Monday, May 4, 2009

the destruction by fire of the entire World...

I'm reading: the destruction by fire of the entire World...Tweet this!
Time travel stories are always intriguing; some play on ideas of time paradox, like The Terminator and Primer; others are more whimsical, like Time After Time, pitting H.G. Wells as an inventor, not just author, of the time machine, against none other than Jack the Ripper (full review). One of my favorites hasn't been made into a film, though Robert Redford wanted to for many years. That is the novel Time and Again by Jack Finney, more famous for writing The Body Snatchers. This one isn't a science fiction story, but a wonderful fantasy that posits that we can travel time by self-hypnosis.
This was mimicked in the Christopher Reeves movie Somewhere in Time, based on a novel by Richard Matheson; that came 5 years later, and is more of a romance. There's a romance in Time and Again as well, but it's more of a mystery. Advertising artist Simon Morley is approached by the U.S. Army to serve as a subject in their time travel experiments. Because he is obsessed with a scrap of a note found by his girlfriend Kate, which suggests that a letter sent in 1882 to one Andrew Carmody led to "the destruction by fire of the entire World," he signs up to try to solve the mystery of that intriguing fragment. Remember, this was 1970 and we didn't have cable, so time travel was something to do when the best thing on TV was Dick Cavett.

The experiment involves setting Simon up in the Dakota apartments and making everything look like it would in 1882. The view outside of Central Park, if kept to the right angles, looked imaginably the same in 1970. It's a fascinating concept, and one born of our daydreams and imaginations; even today, walking around certain parts of New York, you wonder if you could erase the scaffolds and traffic lights, you could vanish into its rich past. That's exactly what Simon is able to do, even bringing Kate with him. He gets obsessed with the tale of the letter, when they meet a man named Pickering who is blackmailing Carmody.
We get one layer of mystery in the past, as Si meets a charming young woman named Julia and becomes romantic rivals with Pickering, as he tries to unravel his plot. In the present, other experiments go awry, and that favorite paradox of "never having been born" comes up. The leader resigns when the Army won't stop the project, and Si wonders if his meddlings will cause the destruction by fire "of the entire World" or even erase him or his friends frome existence. It is all told in the backdrop of one of the most interesting times in New York's history, and it is easy to get lost in the book; it is full of illustrations, sketches by Simon of course, and it is very engrossing. It could be a wonderful movie, or a bland one in the wrong hands.

So if old New York (which was once New Amsterdam) appeals to you, Time and Again is a great read.


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