Finney’s work often1 has a wistful eye to the simplicity of the past, without all the stress of modern highspeed society and without the ills that technology has brought2; Time and Again, and its sequel, From Time to Time, are typical of this. Both blend fantasy, historical fiction and romance in a way that make people who prefer straightforward hardhitting fiction to roll their eyes in exasperation, but this pair of books is for those who have ever wished they could climb straight into Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books to experience life in the late nineteenth century for themselves.
Time and Again has a fairly simple plot: there is a secret government agency conducting an experiment to discover if time travel is possible. Having combed through military records, this group, called simply The Project, has found a handful of people who may be capable of hypnotizing themselves into travelling into the past. Si Morley is assigned 1882 New York. He does succeed in travelling back, and completes his assigned mission there–to eavesdrop on a pivotal conversation–returns to report back, only to realize that he now belongs 90 years in the past3 and goes back to what is now his home and his beloved fiancee.
“Is it possible to change the future/one’s own personal present through one’s actions in the past”? is a fairly standard question. Connie Willis answers “Possibly, but time is a chaotic system with self-correcting capability.” but Finney takes it in a slightly different direction. From Time to Time starts with an interesting premise–it is possible to change future events, and often with the slightest of actions, such as asking someone for a light or flirtatiously draping a scarf over a pilot’s eyes, but changing the future does not automatically erase all traces of the alternative events. Some people will remember both–both the Titanic sinking and its docking, Kennedy’s assassination and his election to a second term. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite live up to this early promise, though it’s still readable and enjoyable for people who loved Time and Again. The bulk of the book consists of Si returning to modern day New York, to find out what happened to The Project only to be roped into going to 1912, to prevent the Titanic from sinking and therefore also prevent the death by drowning of the one man with the diplomatic skills to head off World War I…and with it, Si’s son’s death. The massive amounts of detail Finney includes in his descriptions of pre-war New York can be either tedious overkill or enthralling in their setting the scene, depending on how readers like details.
1though not always; one of his best-known works is, of course, The Invasion of the Body Snatchers
2none of the advantages either, but that’s another author’s plot device
3the book was written in 1970