Time and Again: A Review (Essentials – Books)

Did illustrator Si Morley really step out of his 20th century New York City apartment one night – right into the winter of 1882?

The U.S. Government believed he did, especially when Si returned with a portfolio of brand-new sketches and tintype photos of a world that no longer existed … or did it?

Time-and-Again-Novel-Cover Simon Morley, an advertising sketch artist, is approached by U.S. Army Major Ruben Prien to participate in a secret government project. He is taken to a huge warehouse on the West Side of Manhattan, where he views what seem to be movie sets, with people acting on them. It seems this is a project to learn whether it is feasible to send people back into the past by what amounts to self-hypnosis—whether, by convincing oneself that one is in the past, not the present, one can make it so.

640px-The_Dakota_1880s

One of Sy Morley’s photos taken during his travel back in time to NYC of 1880.

Published in 1970, Time and Again is one of the greatest and most famous time travel books ever written, and deservedly so. Finney’s time travel premise is that if one gets into the “mindset” so to speak – wears the clothes, speaks the dialect, uses only those things that were available in 1882 in New York City, then the black hole will open up and transport one back to that time. Which is exactly what happened to Simon Morley as he sat and lived in his government rented apartment overlooking Central Park.

Indeed, Central Park itself is a major theme within this book, as it seems to be the clock around which New York City was able to judge its progress over the years. Simon Morley does have many adventures within the Manhattan of 1882, and as he rents lodging in lower Manhattan, he meets and falls in love. Thus Finney sets the scene for the conflict of love and time travel, forcing his protagonist to make a decision between different time periods.

Written with a charming magic of historical detail and illustrated with photos “taken by Morley” which are actually just historical photos of old New York. Highly recommended!

Companion Read: Replay by Ken Grimwood

Nineteen Eighty-Four to 2014: A Brave New World (Essentials)

Sixty-five years ago one of the most famous and influential novels was published, Nineteen Eighty-Four. George Orwell’s dystopian novel introduced terms and concepts that have entered everyday use: Big Brother, doubl1984ethink, thoughtcrime, Newspeak and memory hole.

I first read the novel in 1977 in Mrs. Mazursky’s Advanced Composition class at Barnwell High School (S.C.) And here we are in 2014, living in the world Orwell warned us about. For those of you who have never read 1984 a quick summary:

The Oceanian province of Airstrip One is a world of perpetual war, omnipresent government surveillance, and public mind control, dictated by a political system euphemistically named English Socialism (Ingsoc) under the control of a privileged Inner Party elite that persecutes all individualism and independent thinking as thoughtcrimes. Their tyranny is headed by Big Brother, the quasi-divine Party leader who enjoys an intense cult of personality, but who may not even exist. Big Brother and the Party justify their rule in the name of a supposed greater good.

Winston Smith is a low-ranking member of the Outer Party who works for the Ministry of Truth (Minitrue), which is responsible for propaganda and historical revisionism. Smith’s job is to re-write past newspaper articles so that the historical record always supports the current party line. Smith is a diligent and skillful worker, but he secretly hates the Party and dreams of rebellion against Big Brother.

Everywhere Winston goes, even his home, the Party watches him through telescreens; everywhere he looks he sees the face of the Party’s seemingly omniscient leader, Big Brother. The Party controls everything in Oceania, even the people’s history and language. Currently, the Party is forcing the implementation of an invented language called Newspeak, which attempts to prevent political rebellion by eliminating all words related to it. Even thinking rebellious thoughts is illegal. Such thoughtcrime is, in fact, the worst of all crimes.

If you have a pulse and are reasonably aware of the world around you, everything in the previous paragraph should sound familiar. A few comparisons between the novel 1984 and our world should make it clear:

1984: Newspeak. NOW: Politically Correct speech

1984: Telescreens in every room. Programming runs 24 hours a day. Proles have no way to turn off their screens. NOW: Telescreens in almost every room. In everyone’s hands. Programming runs 24 hours a day. Proles rarely turn off their screens.

1984: Telescreens in all public and private places, so the populace can be watched to prevent thoughtcrime. NOW: Surveillance cameras in most buildings and public streets to prevent crime. People carrying tracking devices called cell phones. 

1984: Helicopters silently watch over the masses to keep people from creating thoughtcrime, reinforcing the fear that you are “always being watched.” NOW: Helicopters and drones silently watch over the masses to keep people from breaking traffic laws, reinforcing the fear that you are “always being watched.”

1984: Lotteries with very few winners. Held to collect income for the state, and to give hope to the masses. NOW: Lotteries with very few winners. Held to collect income for the state, and to give hope to the masses.

1984: History is rewritten to conform with modern beliefs. All references to oldthink are removed. NOW: History is rewritten to conform with modern beliefs. Example: In the 2013 history textbooks, the 9/11 attacks are described as being committed by “terrorists.” No description of their Islamic extremism and hatred for Western beliefs. However, in the same book, Timothy McVeigh is described as a “radical right-wing terrorist.” There are too many examples to list here. You’ve probably already come up with 3 or 4 in your head. 

1984: People are steered away from consuming goods such as chocolate, steak, sugar, coffee, cigarettes and alcohol by rationing. NOW: People are steered away from consuming certain foods by warnings that these items are bad for your health. Cigarette smokers are portrayed as a criminal class. In New York City, Mayor Bloomberg did his best Big Brother imitation by banning sugary drinks more than 16 ounces. Other states and cities have levied heavy taxes on food items that the state has deemed “not good for the public.” 

1984: There is always a war, always an enemy always a crisis. If peace is made with one country, war is started somewhere else. When one “crises” is solved, another is discovered. NOW: There is always a war, always an enemy always a crisis. If peace is made with one country, war is started somewhere else. When one “crises” is solved, another is discovered. “War on Poverty.” War on Drugs.” Etc … 

1984: Songs are created by machines. No one can write a song not in line with Big Brother. No creativity is needed. NOW: Songs are created by synthesizers and digital samples.The creativity of past musicians are “sampled” by “artists” and re-mixed into a collage of mechanized sound.

1984: Telescreen is full of confessions of “Thought criminals.” They confess their crimes and perversions. NOW: Daytime talk shows are filled with people who enjoy sharing the low-rent, thuggish lifestyles with the rest of the world.

Over the past two years we have learned that the U.S. government directed the IRS to target conservative Tea Party groups merely because of their opposition to the expansion of federal government programs. We also learned that the government has been listening to the private conversations of EVERY Verizon cell phone customer since 2007. Through a program called PRISM, the government has also had access to the date of everyone on the internet who has logged on to FaceBook, Yahoo, Google, YouTube, Apple and Skype. The government’s response to all of this is: “We have done nothing wrong. We have done nothing illegal.” Various criminal operations and counties are hacking into digital date of corportations, political groups etc … 

So, if you have never read 1984, it would make a great (yet uncomfortable) summer read to discover what Mr. Orwell warned us about sixty-five years ago. And for the government bureaucrat whose job is was to read this column, I hope you enjoyed it. I encourage you to purchase my books and read them also!

A TOWN LIKE ALICE: A Review (Essentials)

This is one of the best books of the 20th century. In 1998, Modern Library voted A Town Like Alice #17 on the list of 100 Greatest English-language Novels of 20th Century. It is also known as The Legacy. It is an unbashedly romantic tale that I have read more than a dozen times. aliceNevil Shute was the author of 30+ novels and can best be described as “old fashioned.” His books are literate, with a distinctly British view, but also very worldly. He often explored unusual themes like reincarnation, utopian visions (In The Wet is a very entertaining variation of Brave New World.) 

Shute was a trained engineer and science plays a huge role in many of his books. Many of his characters are aviators, engineers, and geologists. During his lifetime Shute was one of the most popular writers in the world and his most famous book, On The Beach, while justly famous as the only close-ended novel ever written (no one in the book survives after the final page) is one of his lesser efforts. It is a shame that dozens of Shute’s novels do not sit on the shelves of modern bookstores.

In 1981 the book was turned into a world wide award winning mini-series for Australian television starring Helen Morse and Bryan Brown, it is superb! 

SUMMARY

After World War II, a young English woman named Jean Paget learns that she has inherited a legacy from her great uncle. She is now a rich young woman with no need to work ever again. When the Scottish lawyer, Noel Strachan, whose firm manages the legacy asks what she’d like to do with the money, she replies, “I’d like to build a well.”

Jean and her family had lived in Malaysa for most of her childhood until her fathered died. Now, Jean was alone living in London. Her mother was dead and her brother died in a Japanese POW camp. Jean and her family had lived in Malaysa for most of her childhood until her fathered died. Now, Jean was alone living in London. Her mother was dead and her brother died in a Japanese POW camp.

TownLikeAliceJean tells Strachan her story:During the war she was working in Malaya when the Japanese invaded and she ended up as one of a party of English women and children who are marched around Malaya by the Japanese, since no camp will take them in and the Japanese army does not want to take responsibility for them. Many of them die on the march, and the rest survive only on the charity of the local villagers. Jean’s knowledge of Malay language and culture proves invaluable to the group’s survival.

The women meet Joe Harman, an Australian soldier who is also a prisoner. He drives a truck for the Japanese across Malaya carrying supplies. He steals food and medicines to help the women and Jean and Joe become friends. Jean always carries a small boy, orphaned after his mother died, and which leads Harman to the mistaken belief that she is married; to avoid giving Joe any temptation, Jean does not correct this misperception. The thefts are investigated and Harman takes the blame to save Jean and the rest of the group. He is beaten, crucified, and left to die by the Japanese soldiers. The women are marched away leaving Joe for dead.

To survive, the women become part of a native village where they grow rice and work as part of the village. This saves their lives, and they live there for three years, until the war ends. This village is where Jean wants to build the well so that the local women will not have to walk so far to collect water: “A gift by women, for women”.

With her legacy, Jean travels to Malaya, where she goes back to the village and persuades the headman to allow her to build the well. While it is being built she discovers that by a strange chance Joe Harman survived his punishment and returned to Australia. She decides to travel on to Australia to find him. 

In her travels she visits the town of Alice Springs, where Joe lived before the war, and is much impressed with the quality of life there. She then travels to the (fictional) primitive town of Willstown in Queensland where Joe has become manager of a cattle station. She soon discovers that the quality of life in Alice is an anomaly, and life for a woman in the outback is elsewhere very rugged. While staying in the local hotel in Willstown she finds that the local hunters shoot crocodiles and prepare their skins for export, at prices much lower than they are sold in England. To show the locals what their exports are used for, she makes a pair of crocodile-skin shoes in her bedroom, by hand.

In the meantime, Joe has learned both that Jean survived the war and is unmarried. He takes the money he won in the state lottery in order to travel to Britain in search of her. In London, he meets lawyer Strachan, who must decide on his client’s behalf how to handle this situation. On Strachan’s advice, Harman returns to Queensland, and Jean and Joe two finally meet again in one of the most emotionally charged and poignant love scenes ever written.

At this point, you are about halfway through the book, and I would deserve to be crucified myself if I revealed any more of the plot. Read it NOW.

5 palmettos


Companion Read: 
No Highway by Nevil Shute

ONE SECOND AFTER: A Review (ESSENTIALS)

one secnd afterElectromagnetic pulses can result from natural phenomena and, in much greater strength, from nuclear blasts. The result of an EMPs is the destruction of unprotected electronic circuitry, about 95% of it in the United States. A nuclear bomb set off at a high altitude would cause electronics over a large swathe of the planet to fail and almost nothing has been done to protect the US from this threat.

This frightening novel depicts what life might be like in the case of an EMP attack. With no electronics -vehicles won’t run; no phones, computers, radios, or televisions; no electricity. America descends into the Middle Ages. In One Second After, a lack of food and medicine leads to mass death. Society crumbles quickly. Cities turn against the countryside; friends and neighbors turn against each other in a desperate struggle to survive. Criminals take advantage.

Forstchen humanizes it by giving a detailed look at how events unfold around the idyllic small town of Montreat College in North Carolina.The weeks pass, and society deteriorates quickly – food runs out, people die due to lack of treatment and medicine, tyrants try to take advantage of the weak and confused, and criminals run rampant.

One Second After is a masterpiece of dystopian literature that ranks with 1984 and Brave New World, but is even more horrific. IT IS A PAGETURNER! You will have restless nights while you are reading this, and several nights after. Particularly when you realize that our government has done nothing to prepare this country for this serious threat.  

5 palmettos

ESSENTIAL TIME TRAVEL NOVELS

Yesterday, over beer and burgers, I got in a discussion with Savannah-based author James Caskey about our favorite time travel stories which prompted me to put together a list of essential novels in the genre.  Any of these would be great beach reading. So, forgo the weekly James Patterson published novel and go with one of these classics instead. Listed in alphabetical order


THE ANUBIS GATES by Tim Powers (1985)

anubis-gates-time-powers-gollanczQuite brilliant. The colonization of Egypt by western European powers is the launch point for power plays and machinations. Steeping together in this time-warp stew are such characters as an unassuming Coleridge scholar, ancient gods, wizards, the Knights Templar, werewolves, and other quasi-mortals, all wrapped in the organizing fabric of Egyptian mythology. The reluctant heroes fight for survival against an evil that lurks beneath the surface of their everyday lives.

BRING THE JUBILEE by Ward Moore (1953) 

jubileeThis is one of the first (and the best) of the alternative history novels that ask: What if the South won the Civil War? Politically complex, astute and endlessly fascinating. The point of divergence occurs when the Confederate States of America wins the Battle of Gettysburg and subsequently declares victory in the “War of Southern Independence” on July 4, 1864 after the surrender of the United States of America. The novel takes place in the impoverished United States in the mid-20th century as war looms between the Confederacy and its rival, the German Union. History takes an unexpected turn when the protagonist Hodge Backmaker, a historian, decides to travel back in time and witness the moment when the South won the war.

A CONNECTICUT YANKEE IN KING ARTHUR’S COURT by Mark Twain (1889)

connecticut yankeeThis story is both a whimsical fantasy and a social satire chock-full of brilliant Twainisms. Hank Morgan, a 19th century American-a Connecticut Yankee-by a stroke of fate is sent back into time to 6th century England and ends up in Camelot and King Arthur’s Court. Although of average intelligence, he finds himself with knowledge beyond any ofthose in the 6th century and uses it to become the king’s right hand man, and to challenge Merlin as the court magician. Astounded at the way of life in Camelot, Hank does the only thing he can think of to do: change them. In his attempt to civilize medieval Camelot he experiences many challenges and misadventures.

THE DANCERS AT THE END OF TIME by Michael Moorcock (1974 onward)

Dancers_at_the_end_of_timeEnter a decaying far, far future society, a time when anything and everything is possible, where words like ‘conscience’ and ‘morality’ are meaningless, and where heartfelt love blossoms mysteriously between Mrs Amelia Underwood, an unwilling time traveller, and Jherek Carnelian, a bemused denizen of the End of Time. The Dancers at the End of Time is a brilliant homage to the 1890s. The series include the following novels: An Alien Heat, The Hollow Lands and The End of All Songs.

GLIMPSES by Lewis Shiner (1993)

glimpsesThe first rock n roll time-travel novel! In the song “American Pie” Don McLean asked the question: “Can music save your mortal soul?” Glimpses answers that question with a resounding “YES!” Ray Chackleford is an unstable, self-employed electronics repairman whose marriage is foundering and whose father has recently died. These unresolved relationships are complicated when Ray travels to the Mexican site of his father’s death and promptly falls in love with a woman even more unstable than he. In the midst of this emotional turmoil, Ray–a rock drummer during his youth in the late Sixties–begins to hear music in his head and manages to transfer to tape legendary unfinished recordings by Jim Morrison, Brian Wilson, and Jimi Hendrix. This music is accompanied by “journeys” into the troubled lives of these rock musicians. Shiner’s appealing main character and his gripping style overcome the less believable aspects of his story. If you love classic rock and roll, this is a must read!

THE GODS THEMSELVES by Issac Asimov (1972)

In the year 2100, mankind on Earth, settlers in a lunar colony and gods themselvesaliens from the para-universe, a strange universe parallel in time to our own, are faced with a race against time to prevent total destruction of the Earth. The invention of the Inter-Universe Electron Pump has threatened the rate of hydrogen fusion in the sun, leading, inevitably, to the possibility of a vast explosion — and the vapourization of the Earth exactly eight minutes later . . . Asimov, is always, accurate and brilliant. The science is plausible.

THE LIGHT OF OTHER DAYS by Arthur C. Clark & Stephen Baxter (2000)

light of other daysTwo titans of hard SF–multiple award-winning British authors Clarke (Rendezvous with Rama) and Baxter (The Time Ships)–team up for a story of grand scientific and philosophical scope. Ruthless Hiram Patterson, the self-styled “Bill Gates of the twenty-first century,” brings about a communication revolution by using quantum wormholes to link distant points around Earth. Not content with his monopoly on the telecommunications industry, Patterson convinces his estranged son, David, a brilliant young physicist, to work for him. While humanity absorbs the depressing news that an enormous asteroid will hit Earth in 500 years, David develops the WormCam, which allows remote viewers to spy on anyone, anytime. The government steps in to direct WormCam use–but before long, privacy becomes a distant memory. Then David and his half-brother, Bobby, discover a way to use the WormCam to view the past, and the search for truth leads to disillusionment as well as knowledge. Only by growing beyond the mores of the present can humanity hope to survive and to deal with the threats of the future, including that asteroid. The exciting extrapolation flows with only a few missteps, and the large-scale implications addressed are impressive indeed.

THE MAN WHO FOLDED HIMSELF by David Gerrold (1973)

folded himselfDaniel Eakins inherits a time machine and soon realizes that he has enormous power to shape the course of history. He can foil terrorists, prevent assassinations, or just make some fast money at the racetrack. And if he doesn’t like the results of the change, he can simply go back in time and talk himself out of making it! But Dan soon finds that there are limits to his powers and forces beyond his control. A wild ride!

PASTWATCH: THE REDEMPTION OF CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS by Orson Scott Card (1996)

pastwatchTagiri and Hassan are members of Pastwatch, an academic organization that uses machines to see into the past and record it. Their project focuses on slavery and its dreadful effects, and gradually evolves into a study of Christopher Columbus. They eventually marry and their daughter Diko joins them in their quest to discover what drove Columbus west. Columbus, with whom readers become acquainted through both images in the Pastwatch machines and personal narrative, is portrayed as a religious man with both strengths and weaknesses, a charismatic leader who sometimes rose above but often fell beneath the mores of his times. An entertaining and thoughtful history lesson.

REPLAY by Ken Grimwood (1986)

replayWhat if you could live your life over and over, and over again? Jeff Winston, a failing 43-year-old radio journalist, dies and wakes up in his 18-year-old body in 1963 with his memories of the next 25 years intact. He views the future from the perspective of naive 1963: “null-eyed punks in leather and chains . . . death-beams in orbit around the polluted, choking earth . . . his world sounded like the most nightmarish of science fiction.” Grimwood transcended genre with this carefully observed, literate and original story. Jeff’s knowledge soon becomes as much a curse as a blessing. After recovering from the shock (is the future a dream, or is it real life?), he plays out missed choices. In one life, for example, he falls in love with Pamela, a housewife who died nine minutes after Jeff; they try to warn the world of the disasters it faces, coming in conflict with the government and history. A third replayer turns out to be a serial killer, murdering the same people over and over. Jeff and Pamela are still searching for some missing part of their lives when they notice they are returning closer and closer to the time of their deaths, and realize that the replays and their times together may be coming to an end. A brilliant book. An all-time classic.

SLAUGHTERHOUSE-FIVE by Kurt Vonnegut (1969)


slaughterhouse_five“Listen: Billy Pilgrim has become unstuck in time.”
After he is abducted by aliens from the planet Tralfamadore, Pilgrim’s life unfolds in a display of plot-scrambling virtuosity, concentrating on his shattering experience as an American prisoner of war who witnesses the firebombing of Dresden. Okay, we’ve all read it.  If not … what are you doing reading this blog? ‘Nuff said.

TIME AND AGAIN by Jack Finny (1970)

Time-and-Again-Novel-CoverSimon Morley, an artist with a premium on imagination, is chosen as a possible subject by a group operating on the theory that time is charted by a myriad of details and if surrounded by what appear to be the artifacts and events of an era, they might be able to project themselves into the actual time slot. For weeks Simon is secluded in an apartment in New York’s famous landmark, the Dakota, where he dresses, eats, entertains himself and reads newspapers in tire style of the New York of 1894 and finally he walks out into the Central Park of that January. As Simon wanders and takes photos of the familiar-but-different New York landscape, he becomes involved in the lives of several of his 19th century acquaintances. And there is a mystery that Simon is determined to solve that has to do with a suicide and a cryptic letter that ends “the sending of this should cause the Destruction by Fire of the entire World.” 

TIMESCAPE by Gregory Benford (1980)

timescapeIt’s 1998 and a physicist in Cambridge, England, attempts to send a message backward in time. Earth is falling apart, and a government faction supports the project in hopes of diverting or avoiding the environmental disasters beginning to tear at the edges of civilization. It’s 1962, and a physicist in California struggles with his new life on the West Coast, office politics, and the irregularities of data that plague his experiments. Then he receives an unusual message … 

TO SAY NOTHING OF THE DOG by Connie Willis (1997)

To_Say_Nothing_of_the_DogIn 2057, Ned Henry, an Oxford expert in the 20th century, jumps back and forth from the 1940s to correct a loose screw in the works of the time continuum. A tongue-in-cheek raspberry to Victorian novels, the story unfolds with such madcap screwball intensity it makes the pages burn your fingers as you read. This a fun ride!

UP THE LINE by Robert Silverberg (1969) up the line

Being a Time Courier was one of the best jobs Judson Daniel Elliott III ever had. It was tricky, though, taking group after group of tourists back to the same historic event without meeting yourself coming or going. Trickier still was avoiding the temptation to become intimately involved with the past and interfere with events to come. The deterrents for any such actions were frighteningly effective. So Judson Daniel Elliott played by the book. Then he met a lusty Greek in Byzantium who showed him how rules were made to be broken…and set him on a family-history-go-round that would change his past and his future forever!