Time Travel was a big dream of mine since I was a kid. I suppose I went through the period where I wanted to be an astronaut and all that. But somehow the idea of going places people had already been to and seeing history take place before my own eyes, even if it was totally impossible, has had a hold on my imagination. When the New Year rolls around my thoughts turn to the very serious and perhaps very rather comic possibilities of such a "trip" to see what really happen in the near and far past.
"The Time Tunnel" was probably the first exposure I had to the realm of this sub-genre. The special effects today look rather cheesy and no one would mistake The Titanic on this first episode of the 1966-67 series for the ones Ronald Neame and James Cameron employed in their films "A Night to Remember" (1958) or "Titanic" (1997). But the idea of how people would react to events of the past and if they could change these events with their foreknowledge seemed intriguing.
Of course this has been the stuff of popular science fiction for decades. H.G. Wells wrote his short story "The Time Machine" in 1900. H.G. reportedly sold that story for a pittance to a publisher who made a small fortune off of it. In 1960 MGM made a feature-length film of the story with Rod Taylor and Yvette Mimieux. Although in the Wells story the Time Traveller has no given name in this one he is named George and the girl he meets in the far-distant post-apocalyptic future is named Weena. (Hell of a name to give a girl, but things are rather downhill for the human race by the time George gets to the future. The Morlochs are pretty much using them for food, and even a nice blond lady doesn't even know how to wear her hair without asking some strange guy for tips. Anyway, even though I'd rather travel to the past, I have to rate this film as a favorite. )
Of the novels on time travel that I have read the most interesting in my opinion was Jack Finney's 1970 book, "Time and Again". Finney (1911-1995) was an acknowledged master of the time travel story and published several novels and short stories o the subject, along with thrillers like "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" and some comic novels.
There are no time machines in this story, but, like the "Time Tunnel" series, the book concerns a super-secret group called "The Project" that recruits men and women to try and travel back into time using a sort of total immersion method, coupled with being in the same place that existed in the time needed to travel back to.
In the case of the book, the time traveller is Simon Morley, a commercial illustrator living in New York City. He is recruited by a mysterious fellow from US Army intelligence named Rube Prien into The Project because of his observed qualifications. It turns out that Morley can travel back into time and is sent from 1970 to 1882 (via the Dakota apartment building, the same one John Lennon and Yoko Ono lived in ) to try and decipher a clue about a half-burned letter that may point to some kind of global disaster in the future. The main scientist on the project D.D. Danziger is adamant that the past must not be altered; there is no telling what might occur. Rube Prien is more "liberal" in the promethean idea that the world can be a better place by tweaking the past.
Morley's interest in the past mirrors my own, which makes him a favorite character for me. He's the kind of guy who looks into an old photograph or a
bit of film and wonders what life was like for those people, people now long gone who are now only an image but were once as real as I am sitting here typing away to you and you are reading this:
"... the sense of wonder, staring at the strange clothes and vanished backgrounds, at knowing that what you're seeing was once real. That light really did reflect into a lens from these lost faces and objects. That these people were really there once, smiling into a camera. You could have walked into the scene then, touched those people, and spoken to them. You could actually have gone into that strange outmoded old building and seen what now you never can - what was just inside the door. (Time and Again, page 19)
In Victorian New York, Si Morley falls in love with Julia, a beautiful woman who also is the object of the man he is pursuing to find out the mystery of the letter. After many twists and turns, Morley does alter something important in time--the meeting between two people who will eventually become parents to a member of The Project--and he stays in New York to settle in to a more sedate and tranquil life . (Julia does a little time travel of her own and is less than impressed with dangers of the modern metropolis.) "Time and Again" is a fine novel, one that spawned a very good sequel, "From Time to Time", (1995) and one I would recommend to anyone who likes a good suspense novel, and won't mind a little stretch of the imagination.
Part Two coming soon.