The Hertford Manuscript by Richard Cowper

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This is a guest post by Rick Buchan.

Time Travel. What a compelling, uniquely seductive science fiction theme! The chance to correct a wrong, witness an historical event first hand, or simply escape to a better time when the world made sense; you know – the “good old days”.

Often described as the “sequel” to H.G. Wells’ “The Time Traveler”, this 1976 short story by Richard Cowper breathes new life into the classic tale and extends the adventure.

Told in a rich, antiquated British literary style, Cowper adds an authentic feel to this masterful tale as he transports us back to 17th Century England.

The Story In A Nutshell:

Upon the death of his Great Aunt Victoria (a dealer in old books and antiquities), Francis Decressie is left the Hertford Manuscript – a volume written and produced in the late 17th century.

Serving mainly as an historical register, this boring volume would remain undisturbed, collecting dust if not for the inexplicable fact that, bound up with the original contents, Francis discovers several sheets of different paper, written in a different hand, outlining a journal of someone from the early 20th century!

The journal unfolds thus;

After his ordeal with the Morlocks, H.G. Wells’ hero sets out again for a quick temporal jaunt only to have his machine severely malfunction and leave him stranded in a farmer’s field in 17th Century England to ponder his fate.

“I thought, and with a silent prayer on my lips I thrust forward the left-hand lever which would send me winging forward through the centuries to 1894. And nothing happened! I tried again and even risked further pressure on the right-hand lever. The result was exactly the same.
My emotions at that moment were all but identical with those I had experienced when I first looked down from the gazebo on the hillcrest above the Hall of Eloi and found my Machine was no longer standing where I had left it on the lawn before the White Sphinx. It is the fear that grips the marooned mariner when he sees the topsail finally dip below the horizon.”

The journal goes on to detail his desperate attempt to effect repairs and return to his own time.

The Good:

  • Very well researched and written.
  • A vivid portrayal of the period is presented and our vicarious journey is enhanced greatly in 2 ways:
    1. The diary/journal format creates the belief that this is indeed a factual account.
    2. The overall style with which the story is told lends a degree of credibility for the period in which it takes place.

The Bad:

  • Those who want great “Science” in their S.F. won’t find it here. Personally the Science factor is a non issue unless it is key to the story and THEN it better be at least good. A great plot, human drama, wonderful characters are all more desirable to me than the mechanics of how light speed or anti-gravity is achieved.
  • For those who are NOT Dicken’s fans, the old British style used here may be a turn off.
  • My absolute favorite Science Fiction theme is Time Travel so I am heavily biased in my love of this story!

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