Pros:Fascinating story, great research, fine and fitting illustrations, with strong characters and sub-plots
The late Jack Finney was a marvelous storyteller. The sole flaw in Time and Again, its sequel From Time to Time, and his short stories of his works seems to be overmuch self-deprecation on the part of his protagonists (almost always the viewpoint character, as well). Perhaps this reflects Finney himself; I never met him, but I hear that he was a nice and interesting person.
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Time and Again is a wonderful story, perhaps the culmination of a thread that runs through most of Finney’s work: A yearning for the (calmer, friendlier, safer) past. Having the same sort of yearning at times (although mine is for the 1930s and the 1950s), I course approached my first reading of Time and Again ready to be critical of any mistreatment of this yearning.
That was 26 years ago, and I’m happy to say I was not left in a critical frame of mind by the novel. Which is to say, Finney wrote what is probably the best novel in this sub-genre.
The mechanism by which the Si Morley, the hero, reaches the past is neither contrived nor silly. The characters are strong, and realistic. The vital facts of the past to which Si travels (and of the time in which he lives, pre-time travel) are thoroughly researched and well-presented. (And, the presentation normally involves showing the reader the facts, rather than telling about them.)
The plot and sub-plots are well laid-out, and consistent. They also make for a fascinating tale. I do not want to reveal any of the story here, lest you be clued in to some of the surprises that lie in wait among the book’s 400-odd pages. But I can tell you that the book is most gratifying and fascinating to read. The device of using historical photos and sketches in the book as images captured by the fictional Simon Morley is not only a splendid idea, but also well-executed. (I’ve seen this fail in some other works—but here it is brilliant!)
One thing that marks Finney’s tales in general is that each is firmly rooted in the time in which it was written. When you think about it, though, this is ideal for a novel with time travel as one of its main themes. This way, you get a greater contrast and good comparative contrast for the past era to which Morley travels.
I mentioned above a common thread in much of Finney’s work. This includes Time and Again, From Time to Time, and the bulk of Finney’s short stories. He treats the theme of returning to the past carefully in every tale, sometimes fulfilling the protagonist’s (and the readers’) needs, sometimes writing to a “Paradise Lost” ending. Either way, the works are wonderful—and perhaps most wonderful of all is Time and Again. Read it!
(Notes: Finney’s short stories were collected some years back in a volume titled The Third Level. This has long been out of print, but copies of the hardcover and the paperback are easily found in used bookstores.
(Also, after you read Time and Again you may be curious about the New York apartment building The Dakota, which figures prominently in the book. If so, find a copy of Stephen Birmingham’s Life at the Dakota.)
Michael A. Banks is the author of such books as PC Confidential (Sybex Books, 2000) and The Modem Reference ( Books, 2000), as well as co-author of the science fiction novel The Odysseus Solution (w/Dean Lambe, Baen Books, 1986)
(Copyright 2000, Michael A. Banks. All rights reserved.)
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