Time and Again (1986)

by Jack Finney

Although it revolves around time travel, Time and Again has broad appeal beyond the science fiction community. History and romance, not technology, are supreme in this novel. No machines are used to transport Si Morley from 1970 back to 1882 — the feat is accomplished simply by mind power.

Si, an advertising illustrator, is recruited by the U.S. government to participate in a secret time-travel experiment. He fits the government's likely-to-succeed profile: "someone who sees things as they are and as they might have been." When Si — unmarried, the only child of dead parents  — accepts, he asks to go to 1882 New York to try to figure out a mystery in his girlfriend's family. Trained in self-hypnosis and living in an apartment in the Dakota with period trappings, Si succeeds in transporting himself to Manhattan when Fifth Avenue was just a narrow street and no planes, cars, or television sets existed. Si's detailed descriptions (in both words and illustrations) of the city that was are compelling, especially for New Yorkers and those who love New York. The evocation of that earlier time veers toward the idyllic side, but there is undeniable charm in the portraits of people who amuse themselves with after-dinner parlor games and horse-drawn sleigh rides.

Si has strict instructions not to do anything that would affect the course of history, but that proves difficult, especially as he finds himself falling in love with a young woman whose shady fiancé figures in the mystery. Back in his own time, he takes part in a debate about the morality of the government's experiment and ponders a decision that will profoundly affect his own life: In which era should he continue to live?

Time and Again is one of 15 books the editors of A Passion for Books (Times Books, 1999) "feel have become so much a part of us that if we ever found ourselves forced to, we could memorize them in order to preserve them." Finney continued Si's story in a sequel, From Time to Time (1996).


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