Time and Again opens in a distant future on earth that includes androids, robots, interactive television, weather control, mentophones - an ingenious device that allows instantaneous interstellar communication, dramatically extended life spans, travel to distant star systems and a humanity that has conquered the galaxy and spread its seed far and wide. After a 20 year absence, Asher Sutton returns to earth from an expedition to 61 Cygni, a system that until now has defeated every attempt at landing and exploration. In the attempt, Sutton has miraculously survived a crash that left his ship disabled and, by all odds, should have killed him. His ship has somehow managed to return to earth apparently without the actual ability to do so and Sutton, through some extraordinary feat of bio-medical engineering, appears to have been modified into something that is considerably less than completely human. He is mentally linked to someone he refers to as "Johnny". The administration on earth wonder what all of this can possibly mean.
On the surface, Time and Again is a thrilling story of time travel. Sutton is carrying a book which he has not yet actually written - a summary of his philosphies that, in a not too distant future, will result in the achievement of the dreams of the Android Equality League, their right to be recognized as sentient beings and a release from their treatment as mere property. But, before the book can even be actually written, Sutton must survive assassination attempts by revisionists - humans from the future who are using time travel as the means to prevent its publication.
Simak's personal credo that reflects his quiet midwest upbringing, his pastoral approach to the science fiction genre and his concerns about humanity and its use of technology as a means to violent conflict are never very far from the surface. Indeed, they rather shine through the writing like a beacon. But, make no mistake - Simak never falls into the trap of preaching. The clear social commentary is never intrusive and never detracts for even an instant from an exciting story line.
In Time and Again, Simak was openly critical of humanity's impression of its own importance in the universe - "Not by strength did he hold his starry outposts, but by something else ... by depth of human character, by his colossal conceit, by his ferocious conviction that Man was the greatest living thing the galaxy had ever spawned. All this in spite of much evidence that he was not ... evidence that he took and evaluated and cast aside, scornful of any greatness that was not ruthless and aggressive".
He also used comedy as a vehicle to make a dark statement against weapons. He jests about "the code" having been changed to require everyone under age 100 to bear arms as a way of passing comment on his feelings against the US's unique constitutional amendment regarding the "right" to bear arms. His philosophical argument against Sutton's attempted use of the Christian commandment "Thou shalt not kill" as an exemption from the code is perhaps a little blunt but does serve to point out some of the ironies involved in, for example, a right wing Bible Belt fundamentalist Christian packin' an iron.
Finally, his creation of the Android Equality League represents an ingenious platform from which Simak can express his concerns about the ethical issues related to the problems of advanced artificial intelligence and voice his courageous, clear condemnation of the white's treatment of black people in the 1960s US and his support of the civil rights movement.
In Time and Again, Simak has created a story that many have suggested is his finest work. I was excited with the turn of every page and found I couldn't disagree with them!