Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Literally the Best Reviews: Time and Time Again

Time and Time Again -- Ben Elton
Thomas Dunne Books
400 Pages

It’s always a common question asked regularly in vastly different company. “If you could go back in time and change one thing, what would it be?” It’s a tricky question. Changing one event could have catastrophic repercussions on the future and erase everything that brought you to the point of being able to travel back in time in the first place. It is the ultimate paradox -- unless we consider the multiverse theory.

In Time and Time Again by Ben Elton, it is 2024 and Hugh Stanton has been asked to travel back in time to prevent the start of the bloodiest century of modern times. He must prevent the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Armed with the knowledge of how the assassination took place, Stanton finds himself in Europe in June 1914.

HIs job is simple. He must avoid as much interaction with the locals as possible, prevent the assassination of the Archduke and then kill the Kaiser before he sets off a bloody conflict that defined the twentieth century. Any change, no matter how minor, in the lead up to the assassination attempt will throw off all the assumed facts.

All it takes is one interaction with a poor flower girl to cause a ripple in the recorded facts from the 21st century history books. Stanton must scramble to maintain focus on the mission. However, he does fulfill his primary mission and moves onto the task of taking out the Kaiser. When a second sniper attempts to kill him before he can kill the leader of Germany, Stanton’s whole reality is shattered.

Together in a necessary, if uneasy truce, the two killers must discover the truths behind their respective missions. In their discoveries, they each learn a horrifying truth about themselves. Nothing is exactly as it seems and nothing will ever be the same again. Will Stanton be able to work his way through all the obstacles to survive? Will he be just another cog in the wheel?

Ben Elton has taken pre-war Europe from the pages of the history books and transplanted a vibrant show of life into the pages of his own novel. His description of Sarajevo and Berlin echo with the last traces of peace before the endless conflagration of war. Its inhabitants who Stanton meets jump from the pages with their vitality. The scenes that Elton portrays to us feels like we are the time travellers visiting that long ago time.

Hugh Stanton is a rich character with great depth. Every decision is an agonizing one for him. After the deaths of his wife and child, he still feel the pain of that loss coming through his actions. Even his decision to shoulder the job of travelling in time to save one leader and kill another weighs heavily on him. Half the story is his contemplation of the actions he will be taking. For me, that makes a great character. He thinks and then reacts. Stanton is not simply a cliched super-protagonist who acts out and only later shows a minute sense of remorse. Stanton is a thinking man’s hero, and it plays well in this book.

With Time and TIme Again, Ben Elton has tackled that age-old question of “what would you do?” While he has delivered a similar overall experience to the time travel paradox, his route to that conclusion is fresh, vibrant, and extraordinarily interesting. I will definitely read more of his works as I discover them in the library.

Ben Elton is a renowned playwright and author. He wrote the musicals, “We Will Rock You” and “Love Never Dies.” The latter is the sequel to “Phantom of the Opera.”Much of his work is satire. Since I love good satire, I will have to see how his stacks up against some of my favorites. In the meantime, grab this book and enjoy.

Next Week: One Year After - William R. Forstchen

Craig Bacon wishes his time travel device looked like a London Police Box. Check him out on Twitter at @hippieboy73.