Book Review: There Will Be Time, Poul Anderson (1972)

(Fernando Fernandez’s cover for the 1973 edition)

4/5 (Good)

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.

Final Thoughts

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)

For additional book reviews consult the INDEX

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14 thoughts on “Book Review: There Will Be Time, Poul Anderson (1972)”

  1. I just finished Jack Finney’s Time and Again yesterday, and was struck – reading your review – by the ways Anderson’s novel resembles Finney’s bestseller from 1970. (A.) The protagonist is born with the ability to time travel. (B.) The “mechanics” of time travel are vague. (C.) There is very little mention of all the usual problems associated with time travel. (D.) It’s hard to alter the course of history, significantly.

    Anderson seems to differ from Finney in focusing on social / political ideas, rather than a (very pleasing) love story. Not that questions of power, privilege, and poverty don’t appear throughout Finney’s text. Anyways, it’s off to the secondhand bookstore to pick up Finney’s 1995 sequel. Time and Again was that good (and recommended to you, Joachim, as an excellent example of mainstream success with an SF concept – from the period that interests you).

    1. There is a love story in this one as well… With a Byzantine girl he encounters — so, at moments the narrative is incredibly melodramatic (one of the reasons I gave this a 4/5 instead of slightly higher). But yes, they do seem similar… Anderson’s work fits into a sequence of stories about the Maurai Federation — so that commentary theme is from quite a bit earlier.

  2. So strange that I finished THERE WILL BE TIME for the 10th or so time today… and googled it, wanting to find others who have commented on it in the past. And I find that this post was written just today.

    This book is one of my favorites — every time I finish it, I’m filled with a nostalgic sense of longing that I can’t quite explain. I’m sure if you’ve read it, you know what I mean.

    1. Thanks for the visiting (and the comment)!

      What was your favorite aspect of the novel?

      I definitely enjoyed it although I’m not sure I’m going to read it again — I find so many works of the era nostalgic. I’m not sure why considering I wasn’t even born for more than a decade after it was written. It reminded me of Silverberg’s Dying Inside, which I mentioned in the post.

  3. I thought this one of his best. The treatment of time travel is fairly well done, the future history less unconvincing than most, and the focus on character rewarding. Anderson’s a very mixed bag for me, with some I love but many I don’t, but this falls definitely on the side of the angels.

    That 1993 cover is very much of its time, isn’t it?

    1. …and the 1988 edition. Both are atrocious.

      But yes, this is one of his best. I also enjoyed People of the Wind (1973) — although its more a traditional planetary adventure with winged aliens.

  4. For the 1973 edition, I’m going to guess the artist was Allan Kass. Kass was a highly successful illustrator who did a lot of covers for Signet from the 1950s to the 1990s. Looking at some of his Romance and Western art, I’d say a largely monochrome, red cover wasn’t unusual for him, and I suspect he also did the uncredited cover for Silverberg’s Earth’s Other Shadow – also Signet, 1973. (There are sites and pages out there devoted to Kass’ work.)

    1. It also looks like the same artist who did Silverberg’s The Second Trip.

      No idea why he was never credited… I’ll check out the websites in a bit. But it definitely seems like he did quite a few Signet SF covers.

      1. Many commercial artists of Kass’ generation were, unfortunately, used to anonymity. (Though some designers and illustrators managed to get their names on everything they created, they were the exceptions, not the rule.) Clients often insisted on anonymity, feeling a visible signature took recognition away from the product. And more than a few art directors felt that the kind of artist who accepted anonymity was easier to work with. An anonymous artist was less likely to make a stink about issues of reuse, receiving additional compensation for any greater-than-expected success he contributed to, etc. Though the situation was beginning to change in the 1960s and ’70s, this was still long before commercial artists got uppity and organized, and Congress passed the Visual Artist Rights Act of 1990.

  5. Interesting to find you two talking about the those early “red” Silverberg covers just last week. I am a Silverberg cover art expert and original art collector and indeed, those Signets (plus a few others) are uncredited. For the longest time I thought that it might have been Fernando Fernandez, but after having a look at Kass’ cover for “Mistress of Ravenstone”, I think you might be right Tom. This one plus the Anderson above plus Silverberg’s “The Second Trip” were all published one after the other. Your input is much appreciated!

    1. You’re welcome, Welshgriffin. A Google Image search for “Allan Kass book covers” turns up a number of Nurse, Romance, and Western covers that are mostly red, or have strong red elements. Seems to have been a signature color for Kass.

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