Book Review: Time and Time Again, a twisty time traveler for the history buff

If you had one chance to go back in time and change history for the better, where would you go, and when? Hardly anyone would argue with Sarajevo 1914, when the Austrian archduke was murdered by a semi-competent Serbian anarchist, thus starting the fall of dominoes that led to World War I and, by extension, World War II and the political and military turmoil that followed. The smoke didn’t really blow away until after Korea, and the Cold War lingered until 1989. An entire century wasted.

Ben Elton’s Time and Time Again is an elegant and detailed imagination of what might have happened if a secret society of British academics, following a formula discovered by Sir Isaac Newton, had sent a cashiered Army captain back to stop the assassination.

As you can imagine, things didn’t turn out as planned. Captain Hugh Stanton, a competent man in his own world (of British Special Forces and reality TV) is far out of his depth 110 years before his own time, and he’s at the mercy of forces neither he, the ancient and berobed members of the secret society, or Sir Isaac could have predicted. Elton has created a maze of switchbacks and false leads that makes for fun reading, especially if you understand something of the history of Germany as the Great War began, and the life of Rosa Luxembourg.

It’s no spoiler to say he does in fact go back to 1914 (that’s in Chapter 2) and he does in fact foil the assassination. It would be a spoiler to tell what happens after that, except that he meets some interesting people and falls into a little mid-century romance with a young suffragette living ahead of her time. It’s the twists and turns after he’s done his job, and discovered to his chagrin that the unintended consequences were serious indeed, that make the book so interesting a read.

Ben Elton is an Australian writer who’s immensely popular in the U.K., but not known so well in the United States. He’s written fourteen best-sellers, including some that were made into movies, and has several TV scripts to his credit. His books are well rated on Amazon, and I plan to read more of them. I suggest you do so as well, and start with this one.

(I read the hardback British version furnished by the publisher, which was published last year.)

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Time and Time Again, by Ben Elton. Publication Dec. 22, 2015. From Thomas Dunne Books, a division of St. Martin’s Press. Hardback, $26.99 (Amazon, $15.14), Kindle $12.99. Ranked #26 in time travel science fiction on publication date.