Monday, January 13, 2014

Time and Time Again by H. Beam Piper

Who says you can’t go home again?
“Time and Time Again” is a short story by science fiction writer H. Beam Piper. It was originally published in the April 1947 issue of the pulp magazine Astounding Science Fiction. The story opens in 1975, in the midst of World War III. Allan Hartley—a scientist, novelist, and army officer—is hit by a bomb blast and knocked unconscious, or so it seems. In reality, his consciousness has traveled back in time. Hartley awakens in 1943, at his father’s house, trapped in his own 13-year-old body. He struggles to find a way out of his bizarre predicament and return to his proper time, which leads to some intricate and thought-provoking speculation on the actual possibility and plausibility of time travel. The ending of the story, though a bit abrupt, is admirably unexpected without being pretentiously clever.

Piper’s prose throughout is a cut above typical pulp fiction, with none of the clumsiness that one finds in hack writers of the period. Like any other work of its day, the dialogue seems dated at times, but the scientific concepts are still interesting and valid for a 21st-century audience. I’m not sure if Piper was the first to come up with the man-trapped-in-child’s-body plot device, but in his hands it certainly feels original. He pushes the envelope of the story’s possibilities and doesn’t settle for predictability. “Time and Time Again” was Piper’s first published story, and, though it’s no masterpiece, it’s an auspicious debut and a good, solid, engaging read for those who enjoy vintage science fiction.

The Kindle file that’s available for free on Amazon (with the red and tan cover) is not a collection of stories; it’s just one story. It’s not 120 pages, as stated on Amazon, but only about 25. A collection of stories has also been published under the same title, in paperback and hardcover. Amazon’s database can't distinguish between two books with the same title and author, so it treats them as different editions of the same book, even when they're not. If you’re looking for a collection with multiple stories, make sure that’s what you’re getting before you purchase. For e-book readers, I would suggest The H. Beam Piper Megapack from Wildside Press.

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