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Bookends: Adventures in Time and Space October 15, 2011

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends.

Bookends: Adventures in Time and Space

By Dan Davidson

September 20, 2011

Star, Sept. 23/11

– 830 words –

Time Travellers Never Die

By Jack McDevitt

Ace Books

400 Pages


When Dave Dryden attended the funeral of his friend, Sheldon Shelborne the last thing he really expected was to go home and have Shel walk into his living room. On the other hand, when the story involves time travel, things just may work out that way.

Shel discovered the time travel device, a handheld about the size of an iPod, after his father, Michael, disappeared. He figured out what it was quite by accident, by sending himself into his own future by just a few days. He has to get Dave to drive across the state to rescue him and this eventually leads to him sharing the secret with his friend.

Shel has two goals in mind for the machines. One is to find out what happened to his father, who he reasons must have used a similar device to vanish. The other is to visit significant events and people throughout history.   Trying to track down just where the elder Shelborne might have gone also aids the pair in their quest for important events.

Since the devices enable the wearer to essentially teleport in space as well as in time, they are able to pursue their adventures wherever they choose.

The visit the great Library of Alexander and make copies of a number of lost plays by famous Greek playwrights. They release them anonymously to a period scholar and enjoy the fuss this causes in the arts community. They visit Galileo, Ben Franklin, and many other people.

In one of the longer trips they join in the Freedom Ride to Selma, and Dave is badly injured. He has to spend several weeks recuperating in a mountain cabin, and then he and Shel arrange it so that he travels back in time and fills in for himself while he is ill. In this version of time travel, you can be in the same place twice, or more times, so long as you don’t do anything to create a paradox.

Eventually they find Shel’s father, who got stranded in the 17th century when his device got broken. He has lived there for many decades, is an old man, and prefers to remain where he is. He has had a good life.

Dave understands this better after he has an extended romance in the past and finds he can’t actually stay with the woman he loves because, when he researches her life, he realizes that staying with her will alter the course of history.

Back home tragedy appears to strike when a lightning bolt hits Shel’s house and destroys it, apparently burning him to a crisp. So when Shel comes to visit Dave after the funeral, it is an earlier Shel who is determined not to he in that house at that time in order to cheat his own fate. Shel takes up residence a few decades in the future and does everything he can to avoid returning to those fatal coordinates.

The tragedy in this is that he and a long time flame named Helen had only committed to each other on the night before his “death”. He believes he can never see her again.

Dave eventually reveals the truth of things to Helen and they set out to find a way to fake Shel’s murder (which is what the police have come to think it is) so that he will actually be okay. In the process it turns out that they create exactly the scene of destruction and death on which the book opens, bouncing back and forth through time to alter dental records and plant fake evidence, they suddenly realize that this is what actually happened and that Shel never was in real danger.  He and Helen get to have a married life after all; they just have to have it a few years in the future.

The time travel story is one of the oldest of SF tropes, the most famous early example going back to H.G. Wells. There have been many others and lots of writers have played with the idea of the time paradox. Robert Heinlein wrote two of the best short stories on this theme early in his career and stood the whole idea on its head in his later novels. Several writers, notably Fritz Lieber and Poul Andersen, produced time war and time police stories, and both Keith Laumer and Andre Norton wrote some fascinating adventures.

Time Travellers Never Die is also a good example of that SF staple, the fix-up novel. McDevitt reworked and expanded it from a 1996 novella that was nominated for both the Hugo and Nebula awards the year it came out. It was 12 years later that he came out with the novel version.

It is an adventure, a meditation on the theme and a reverse murder mystery all at once, and it is quite enjoyable.









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