Literature: By His Bootstraps

"By His Bootstraps" is a short story by Robert A. Heinlein first published in 1941. It deals with Bob, a student and all-round terrible person, who suddenly finds himself faced with the idea of a time portal and several strange men in his bedroom. At the other end, 30000 years into the future, lies an Arcadia ripe for the taking, and a man named Diktor is willing to give him half of the future land.

The story became the Trope Codifier for the Stable Time Loop idea, and was the former Trope Namer for the page.


This short story provides examples of:

  • Conqueror From The Future: Inverted. The main character is brought from the present to the far future and becomes the world's "Diktor" (dictator). Apparently the people from the future have become too soft, following a massive alien invasion.
  • Have We Met Yet?: Bob and Arma.
  • Imported Alien Phlebotinum: The Time Gate.
  • Karma Houdini: Bob is generally a mean guy; he starts a nasty (few) fight(s) during the story, displays an abusive relation with women, and even goes so far as to enslave the entire human population of the future in preparation for a clash with "Diktor", the man who had ruled the Earth prior to Bob's jumping 10 years in the past of that time. The central irony of this being that in doing so, Bob himself becomes "Diktor" and sets out to prepare his past self to do the same. Somewhat subverted considering that the most important people he slights during the story are actually just versions of himself from varying timeframes.
  • My Future Self and Me: A man's future selves go back and meet his past self for various reasons.
  • One Degree of Separation: The story's main draw.
  • Stable Time Loop: Also known as the "Bootstrap Paradox" because of this story.
  • Temporal Paradox: Among other hijinks, the main character gets a book from the future, which he copies into another one (the same one, when it's new?) when it becomes too old and falling apart. A good way to avoid an object-based ontological paradox.
  • These Are Things Man Was Not Meant to Know: Bob Wilson sees one of the High Ones through a time viewer and almost loses his mind. It was the emotion of seeing something so powerful and advanced that caused his discomfort — an overwhelming mixture of sadness, tragedy, grief and weariness.
  • Timey-Wimey Ball: The protagonist exploits a time machine to move himself forward in time. Simple enough. The Mind Screw comes in when he does this by his future self sending back his intermediate self to persuade his past self to enter the machine's portal. When the past self becomes the intermediate self, he attempts to double cross the future self, but that double cross naturally results in him becoming the future self. Follow all that?