Time and Again, by Clifford D Simak

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Time and Again, by Clifford D Simak

Postby tanzeelat » Tue Mar 18, 2008 2:50 am

Time and Again was first published in 1951 under the title First He Died. It's also one of the earliest sf novels I ever read. I can distinctly remember reading it when I lived in Dubai - likely borrowed from Dubai Country Club's subscription library. That would be sometime between 1976 and 1979. Thirty years ago! And yet I could recall some of the details of the plot - there was a time war; and a man who landed a wrecked spaceship despite it having no drives, nor even being airtight. One image from the novel which had stayed with me was of a car that had crashed into a tree, and which contained a book from the future.

I suppose disappointment was inevitable - I certainly hope I'm a more discerning reader now than I was when I was eleven years old. The novel opens with a typically Simakian scene: a man is sitting on his porch, the crickets are chirping, the brook is burbling, night is falling... Another man walks up, tells the seated man he is from the future, and that Asher Sutton is returning to Earth tomorrow and must be killed. It's a great set-up for a story. And it gets better. Twenty years ago, Sutton was sent to 61 Cygni in an attempt to break through the mysterious barrier guarding the system's seventh planet. He is the first and only person to have done so. And now he is back - travelling in a spaceship that has no spacedrive and isn't even airtight. Sutton will write a book about something he learned on 61 Cygni. This book will be used as a rallying cry for a movement to emancipate androids (vat-grown humans, slaves in all but name). Others, however, will interpret Sutton's revelations to refer to humans only. And so there will be a war.

Time and Again is set some 6,000 years from now, in a future when humanity has a galactic empire - which appears to be ruled by a bureacracy. Time travel has only just been discovered when Sutton returns to Earth, but factions from the future representing both sides have travelled back in time in an effort to influence events.

The great ideas promised by the novel's opening, however, never really appear. Simak is more concerned with the character of Sutton, and the nature of his revelation, than he is with the ramifications of the situation Sutton creates. The world-building is poor - the Earth of the 81st Century comes across as no different to 1950s America, but with silly clothes and a code duello. The time travel, and any paradoxes it might create, never really kicks into gear. Early in the story, Sutton finds a letter written by an ancestor in 1987, and which has remained unopened since then. Ignoring the fact that paper would never last 6,000 years, the letter itself is written in a style of English which seems more 1900s than 1980s. It all adds up to a novel which is a great deal less than the sum of its parts. Perhaps it's for good reason it's not as well-known as some of Simak's other works, like Way Station or City.
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Postby SandChigger » Tue Mar 18, 2008 4:27 am

I can't recall having read anything by Simak other than A Choice of Gods. I first read it probably around the same time you mention, and again a few summers ago. I'm rather fond of it. ;)
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Postby tanzeelat » Tue Mar 18, 2008 5:12 am

Simak was one of my favourite authors when I was a kid, and I still have several of his novels. Other than Time and Again, I've not reread any of them for, er, decades. And after rereading that book, I'm somewhat afraid to.

Mind you, I have enough books I've not read that I can't really afford to reread old books on a whim. The To Be Read mountain currently stands at about 500 books...
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Postby Omphalos » Tue Mar 18, 2008 8:53 am

I love Simak too. I just got a bunch of old Simak books at a library sale (including A Choice of Gods) that I was going to read soon. City and Way Station are great too. And his short fiction can be amazing at times.
Something is about to happen, Hal. Something wonderful!

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Postby SandChigger » Tue Mar 18, 2008 9:10 am

You can't read everything, unfortunately. :(

My summers back home, with my old books handy, have come to seem like a perfect time to spend with old friends. ;)
"Chancho...sometimes when you are a man...you wear stretchy pants...in your room...alone."

"Politics is never simple, like the sand chigger of Arrakis, one is rarely truly free of its bite."

Arrakeen is an unawakened ghola.
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Postby Omphalos » Tue Mar 18, 2008 9:25 am

SandChigger wrote:You can't read everything, unfortunately. :(


Hell you say!

Actually, Tanz said something about having a "to be read" pile that is 500 books tall. I have a list of those dimensions too (about 800 today), but who knows what is going to come out before I finish them all?
Something is about to happen, Hal. Something wonderful!

-James C. Harwood, Science Fiction Writer, Straight (March 5, 1956 - May 25, 2010)



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Postby tanzeelat » Tue Mar 18, 2008 9:42 am

I had to make a list of the books I was going to read over the next 4 months, just so I actually got around to reading the books I wanted to read. And then I went and bought The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon because it's on the BSFA Award shortlist, and had to cram that in before the eastercon...
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Postby Omphalos » Tue Mar 18, 2008 9:58 am

That's on my list too, but its way, way down at the bottom.
Something is about to happen, Hal. Something wonderful!

-James C. Harwood, Science Fiction Writer, Straight (March 5, 1956 - May 25, 2010)



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Postby tanzeelat » Tue Mar 18, 2008 10:53 am

It's worth bringing forward. It's a good book.
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Postby Omphalos » Tue Mar 18, 2008 10:58 am

Maybe I will. Im into some Vonnegut right now, and have Lem sitting on my bedside table. Maybe its time I got into some work by guys who touch the genre as loosely as possible but are obviously part of it. It will be a themed month for me like that. :wink:

Have you ever read anything else by him? I dont know enough about his back catalog to say if anything else qualifies for genre categorization.
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Postby tanzeelat » Tue Mar 18, 2008 11:52 am

Who? Chabon? No, The Yiddish Policemen's Union is my first, although friends have been recommending him to me for years.
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