Book Review: There Will Be Time, Poul Anderson (1972)
August 16, 2013 § 13 Comments
(Uncredited cover for the 1973 edition)
Nominated for the 1973 Hugo Award for Best Novel
(Hugo Award related tangent: how Silverberg’s Dying Inside lost to Asimov’s The Gods Themselves is beyond me. There Will Be Time is the lesser of the three)
Frequent readers of my reviews will have noticed my general dislike of time travel themed SF. I have two central qualms: Firstly, I am frustrated by the tendency of authors to expound endlessly on the nuances of the particular temporal theory they have chosen to deploy; secondly, the common obsession with “understanding how the past really was” strikes me as an incredibly superficial/fallacious analysis of the nature of history and historical thinking — individuals today cannot understand “the true nature of the present” simply by existing in it yet alone a different historical period. Rather, perspective taking, understanding context, and careful analysis are the key operative terms of critical and historical thought.
Poul Anderson’s Hugo nominated There Will Be Time (1972) avoids both pitfalls with some success. Anderson’s novel reminds me of Robert Silverberg’s masterful character study Dying Inside (1972), nominated for the Hugo as well. In Dying Inside, David Selig is forced to come to grips with losing his telepathic ability. In the same mold, but to a lesser degree, There Will Be Time focuses on the character development of our hero Jack Havig who is forced to come to grips with his ability to travel through time at will. A more conventional SF plot does surface midway through but the concepts at play remain intriguing.
Brief Plot Summary/Analysis
Jack Havig was born in 1933 with the ability to time travel. The story of his life is relayed to the reader via Robert Anderson, his childhood doctor and protector. Havig is subjected to a rough family life — his father dies in WWII and his step-father, not inherently a bad man but rather the wrong father figure for Havig, is a religious, right-wing, reverent pro-McCarthy anti-Communist whose expectations for his step son revolve around farming. Robert Anderson and his wife Katie protect him from the step-father as best as they can. Soon, Jack realizes that he has a special gift — a gift that allowed him to escape from bullies, a gift that gave him terrible premonitions of his father’s death…
Soon, Jack vanishes without a trace. When he returns, he relates to Robert the many years he spent in California at Berkley with the student movements and other radicals. Here Anderson’s rather centrist politics emerge for Havig does not find their idealism inspiring. Havig does convince Robert of his time-traveling ability. Additional meetings between the two friends, as Jack journeys from time to time and place to place, provides the reader a glimpse into the events of Havig’s life. The time compression, a few months might pass in Robert’s life while Havig might spend years at a certain moment of time in history, allows the reader to see how Havig comes to terms with his gift and mature as a person.
The more traditional SF narrative emerges when Jack learns of an apocalypse that will strike most of the world, as a result of ecological disasters and nuclear war, that will occur in the 21st century. And after this disaster, Jack learns of the new power in the world — the the Maurai Federation (comprised of peoples from New Zealand and Micronesia) — that rules a less industrialized and more ecologically regulated Earth.
Havig’s second great revelation is the presence of numerous other time travelers from all time periods. A racist and dictatorial time traveler from the 19th century named Wallis has gathered them all together in an effort to lay the groundwork for a society to challenge the Maurai Federation whom he deems to be “Kanaka-white-nigger-Chink-Jap mongrels” (71). Initially Havig, desiring to live with others with his ability, joins in with Wallis but soon learns of the extent of Wallis’ plan.
Of the Anderson novels I’ve read, this might be his most successful integration of social science fiction, character study, and traditional SF narrative. Likewise, the narrative structure of the novel — Jack Havig’s childhood, and eventual journeys across the timeline are relayed to the reader by his childhood doctor and protector, Dr. Robert Anderson (a “relative” of Poul Anderson himself) — allows the extensive time frame of the work to be conveyed in an unforced manner with multiple levels of character interpretation of events. Jack chooses what events to tell Robert and Robert attempts to infer what they meant to Jack, and of course, Robert formulates Havig’s life into a readable form for us. Occasionally, Anderson plays with these interpretive levels and has Robert speculate about what Jack might have left out of the story — especially when he journeys into the past. Via these multiple levels of interpretation, Anderson deftly avoids a time travel novel where “the true nature of the past” is possible to relate.
As for my first concern with time travel SF, Anderson purposefully leaves the cause of Jack Havig’s ability (a genetic mutation) and the exact workings of the temporal theory behind time travel vague: “‘You mean, an event once recorded is unalterable?’ Now his smile chilled me. ’I suspect all events are,’ he said. ’I do know a traveler cannot generate contradictions, I’ve tried’” (113). Anderson is much more concerned with how the experience of time travel changes Jack Havig’s views of the world and his role in it than coming up with humorous contradictions or waxing at length on the nature of bubbles of time or chronographic stasis points, etc. Anderson does place some artificial plot-facilitating limitations on time travel in order to prevent other individuals not possessing the genetic mutation to go with them — namely, one can only carry so much additional mass (51).
Recommended for fans of Time Travel science fiction heavy on character development and 70s SF in general.
(Melvyn Grant’s cover for the 1979 edition)
(Peter Elson’s cover for the 1987 edition)
(Tim Heldebrandt’s cover for the 1988 edition)
(Duane Meyer’s grotesque cover for 1993 edition)
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