The novel “Time and Again”, also published as “First He Died”, and in a slightly different version as “Time Quarry”, by Clifford D. Simak was published for the first time in 1951.
Asher Sutton is the only human who managed to penetrate 61 Cygni’s system with his spaceship. However, he was believed dead after he crashed on that system’s seventh planet, at least until he returns to Earth after twenty years in the same spaceship, which in theory should no longer be able to travel or have the life support systems necessary for a human being’s journey.
Asher Sutton’s return to Earth is accompanied by threats to his life, some explicit such as a duel challenge, others more subtle. He ends up in the center of a clash between factions over a book he has yet to write but will greatly affect the future with conflicting interpretations. To get over the situation, he has to travel through time.
Clifford D. Simak had written mainly short fiction for several years, and only in the 1950s, when the science fiction market began to shift from pulp magazines in which the author published his short fiction to books, he regularly devoted himself to writing novels. “Time and Again” was one of his first novels, in which he included a number of ideas that other writers would exploit in an entire career, but in some cases are developed in a partial or convoluted way.
The plot revolves around Asher Sutton, an Earth agent who is supposed to have died in the course of his mission in the 61 Cygni system that was intended to uncover its secrets. His return to Earth after twenty years is a mystery, but represents only the beginning of a story that is developed together with various themes.
Time travel is an important element of “Time and Again” because on Earth there are people who know the future in which Asher Sutton wrote a book, and different factions have different agendas about it among which to prevent its author from writing it by killing him before he can begin. There are various possible paradoxes, but they’re not examined in depth, probably because Clifford D. Simak’s interest was to speak generically of destiny with the possibility of altering the past.
Attempts to kill Asher Sutton also come with a duel challenge, a convention of that future that is used by Clifford D. Simak to discuss the alleged right to own and use weapons, also in connection with the religion theme. Sutton will become a sort of religious figure, with some problems, including the rift between his followers due to different interpretations of his book. The considerations are caustic above all in the contradiction between the use of weapons and the alleged obedience to the commandment that orders not to kill.
The plot contains an additional level of complexity given by the presence in that future of robots and androids, who are in fact slaves of human beings. The allegory is even more transparent considering that androids are completely human beings, but they’re created in lab. You should keep in mind that “Time and Again” was written at a time when there was racial segregation in the USA.
“Time and Again” is a novel full of contents, including sophisticated ones, but too short to develop them all adequately. Despite its flaws, it remains in many ways far better than the average of the production of the time, and it’s no coincidence that it had considerable success. In my opinion, it’s still a must-read even for the themes developed only in part.