This falls into the ‘it would be fun if this existed’ category of speculative fiction. Although set in the modern day, there’s one new addition to life:
When time travelers first started showing up they were called phantoms. When scientists figured out what they were, the media called them time tourists, or nostalginauts. We stuck with phantom, pronounced phan-dumb, and finally just dumdums.
I mean, what a phenomenally stupid invention. Time travel that only takes you twenty-five years into the past, lasts half a minute, and you’re insubstantial too. It makes a quest for rubber beverage containers look intelligent.
The wider ramifications of this story are not explored, as the protagonist is a teenager, and her main concern is her prom. Because it’s common at proms for the eighteen-year-old students to be greeted by their thirty-three-year-old selves, often holding pictures of the houses and cars they’ll own. Teenage lovers hope they see their future selves holding hands. Everyone is hoping they’ll at least see their older duplicates, no matter how poor or aged, just so they know they won’t die young.
Well, ‘everyone’ doesn’t quite include the protagonist and her friends. They’re a motley collection of geeks and nerds, too diffuse to be a band; her only real friend is Gar. They live in a small town where they get picked on by the jocks, and they can’t wait to graduate and get as far away as they possibly can. She doesn’t even plan to go to the prom, but curiosity about her future self overwhelms her at the last minute.
It’s a short, charming story, lightly playing with its conceit, the future selves providing a physical reminder that life doesn’t end at high school. And while Gar’s conclusion is a tad too wish-fulfillment for my tastes, the story’s ending note is pitched perfectly.
The Nostalginauts by S.N. Dyer (aka Sharon N. Farber)
Availability: print, free audio dramatization
Word count: 2,900
First published: Asimov’s, Mar 1997
Where to find it: An audio dramatization was produced by the Seeing Ear Theatre and hosted at SFFaudio here (about a third of the way down the page)
Year’s Best SF 3, edited by David G. Hartwell, 1998, HarperPrism