‘ONE MORE TIME
FOR TIME AFTER TIME’
OF THE NOVEL
‘TIME AFTER TIME’
BY KARL ALEXANDER
Book Review of:
‘TIME AFTER TIME’
by KARL ALEXANDER
(Panther, 1979 £1.25, 320pp ISBN 0586-050795)
You’ll probably see, or already have seen the movie ‘Time After Time’ (August 1979), currently doing its late-night re-runs on various digital TV-channels. So you’ll probably know the plot concerns HG Wells – played by Malcolm McDowell with moustache, inventing a real Time Machine, said Time Machine being hijacked into the future by Jack The Ripper – portrayed by David Warner, and Herbert George’s pursuit of this villainous quarry into today, that is – into 1979. McDowell, in a more sympathetic role than we usually expect from him, is as excellent as ever.
As early as 1967 Robert Bloch wrote a first, and far more chillingly convincing Ripper-projected-into-the-future story – “A Toy For Juliette”, followed that same year by Harlan Ellison reworking the theme in his ‘Dangerous Vision’ “The Prowler In The City At The Edge Of The World”. Christopher Priest wrote HG Wells as a character into his enjoyable fantasy ‘The Space Machine’ (1976), while Jherek Carnelian converses effectively with a sceptical Wells on the topic of Time Travellers in Michael Moorcock’s ‘The Hollow Lands’ (1974). Moorcock also evokes a far more tactile picture of Victorian London than Alexander’s second-hand American view condescendingly-affectionately extracted from previous Hollywood imaginings.
Similarly there’s little development of the Time Travel concept. Needless to say, there’s none of the temporal conundrums mapped out by Isaac Asimov (‘The End Of Eternity’, 1955) or Poul Anderson (‘The Corridors Of Time’, 1966). While none of the ideas are taken to the staggeringly complex consummation of Barrington J Bayley’s novels (‘Collision With Chronos’, 1973 and ‘The Fall Of Chronopolis’, 1974) with time spliced, looped, overdubbed, phased, and wiped clean like so much recording tape. But that is never its intention.
Hindsight nudges forward the corrective that Wells’ own perspective shifted considerably in later life, reaching its darkest expression in his final bleak tract ‘Mind At The End Of Its Tether’ (1945). But the Ripper’s vision, as devil’s advocate, is equally laser-bright, recognising that 1979 reflects more exactly his own philosophies. He prefers Alice Cooper’s mayhem to Fleetwood Mac’s soporific – never having got as far as Sid Vicious!, and he feels slighted by Charles Manson’s greater notoriety. He plans to use the Time Machine to literally carve his manifesto clear across the ages, by ‘surprising Cleopatra in her boudoir. He could be assaulting and butchering her voluptuous body before Anthony ever reached the shores of the Nile. A few minutes further along the Fourth Dimension, and he could be sodomising Helen of Troy… Mary Magdalene could be his too, raped and slaughtered before Jesus ever had a chance to save her wretched soul… and he could violate and murder Joan of Arc.’ Fortunately, he never gets to carry out this catalogue of vile deeds.
There’s tension and fast-paced chase-sequences as Stevenson abducts Wells’ bank-teller love-interest Amy Catherine Robbins (played by Mary Steenburgen), and tries to use her to bargain for possession of the time machine’s control key. Wells, in deerstalker hat, is mistakenly arrested on suspicion of the murder of Amy’s co-worker, who has fallen foul of the newly-styled ‘San Francisco Ripper’. Wells even uses the machine to take Amy on a three-day hop into the future, where she’s shocked to see a newspaper headline reporting her as the Ripper’s next victim. There’s a final confrontation around the machine itself. ‘You have my word as a gentleman’ promises the Ripper, before reneging, ‘I would have expected that you’d noticed by now, that I am not a gentleman.’ The struggle results in him being hurled endlessly into the future, while Wells decides to return – with Amy, to his own time, where he intends to destroy his invention. It has too much potential for evil to be allowed to exist.
Alexander is on more shaky ground with his Ripper speed-reading, even if one concedes that some scene-shifting was necessary to compress the two protagonists into the same timeframe. In fact the Ripper’s last attributed murder was on 9 November 1888 – five years before the novel’s setting. Similarly, the murder detailed in the opening chapter – that of Elizabeth ‘Long Liz’ Stride, was only his third victim anyway. However – despite being out of time, the setting for the event is carefully and accurately described, clear down to the witness-authenticated ‘International Workers Education Club’ meeting nearby, overhead singing the “Internationale”. Alexander’s accuracy is only undermined by his description of her ‘butchered’ corpse. Beyond the fatally slashed throat, Liz Stride’s body was not mutilated. But what the hell, gory murder is a reliable plot ingredient – and it IS an extremely entertaining novel. Not one to change your life irrevocably, but it will pass an hour or two most enjoyably, and comes cheaper than getting the 2008 Warner DVD from Amazon.
You’ve probably already seen the movie on its late-night re-runs on various digital TV-channels. Borrow a copy of this book some time too.