Finney, Jack. From Time to Time.

NY: Simon & Schuster, 1995.

This author’s first novel, Time and Again, is widely considered, by both science fiction fans and the field’s most experienced authors to be THE BEST time-travel novel ever. Most days, I would probably agree with that opinion. So it’s a bit disheartening to find that this sequel, written twenty-five years later, isn’t up to that standard. Not even close.

It’s four years since the events of that earlier book, at the end of which Simon Morley, who started out in New York City in 1970, has settled down with a wife and son in the 1880s. But he also made a point of preventing two young people from first meeting in a theater lobby, as a result of which they never married. And they never had the son who, as an aging physicist, invented the method of traveling through time by which Si got to the past in the first place. (Cause and effect can get complicated when you’re dealing with time travel.) Plans were being made back at the Project to mess around with events in “real” history — all for the betterment of the world, of course — and Si wasn’t about to allow that to happen.

So now the Project has never existed — but there’s a scattering of people around the country who have double sets of memories. They remember JFK winning a second term, and the Titanic sailing into New York harbor. And it also becomes clear, from various artifacts, that there was never a World War I, either. What was it that happened differently from our own time?

Major Ruben Prien of the U.S. Army, who was second in command at the Project, has ghost memories, too. And since that was his whole life (in the other life, so to speak), he sticks with it and eventually is able to undo what Si did, back there in the past. So when Si finally returns to our time for a quick visit, just to see what’s going on, Rube convinces him to journey back to 1912, to find the man who had the papers from various heads of state in Europe, the publicizing of which would effectively prevent the Great War from breaking out. And so Si goes back to what Finney calls the last peaceful decade in our history, before everything changed forever, and largely for the worse.

As was the case in the first book, Si Morley spends much of his time just wandering around the city, drinking in the sights and marveling at the differences from his own time — his own two times, now. He’s an artist, and now a photographer, so the book also includes (as the first one did) plenty of illustrations accompanied by his descriptions.

And Finney is very good indeed at making the reader miss that world he has never seen. But in the earlier book, all this sightseeing was in service to an exciting mystery plot that had you on the edge of your seat right up to the final page. Here, the actual plot is weak, almost non-existent, and our tour of New York in 1912 is interrupted by a number of lengthy, and not very interesting, digressions. Pretty disappointing.

Time and Again got six stars out of five. This one, I’m afraid, barely gets two and a half.

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