Science Fiction and Fantasy Association of New Zealand

Time And Time Again Time And Time Again
by Ben Elton
Bantam Press

Supplied for review by Random HouseNew Zealand

Reviewed By: Steven Litten
Simon Litten

If you had the opportunity to correct one event in the past 100 years, what would it be? For Hugh Stanton, it is the assassinations that started World War One, and then the militarism that seemed to drape every aspect of German life. So along with the aid of group of Oxbridge dons, he sets out to prevent the idiocy that was the First World War, only to discover he is not the only one changing history, and what he has done has had terrible ramifications in the timeline.

Ben Elton is a clever chap. And he wears his politics on his sleeve. Unfortunately he likes to show off both and the story suffers from it. I was also annoyed to spot two historical clangers in the first 60 pages. Considering these were spouted by a Cambridge history professor, my opinion of the story and Ben Elton dropped a few notches. The initial interleaving of past and future action is interesting and works to maintain a certain level of tension. But the constant blatherings of Professor McCluskey regarding Marxist historical theory are well off, and another black mark against Elton.

However, the biggest failing is not that the story starts on page 100, but rather this is a short story dressed as a novel. The main character of Hugh Stanton shows very little development, and the subsidiary characters are spear-carriers. Unfortunately this sort of writing gives science fiction and science fiction writers a bad name. When committed by a mainstream author, which is how I classify Ben Elton, it compounds the damage. You can read it if you like, but there aren’t any jokes to leaven the afternoon you will waste.

- Steven Litten

TV comedy scriptwriter is what springs to mind when someone mentions Ben Elton to me. After that is: stand up comic and then writer of satirical novels. So when I sat down to read Time and Time Again I was anticipating either more biting satire or a gently droll piece not what I actually got, which is a serious science fiction work i.e. little or no humour. Reassuringly, Mr Elton has delivered a novel that does credit to him and the genre.

In the late seventeenth century Sir Isaac Newton, through his studies of gravity, determined that the for a brief interval of one or two seconds that time in 2025 would overlap time in 1914, thus making time travel possible. He entrusted these calculations to the Masters of Trinity College, Cambridge. Viewed from 2025, the twentieth century was a disaster and the opportunity to avert World War I is a golden opportunity and Hugh Stanton is the man chosen to make the journey. But after he starts his mission Hugh begins to question whether the mission was such a good idea – and then his life gets complicated.

Hugh Stanton is the appropriate choice for time travelling adventurer: a loner, with no attachments to the twenty first century, adaptive and able to blend into the crowd; and willing to go.

I enjoyed this story. The characters were well drawn, the culture shocks of moving from twenty first century Britain to early twentieth century Europe were nicely shaded and the reveal later in the book suitably handled. Mr Elton has a future outside of comedy.

- Simon Litten

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