Literature / Downtiming the Nightside

Notorious but better-than-it-sounds science fiction novel by the equally notorious Jack L. Chalker. It posits a world in which Time Travel to or from the past is possible by "leaping" into the body of a person of that time. There is a catch: spend too much time in the past, and you'll 'trip' and be stuck as that person permanently, even if you return to the present.

When the hero's first leap into the past uncovers a full-fledged war for control of the future, things go from bad to worse very, very quickly.

Predates Quantum Leap by more than a decade.


  • Author Appeal: It is Chalker, after all.
  • Brother-Sister Incest: Guess what happens when you grow up on a desert island with no one but your parents and siblings for company?
  • Butterfly Effect: Subverted: you have to kill someone really important before they'd accomplished their life's work to significantly affect the outcome of history. If you killed someone in the Middle Ages who was an ancestor of, say, Teddy Roosevelt, there'd still be enough genes in the pool for someone to give birth to Teddy Roosevelt hundreds of years later. History is like a big river and it "flows" around small impediments.
  • Different for Girls: Specifically averted by The Mind Is a Plaything of the Body.
  • The Dragon: Eric Benoni.
  • For Want of a Nail: The protagonist turns out to be the nail. He's the mother of the Big Bad. And it's implied that other time travel experiments also "failed" because their subjects were forcibly recruited into the time war by future time travelers.
  • Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: Eric again
  • Gender Bender: Several, as you don't get to pick your target when you travel to the past.
  • In Spite of a Nail: Played with: Killing Karl Marx before he publishes Das Kapital has a big effect on the time stream, killing him after not so much, and killing him shortly before he would have died anyway has hardly any affect at all.
  • Mental Time Travel
  • No Ontological Inertia: Subverted. "Nightsiding" people (cutting them off from their prior selves) does not make them disappear or eliminate what they have done, but it does make them vulnerable to Ontological Inertia
  • Ontological Inertia: Played with. Time does its level best to shunt time jumpers into insignificant people who can't or won't affect the timestream. And if you get nightsided, watch out, because time does not like loose ends.
  • Ret Gone: The goal of the war is to do this to the enemy.
  • Ripple Effect-Proof Memory: Subverted: you lose some of yourself (and gain some of the personality of your new host) every time you 'trip'. And if you spend too much time in the host's era afterwards you'll be totally assimilated. The heroes use an entire supercomputer just to keep track of the temporal logistics to prevent this from happening to their troops, and it means some people can't go on some missions because they'll exceed their exposure time.
  • Disappeared Dad: The driving force behind the Dragon.
  • Place Beyond Time: Not really, but the heroes' base is in the early Cenozoic, far enough back so plate tectonics will destroy all of the evidence.
  • San Dimas Time: The "edge" in the future is always moving. The entire plot turns out to be a huge scheme to extend the edge long enough for people in the future to disarm the bombs their enemies had set as a booby trap. The huge, convoluted stable time loop was merely a distraction to give the people at the edge time to work.
  • Sci-Fi
  • Screw Yourself: And have lots of children doing it.
  • Set Right What Once Went Wrong
  • Self-Made Orphan: Combined with Truly Single Parent and Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas in a way that only a Timey-Wimey Ball makes possible.
  • Stable Time Loop: Used to "nightside" people by cutting them off from their prior selves.
  • Temporal Paradox: Several.
  • Time Machine
  • Timey-Wimey Ball: And how. Justified — the rules of time travel appear to change around, but that's only because it's so poorly understood that nobody knows what the rules actually are. Combine this with improvements to the process and the technology, and things look especially inconsistent.
  • Time Police: The hero is forcibly recruited.
  • Truly Single Parent: Using a Gender Bender and a Stable Time Loop instead of cloning, but still...
  • Unfortunate Names: Ron Moosic, the Hero.
  • The War of Earthly Aggression: The time war proves to be a second front.
  • Word of God: Chalker claimed that he wrote this story in an attempt to address the questions raised — but not answered — by Robert A. Heinlein's —All You Zombies—.
  • You Already Changed the Past: Used, averted, and subverted as the hero experiences several time loops from various perspectives. Shows up initially when the protagonist learns that he is from the past and the real leading edge of time is hundreds of years in his future.