t have a cat named Gus, they have Max and Minibelle.

They realized there must have been a phasing.  Gus was named after the guy that introduced Mikkelsen and Janine to each other.  When Mikkelsen and Janine marry, Gus gives them a cat as a gift, so they named it after him.  Mikkelsen goes upstairs to look in their address book for Gus, he is not in there.  He goes through the phone book and finds him and gives him a call.  Gus does not look like what he remembered.  Tommy has taken Gus out of their lives hoping that Mikkelsen and Janine wouldn’t meet.

Janine then tells Mikkelsen that before they met, Tommy tried to do phasings on her four times.  Each time he would go back to the final fight and try to fix things, he never did.  Janine had threatened to report Tommy and get his jaunt-license revoked if he didn’t stop.  That seemed to do the trick.  But now Tommy was back at it.


About six months later the next phasing happened.  This time they lost their twentieth-century artifacts collection.  Before the phasing, Janine and Mikkelsen had decided to invest in some twentieth-century artifacts, but now instead of that they decided to go on a second honeymoon because they were going through a rough patch.  Their guide on their Aztec adventure had tried to convince Mikkelsen to leave Janine.  It didn’t work.

But now, after this latest phasing, Mikkelsen decides that he will go talk to Tommy.


Mikkelsen meets Tommy at Tommy’s favorite pub.  Mikkelsen talks to Tommy about the phasings. He wants to know if Tommy is behind them. They chat for a bit, then Mikkelsen decides to back off engaging only in some friendly small talk  Mikkelsen knew that Tommy would strike again, and probably soon.  Mikkelsen starts working on a plan to stop Tommy and he decides Chancy  is the key.  Mikkelsen spends the next few days trying to come up with his plan.  Then a new phasing happened.  Once his grogginess wears off, Mikkelsen finds himself in a bachelor flat ninety stories above Mission Bay.  He is losing memory of his wife and kids.  He remembers that Melanie was supposed to be dropping by at six.  Tommy had done it this time, he managed to change Mikkelsen’s life.


Mikkelsen spent the next half hour writing down all the details  he could remember of Janine, their life, and everything leading up to this phasing.  His phone rings.  He really wants it to be Janine, it’s Gus.  Gus is calling to cancel their plans for the night, his wife has a headache.  He can tell that something is wrong with Mikkelsen.  Mikkelsen tells him that a phasing has happened.  He asks about Janine.  Gus tells him that Tommy and Janine married.

Once they are off the phone, he tries to find Janine’s new number, but he realizes that he won’t be able to.  Then his phone rings.  It is Janine.  She knows a phasing has happened.  She tells Mikkelsen where she is but knows there is nothing she can do.  Tommy isn’t the same man they remember.  He is more kind, more human like.  She tells Mikkelsen that she has been married to Tommy now for ten years and in a few hours she will no longer have memories of them together.

Mikkelsen wants to try to fix it but she tells him that he can’t.  He needs to let go of the past, he will forget her anyway.  Then the screen on the phone goes blank.


Mikkelsen decides he will do a phasing.  He goes back to a day in December 2012.  He heads to La Jolla where everyone will be but him, his younger self is back in Palm Beach with is parents.  Everyone is surprised to see him.  He asks where Yvonne was, his girlfriend at the time.  Christie tells him that she should be here soon.

Tommy arrives a few minutes later and Mikkelsen pulls him to the side.  Mikkelsen tells him that he is breaking up with Yvonne.  Tommy tells him that is too bad, that he thought they were the most solid couple there.  Mikkelsen tells Tommy that he knows he has had his eye on Yvonne and he knows that she would be happier with him.  Mikkelsen is just going to step aside.

Yvonne shows up and Mikkelsen takes her down to the beach and tells her that he knows she is in love with Tommy and he wasn’t going to make a fuss about it.  She says she hadn’t really thought of Tommy like that but she could give it a try.

After he breaks up with Yvonne he leaves and sent an express-fax to himself.  It said: “Yvonne has fallen for Tommy Hambleton.  However upset you are, for God’s sake get over it fast, and if you happen to meet a young woman named Janine Carter, give her a close look.  You won’t regret it, believe me.  I’m in a position to know.”

He heads back to the jaunt-shop and goes back to his proper point in time.


When he gets back he has the taste of cotton in his mouth, but he is still not married to Janine.  He knows he is single and has three or four regular companions.  He has a note in his pocket that is starting to fade.  It reads: “You won’t remember any of this, but you were married in 2016 or 2017 to the former Janine Carter, Tommy Hambleton’s ex-wife, and however much you may like your present life, you were a lot better off when you were with her.”

He heads home and showers and then heads over to the pub, he is going to be meeting Tommy and his wife Yvonne.  He has not seen them in years.

When he arrives he sees Tommy and Yvonne.  After they say their hellos and start talking Tommy is all of a sudden distracted.  Mikkelsen asks Tommy what it is.  Tommy tells him he thinks he just saw an old friend.  It is someone he met after he had started dating Yvonne, he assures Yvonne that nothing happened.  He tells Mikkelsen to come with him, if it is who he thinks it is Mikkelsen might like her.  The story ends like this:

He seized Mikkelsen by the wrist and drew him, astounded, across the room.

“Janine?” Hambleton cried. “Janine Carter.”

“Tommy?  Is that you?”

“Of course, of course.  That’s my wife, Yvonne, over there.  And this – this is one of my oldest and dearest friends, Nick Mikkelsen.  Nick – Janine–“

She stared up at him.  “This sounds absurd,” she said, “but don’t I know you from somewhere?”

Mikkelsen felt a warm flood of mysterious energy surging through him as their eyes met.  “It’s a long story,” he said.  “Let’s have a drink and I’ll tell you all about it.”

***Final Thoughts***

Finally, it has taken us three stories but we finally have a time travel story that I love.  This story is fantastic.  I love the idea of time travel in this story and how your life can a certain way today and a different way tomorrow.  I love the idea and it is scary…..wait a second.  My eyes twitched today…I still have my blog, my job, my wife and two dogs.  I still have my music and book collection.  Nope, must be tired.

What is not to love about this story.  I know we are only three stories into this anthology but this one will be hard to beat.  I loved the action, the characters, and the love story.  I loved seeing how they changed with each phase.  This story kept me on the edge of my seat the entire time.

Rating:  9.5/10 Stars

Love love love this story.

***What Would I Read Next By Robert Silverberg***

I have never heard of Robert Silverberg until reading this story.  When I looked up his bibliography I was stocked, he has written so many stories.  I decided that I would want to read another time travel story because I loved this one so much.  I then discovered Project Pendulum.  I think that this one sounds really interesting.


Identical twins Sean and Eric have been chosen for a daring experiment. One of them will travel into the distant past. The other into the distant future. But each swing of the time pendulum means they will be further and further apart Will the experiment work? And if it does, will the twins ever meet again?

***Find Out What The Four Other Bloggers Thought Of This Story.  Do They Agree With Me?***

DJ (@MyLifeMyBooksMyEscape)
Alesha Escobar
H.M. Jones
Timothy C. Ward


11 thoughts on “Needle in a Timestack by Robert Silverberg – The Time Traveler’s Almanac

  1. Well, this convinces me without a doubt that I don’t want to have anything to do with time travel in my life! My heart was palpitating as I read along. My chest still feels like I swallowed a frog! What really freaks me out is that after reading some of Jack Finney’s stories, I know without question that time travel should be left to the professionals! I’m the oldest of seven, mother of three, and grandmother of four…can you imagine how many lives I could totally mess up if I dabbled in time travel or horror of horrors changing someone else’s life!!! This is a 10 out of 10, no time travel needed to know that!

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Grandma, I am glad you liked the story. I am glad you liked my review. I try to write it so the reader can feel what I felt as I was reading. If you have time you should read this story even though you know what happens. It really did grab you and not let go until the end.

      I cannot imagine what the world would be like if people could go back and change things. I can’t imagine not waking up to my wife. But I guess if you don’t realize a phasing happened you wouldn’t really know and therefore probably not care.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Preston, yeah I have to agree. I liked the unsettling aspect of it, the thing that made you think: “What if this happened to me?” My bodily response was very emotional because I love life as it is, and couldn’t think about how terrible it would be, and how frustrating it would be, to have someone meddle with it. I really loved the originality and emotional appeal of this one.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I completely agree with how cool the time-travel. Time-travel stories where you can create the butterfly effect are my favorite, and how Silverberg came up with the cotton-mouth, 2 hour window of remembering to realize you were phasing was brilliant! BUT he just left too much unexplained – the practicality for the whole world having the availability to time-travel was and how great an effect that would have on the entire population – for me to let it go.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I’m glad you enjoyed it, Preston and H.M., though you both know how I struggled with this one. It definitely goes to show that a story can have different impacts on different minds 😊. I did think the time jaunting concept was interesting, but some of the practicality and consequences didn’t seem fleshed out enough for me.

    Liked by 1 person

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