Time and Again – Clifford D Simak (1951)
‘Asher Sutton has been lost in deepest space for twenty years. Suddenly arrives a warning from the future, that he will return – and that he must be killed. He is destined to write a book whose message may lead to the death of millions in centuries to come. For this reason Sutton is hounded by the sinister warring factions of the future who wish to influence or prevent the writing of this book he has not yet begun to write.
Yet already a copy has been found in the burnt-out wreckage of a space-craft on Aldebaran XII.’
Blurb from the cover of the 1977 Magnum edition.
On the surface this – one of Simak’s better novels – is a complex and intricate tale of time-travel and paradox. Simak is very much a pastoral writer, in that his SF is often set against a backdrop of solid American rural values, and though he never preaches, his writing nevertheless extols the virtues of tolerance and pacifism.
Six thousand years in the future Earth is at the centre of an interstellar Empire, clinging to control of the galaxy with the help of androids who are only differentiated from true humans by their inability to reproduce and the tattoos on their foreheads. Asher Sutton, a reconnaissance agent, has been missing for the last twenty years after being sent to 61 Cygni to assess an alien planet which may or may not pose a threat to the stability of Human Culture.
Sutton’s boss, Adams, receives a visit from a mysterious stranger claiming to be from the future, who predicts Sutton’s imminent return and tells Adams that Sutton must be killed to prevent him from writing a book which will plunge the Human worlds into war.
Sutton does indeed return, but there is reason to believe that Sutton may not be Sutton at all, and indeed, may not even be human.
This is the alien in human form, which often in American SF of the time was a symbol for communism, or at least of some sort of threat to the values of American culture. Here at least, it is a benign presence, employed as a metaphor of intolerance and misunderstanding.
Sutton has discovered ‘Destiny’ or, as he puts it, the ‘symbiotic abstractions’ of 61 Cygni who latch themselves onto all living things throughout the galaxy and guide them through life.
Sutton’s not-yet-written book is a Bible which explains our relationship with these creatures, a philosophy which could destabilise Human control of the galaxy, since it espouses equality of all life, including androids. There is also a possibly deliberate Messianic symbolism within the character of Sutton himself since he dies (twice) and is resurrected.
The book itself, copies of which Sutton discovers before he has even begun to write it, is the reason why various factions, including the androids and groups from other periods in time are eager to either kill Sutton or use him and his ‘revised’ book for their own devices.
Like most Simak novels, it’s an affirmation of the basic goodness of human nature and a very ‘cosy’ novel.