Book Review: Time and Again by Jack Finney (four stars)

(cover of ebook I read, not paperback)

Book Review: Time and Again (Time #1) by Jack Finney (four stars)

“Has it occurred to you that we may all be nuts, and that you’ve wandered into an immense booby-hatch?” “That’s why I joined up.” “Good; obviously you’re the type we need.” 

Excellent story. May be fantasy, historical fiction, humor, social commentary, or romance, but not science fiction, though that’s what most people call it. Folks learn to time travel by positive thinking. Kind of like Dorothy without ruby slippers. Well developed, well written. Lots of neat trivia about 1880s New York City. “This kind of research becomes time-wasting foolishness, but fun,” Finney. Fun reading, too.

‘We don’t care very much about what happens to our poor, but the nineteenth century cared even less, it seems to me.’ 

Published in 1970. A time capsule of life that is as remote to many current readers as the Middle Ages. Even the differences between 1970 and now are striking. Nice illustrations. Logic and continuity gaps, but they hardly spoil the fun. Many unsupported opinions but that’s why people write science fiction, or whatever this is. New Yorkers will enjoy it most.

‘He developed and printed his own films; there were a couple dozen of them strung out on a line like a washing.’

Quibbles. Photography in 1882 was expensive, awkward, and stinky. Unlikely someone would do it in their boarding house room. Travelers seem locked in place and time, except when they’re not. Almost like wishing on a star. Several dateline anachronisms. The protagonist doesn’t understand what low profile means; he calls attention to himself at every turn.

‘It is becoming more and more certain, as science uses an almost brand-new ability to pull apart the deepest puzzles of the universe, that we need not and should not necessarily do something only because we’ve learned how.’ 

“In the [Somewhere in Time movie], [Christopher] Reeve’s character consults with a Dr. Finney …, a time travel theorist. This is a deliberate nod to author Jack Finney, whose novel Time and Again, published five years before Richard Matheson’s 1975 novel Bid Time Return, on which this film is based, features an almost identical theory on the mechanics of time travel.” Wikipedia

‘If in my own time I couldn’t stand by and allow the life of a girl I knew and liked to be destroyed if I could prevent it, I finally knew that I couldn’t do it here either.’ 

Book Review: Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel (three stars)

Book Review: Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel (three stars)

‘When have we ever believed that the world wasn’t ending?’

A multi-folded plot reminiscent of a Heinlein novel. Time travel provides the means and a pandemic the motive for this tangled skein. Technically sufficient but unconvincing.

“When I say it’s a dangerous job, I mean I wouldn’t want anyone I love to do it.”

Characterizations are solid, if stolid. Hard to become attached to even the well-meaning protagonist. Very much a pandemic novel. Strokes all the correct keys but fails to make music.

‘If definitive proof emerges that we’re living in a simulation, the correct response to that news will be So what. A life lived in a simulation is still a life.’

Book Review: Needle in a Timestack by Robert Silverberg (four stars)

Book Review: Needle in a Timestack: And Other Stories by Robert Silverberg (four stars)

Ordinary intelligence would not work. Odyssean cleverness was the only salvation.

A decent anthology—a rarity in science fiction. Silverberg serves generous offerings from across his career, with introductory comments for each tale. Most involve some form of time travel.

The poor old shattered moon, souvenir of an era long gone: it seemed a scratchy mirror for the tormented planet that owned it, for the fragmented race of races that was mankind.

Though first published in 1966, the current version collection includes little of the original and much that wasn’t, including the eponymous Needle story. Some materials are as recent as 2019.

Still, life is all there is, so you want as much of it as you can. Which means getting gold, and power, and fame.” “Which you had. And apparently have no longer. Friend Pizarro, where are we now?” “I wish I knew.” “So do I,” said Socrates soberly.

My personal favorite was “Enter a soldier. Later: Enter another.”

Even to an old soldier like me it is all very sad. He was a man like us, enemy though he was, and he died far from home.

Book Review: Borrowed Time by Jack Campbell (Three Stars)

Book Review: Borrowed Time by Jack Campbell (Three Stars)

“Playing god isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.”

An anthology of time travel short stories “Campbell” wrote 1999 through 2007. Variable quality. Nice cover art.

“Some details changed, that’s all.” “But . . . but . . . someone once said God is in the details!” “They did? They were wrong. God doesn’t care about details. Neither does the Universe. Ask a quantum physicist. Historians used to care about details, which is why all the inconsistencies in the historical record drove them crazy.”

My favorite was “Crow’s Feat.” “Joan” was disappointing. As was the “Betty Knox …” story; rife with errors. (Campbell confuses the 50s with the 60s; I was in high school circa 1960-1964.) “These are the Times’ ended exactly where it should have, but only after a tangled web was woven.

“It’s not my fault causality is circular through time.”

Book Review: Just One Damned Thing After Another by Jodi Taylor (Three Stars)


Book Review: Just One Damned Thing After Another (The Chronicles of St. Mary’s #1) by Jodi Taylor

(Three Stars)

“Gripping the edge of the console, I shouted, ‘No, no, no, no!’ and began to thump the panel. Strangely, this failed to work at all.

A fun time travel fantasy told from the point of view of a “disaster magnet” protagonist, who is too stupid to live. Unfortunately, it’s those around her who die. Fascinating to see what new ways she invents to endanger herself and everyone around her.

“Always nice to see someone who’s even more of a disaster magnet than I am. ‘Maybe we’ll cancel each other out,’ he whispered. ‘Like white noise.’ Fat chance!”

Perky, snide inner voice which adds perspective as well as humor. Clear, conversational prose propels the reader forward; that and curiosity of Continue reading

Book Review: Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach by Kelly Robson (Three Stars)


Book Review: Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach by Kelly Robson

(Three Stars)

“Shugli believed his falconers. It took a watcher to recognize another watcher. Against an unknown enemy, only one strategy would succeed: stealth.”

Better-than-average science fiction series opener, which admittedly is a low bar. For all that, the character development and storytelling is exceeds the norm. While the close of this story resolves nothing, it is a closing, rather the usual abrupt cut.

“Stay away from the me-me-me. Clients want you to talk about them.” “I didn’t realize we needed to make the client feel good about themselves. It seems dishonest.” “This is Continue reading

Book Review: The Light Brigade by Kameron Hurley (Three Stars)

41444470Book Review: The Light Brigade by Kameron Hurley

(Three Stars)

”Everything that’s going to happen has already happened. You just haven’t experienced it yet. We are, all of us, caught within a massive loop of time, bouncing around in the spaces between things.”

Innovative fold-timeline, time-travel story. Narrative follows the protagonist as she tries to figure out when and where she is, what’s happening, and whether she can do anything about it. Hurley worked hard at this; it shows. It could have been the big story of this generation, but it isn’t.

“You all right?” “No. None of us is all right.” “I’m not the bad guy.” “No. We all are.” “I don’t think that’s true.” “Whatever helps you sleep.”

A few decades ago I would have found this cutting edge; now it’s just Continue reading

Book Review: Earth’s Last Citadel by Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore (Two Stars)


Book Review: Earth’s Last Citadel by  C. L. Moore and Henry Kuttner

(Two Stars)

“They were from — outside. They wore light like a garment, and to them humans were–vermin. They cleansed the earth of them.”

Classic, but not all that good science fiction. Eligible for 2019 retro Hugo Award consideration, but not up to snuff. Liberal borrowings from H. G. WellsTime Machine.

“How great a man this was, who could speak so coolly while death marched down upon him!”

Old fashioned, manly men who acted more than thought. Female supporting cast not well developed.

“Fighting it was like defying the lightning.”

We know now that the moon is gradually getting farther, not closer, to Earth, but the image of the moon looming large and huge tides is a good one. The hotter sun, a real trend, leads to a desiccated landscape.

“Far back in Alan’s mind, behind the helpless horror, the terrible revulsion, the more terrible taint of kinship with this being whose dreams he had known–lay one small corner of detached awareness.”

Book Review: Sterkarm Handshake by Susan Price (Four Stars)


Book Review: Sterkarm Handshake by Susan Price

Four Stars

“To them, to kill in revenge was a duty; to forgive the killing of a kinsman sin.”

Excellent science-historical fiction mashup. Avoids the time travel paradox by having travelers visit a past in a world a few dimensions away from our earth, but recognizably similar.

“… always worrying about someone getting hurt, as if people could keep from getting hurt.”

Changes point of view often–paragraph by paragraph–but with sufficient clues to keep the reader oriented. Deep into the minds and emotions of all the principle characters (who vary enough to reflect vastly different mores and experiences), to the point that we understand the motivation and worldview of those we might normally consider villains. Female lead has near-terminal conscience and indecision problems, which makes her the perfect lens into the story.

“Lovers divided by family and feud made good stories, but in life it was nothing but misery.”

Excellent immersion into medieval culture: not just sights and sounds, but smells and taste …. And all that filth. Music and folk tales deepen our cultural engagement. A skilled archer misses; hooray!

“It was like the music stopped and I had no chair.”

Quibble: Land Rovers haven’t had hub caps for decades.

If I had but a swan’s wings

Far over hills and sea I’d fly–

To my true love’s arms I’d fall at last

And in her arms I’d gladly die.

Book Review: Arcadia by Iain Pears (Three Stars)


Book Review: Arcadia by Iain Pears

Three Stars

“Outrageous coincidence was more normal that carefully formed, reasoned action.”

Excellent world building. Complex time-travel plot with 60s England focus. Having one character a later member of the famous Inklings is a nice touch, including his depreciation of his more talented friends.

“You go and sit down and contemplate your own genius for a bit, and come through when you think you can stand straight.”

The narrative suffers from too many point-of-view characters. The many threads finally come together, but the first hundred pages is heavy going. Extra credit for finishing it all in one go.

“You may have got that from The Wizard of Oz. You steal ideas from everyone.” “I do?” “Yes.” (Pears also borrowed from Fahrenheit 451.)

While the women characters are well differentiated, the men all sound alike. Not sure why one character’s narrative was in first person while Continue reading