First published in The Magazine Of Fantasy And Science Fiction (February 1956 issue), this Short Story by Isaac Asimov is focused on explaining an Historical In-Joke; who first wrote "Kilroy was here"?
The story opens with three unnamed war veterans drinking and celebrating their past. Discussion turns to a Memetic Mutation, first seen in northern Africa. Switching to that instance, we also change perspectives, telling the story from George's view. George has come from the future to collect original research on infantrymen in World War II. Unable to resist temptation, he leaves a tag for anyone who passes by to see; Kilroy Was Here.
This story has been reprinted five times; New Worlds Science Fiction (issue #54, December 1956), Earth is Room Enough (1957), The Far Ends Of Time And Earth (1979), Isaac Asimov Der Tausendjahresplaner (1984), and The Complete Stories Volume 1 (1990).
Examples of tropes within this work:
- Butterfly of Doom: (Implied Trope) A lot of effort is spent to make a time traveller the "pure observer", meaning they leave zero impact on events. George Kilroy wasn't content with that, and wrote Kilroy Was Here. The story ends after that transgression.
- Featureless Plane of Disembodied Dialogue: This story is written with very clear imagery for the setting and emotion, but the character descriptions are, as usual, treated as sparse and unnecessary.
- Field Trip to the Past: The protagonist is from the thirtieth century, collecting original research for an academic paper on infantrymen in World War II.
- Flash Fiction: When it was published in The Magazine Of Fantasy And Science Fiction, the editor called it an "ultra-short short-short", in contrast to the Foundation series that Dr Asimov had been publishing. This story barely took up both sides of one page.
- Good Is Boring: George considers the warless thirtieth century insipid, tame, and stress-free. He very much prefers the violent, noisy, and heroic twentieth century, especially the World War II period.
- Historical In-Joke: The beach of northern Africa may have been the first time someone left the etching Kilroy Was Here. This story claims George Kilroy was a time-traveller collecting original research for an academic paper, and responsible for creating the Memetic Mutation.
- Informed Conversation: The jokes and stories told by the old servicemebers are mentioned in the abstract, establishing the sort of conversation they're having before they obliquely mention the Kilroy Was Here trope. The third soldier is implied to be the first person from the present to have seen the message.
- Intro-Only Point of View: The story opens with three old war veterans in the twentieth century, reminiscing about their past. Then it flips to a time-traveller student from the thirtieth century, who is in World War II.
- Kilroy Was Here: The protagonist, a time traveler from the 30th century, visits northern Africa during World War II (20th century). Time travellers are forbidden from interfering with the past, but he carves a message on the wall of the hut he was in, telling people George Kilroy was here. Supposedly the first time anyone left the tag, creating a Memetic Mutation.
- The Namesake: The title refers to Kilroy Was Here, a Memetic Mutation left by the time-traveller.
- Nostalgia Filter:
- The old soldiers are talking about their past without explicit dialogue, exaggerating the stories they remember.They drank beer and reminisced as men will who have met after long separation. They called to mind the days under fire. They remembered sergeants and girls, both with exaggeration. Deadly things became humorous in retrospect, and trifles disregarded for ten years were hauled out for airing.
- George, a time-traveller from the thirtieth century, compares home to the twentieth century that he's travelled to. He sees it as unbearably dull, while World War II is a superlative drama.
- The old soldiers are talking about their past without explicit dialogue, exaggerating the stories they remember.
- Switching P.O.V.: The Intro-Only Point of View changes to George, a college student time-travelling for original research on a paper.
- War Is Glorious: The time-traveller has gone to visit Oran beach in northern Africa during World War II in order to collect direct research on the social life of infantry servicemen. He's ecstatic with the experience, watching tracer rounds and flares, hearing artillery and airplanes. He's so excited that he wants to be remembered for having been there, and carves into the building "Kilroy Was Here".
- The Watcher: The ideal time-traveller is never seen by people in the past, never takes anything, and never leaves anything. It's an Implied Trope that the Butterfly of Doom could change things if they didn't follow the rules. Naturally our time-traveller violates the rule. George Kilroy tagged a wall to inform other people that he had been there.