“Time and Time Again

With the list of titles waiting to be reviewed getting longer, I decided, awhile back, to take a break and read some gaming related fiction I wasn’t going to review.

I read the Arkham Horror novel The Sign of Glaaki. I’ve never played Arkham Horror. I’ve never played Traveller either, but I did run a few games for it back, decades ago, in the Classic Traveller era. So, I read Agent of the Imperium from Traveller’s creator, Marc Miller, and I read Shannon Appelcline’s The Science Fiction in Traveller: A Reader’s Guide to Traveller Role-Playing Fiction.

One of the major sources of fictional inspirations for the game was H. Beam Piper. I’ve already reviewed some of Piper’s works, and this marks the start of a series to review the rest. I’ll be looking at them in order of publication and with some material drawn from two books by Piper scholar John F. Carr: H. Beam Piper: A Biography and Typewriter Killer. I’ll also be reviewing them.

Review: “Time and Time Again”, H. Beam Piper, 1947.

This was Piper’s first published fiction and appeared in the April 1947 issue of Astounding Science Fiction, and Piper would become a favorite author of its editor John W. Campbell.

While this was Piper’s first published fiction, he had brief articles published in his friend’s Don Coleman’s free advertising circular, one of the first in America: the Williamsport Shopper’s Guide. He had written A Catalogue of Henry Wharton Shoemaker Weapons at Restless Oaks in McElhatten Pennsylvania in 1927. Shoemaker was a friend, and Piper dedicated his novel Murder in the Gunroom to Shoemaker. But Piper had also been writing fiction – science fiction, historical fiction, mysteries – for 20 years.

The story opens in 1975 during World War III and (as we learn later) the siege of Buffalo, New York. Our hero, Captain Allan Hartley of the US Army, is pulled out of the rubble from a nuclear blast ten miles away. He is wounded and not expected to live, but he is shot up with a narcotic.

When he wakes up, he finds he has regressed to the age of 13 and is back in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. (Williamsport was a town Piper was fond of, had friends in, and eventually moved to). It is Sunday, August 5, 1945 – the day before the atomic bomb is dropped on Hiroshima. Yet, Hartley remembers his future life as a best-selling author and chemist with lucrative patents. He is convinced his memories of that life are no mere dream. 

His father, Blake Hartley, is a wealthy lawyer. Naturally, he doesn’t go to church. In keeping with Piper’s atheism, Blake is also an atheist. While he gets his bearings, Allan tries hard not to seem different to his father 

The local religious fanatic and possibly lay preacher (more of Piper’s animosity towards religion), Gutchall, comes to borrow a handgun, allegedly to shoot his pet dog. The elder Hartley belongs to the Auxiliary Police. 

Originally, Hartley’s father offers the use of a “Colt .38-special” (thus, in his first published fiction, Piper shows his long-time interest in firearms as an historian and collector of weapons).  Hartley suggests, instead, the 9mm “German automatic”, a war trophy his father brought back from World War One. 

Hartley goes to get the gun and takes the firing pin out of the gun and chambers a round. He also calls the police, pretending to be his father, and claims Gutchall has just borrowed a gun to shoot a dog he doesn’t have. He really is going to try to murder his wife (perhaps after hearing, we’re told later, hearing voices telling him to do it), but the pistol has been disabled. 

Allan then gives the pistol to his father who is a bit upset the gun was loaded. (Hartley chambered a round to prevent his father seeing that the firing pin was gone.) 

After Gutchall leaves, Hartley, knowing things will come to head in about twenty minutes when the police show up at Gutchall’s house, reveals what he has done. 

The police do show up shortly and thank Blake for the tip. Gutchall was caught trying to murder his wife. 

What follows is a discussion with Blake –a lawyer, after all, with a keen mind and used to cross-examining people. We find out that Blake already perceived, that morning, something odd about his son. Allan reveals his future life in detail. (We also learn Allan spent seven years as a reporter for a Philadelphia newspaper.) 

There are several references to fictional and non-fictional works that show Piper’s literary interests and the non-fiction works that rationalize the tale. Blake asks if maybe Allan was inspired by James Branch Cabell’s (a favorite author of Piper’s) The High Place and imagined his future life. J. W. Dunne’s Experiment with Time, so crucial to the rational of Piper’s Paratime series, is mentioned as is J.N.M. Tyrell’s Science and Psychical Phenomena

The story seems to combine both Dunne’s and Tyrell’s theories to explain what has happened to Allan. Logically, as Allan notes, if a consciousness can travel through points of time, to the future and back,

there’s no reason whatever for assuming that it passes out of existence when it reaches the moment of the death of the body. 

We also get a list of mediums: “Patience Worth, and Mrs. Osborne Leonard’s Feda, and Sir Oliver Lodge’s son, and Wilfred Brandon”. They are all historical figures.

We learn the effects of Gutchall’s successful murder in another timeline cast a pall over Blake’s future career. 

(Spoilers ahead)

The story ends on the note you would expect. Using Allan’s knowledge of the future, investments will be made, and father and son will build a chemical manufacturing plant to make Allan’s patented products.

Less expected is the plan that Blake will run for president in 1960 to replace that “good-natured nonentity in the White House then, who let things go till war became inevitable.” And we get another bit of characteristic Piper. Allan tells his father “In the meantime, you can read Machiavelli.” Machiavelli was Piper’s favorite author and deceit will be a long running motif in Piper’s future work.

In Typewriter Killer, Carr notes the father and son relationship in the story is unique in Piper’s work. (That’s not entirely true as we’ll see with Piper’s Four-Day Planet and The Cosmic Computer.)  While Piper was close to his mother, he seems to have mentioned his own father rarely in his letters and to people. Perhaps the Blake-Allan relationship expresses a hope. 

While Carr sees this story as showing what would be Piper’s preoccupation with nuclear war (shared with many in the time), he doesn’t seem to think it’s part of Piper’s Terro-Human Future History even though it features a nuclear war. Piper, at a fan’s request, wrote a chronological outline of his Terro-Human Future History, and its date for the outbreak of World War III is one year prior to that in this story. 

The story was the first of Piper’s to be adapted for other media, in this case for an episode of the radio show Dimension X in 1951. 

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