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Saturday, October 6, 2012
Time and Again by Jack Finney
This post I'm giving you a brief respite from all the blood and thunder, to review a time-travel adventure written in the early 1970s.
Simon "Si" Morely is recruited by a super-secret government agency for a top secret project. He is asked to volunteer, though the recruiter won't even tell him what the project is about until he signs on the dotted line. It wouldn't be much of a story if Si did the logical thing and told them to take a long walk on a short pier, so he signs on and gradually learns the project involves experiments in time travel.
Si is the ideal candidate because he is both fairly intelligent, and artistic, which gives him the right sort of cognitive profile for the job.
Like Somewhere in Time, the movie starring Christopher Reeve, the method of time-wrinkling here is hypnosis. So I don't know if that makes it more or less science fiction than plots (improperly) invoking Einstein's relativity theory as a method of time travel.
If you're prone to mentally debating yourself on theoretical matters, as I am, then the hypnotic time travel premise can instigate quite an intellectual quandry for you. Who can define time? I dare you to try, in one coherent, easily understood sentence. It's the 4th dimension we exist in. We can't affect it, influence it, ignore it or define it. We can only measure it. And if it weren't for the law of entropy, it wouldn't be a big deal anyway.
But I digress.
Si travels back to the New York of 1882. His assignment is to observe a man mail a letter (a letter his antique-collecting girlfriend showed him). When he succeeds in his mission and returns, the project is delighted, and tasks him to return and do more of the same. As he does so, Si stumbles on a blackmail plot involving a man who would become a president's advisor.
This mystery becomes the centerpiece of the novel, though Finney gives us a glimpse into a lost, forgotten era with snippets of the early Industrial Revolution urban milleu. Si also develops feelings for a young woman he meets during his time travels ("young" being relative, of course). At one point, he brings her back to his time and it's fun, if not comical, to view the "modern" world through her eyes.
Finney's politics were absent until toward the end of the book, and very understated by today's standards.
In short, Time and Again provides the reader with a nice mellow escape for a while. And if I ever find the right venue, I might even try hypnotizing myself back to a bygone era. If I can take my laptop, I might never come back.