IN WAR TIMES
by Kathleen Ann Goonan
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Kathleen Ann Goonan mixes the rise of modern jazz, World War II, and a strange device that might be able to alter the outcome of events in In War Times. Focusing on the life of Sam Dance, a young man who is as much caught up in his time as he is in control of anything, Goonan follows his research into an invention he hardly understands called the Hadntz Device.
The novel opens with a young Sam Dance having a one-night stand with one of his professors, Eliani Hadntz, a refugee from Eastern Europe. Before she disappears, she leaves him with a sheaf of papers describing her research and giving him the impetus to try to create the machine, especially when word of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and his brotherís death aboard the Arizona comes later in the day. As Sam, and eventually his comrade, Al ďWinkĒ Winklemeyer, discover a shared love of jazz they also dive into the copious notes Hadntz left Sam as their lives get caught up in World War II.
Although stationed in England and Germany during the war, Dance and Wink so only minimal combat, arriving on the continent after the main thrust of the D-Day invasion, which doesnít mean their lives havenít been touched by the warís destruction, from Samís brotherís death to the death of a local woman in England to the orphans they see in Germany. However, the two appear to have plenty of free reign in which to play jazz, set up a nightclub, and work on the Hadntz Device, never completely understanding what it will do. Occasionally, Hadntz makes a reappearance, spiriting Dance through Nazi Germany and the atrocities being committed there to help reinforce his resolve to perfect the device.
After observing the bombing of Hiroshima, however, Dance and Wink begin to see the Hadntz Device have a very real effect on their world. Separated after they are released from the army, Dance finds himself in a strange situation, almost unstuck in time. The machine he and Wink spent so much time perfecting appears to be moving him into a variety of timelines. Rare connections with Wink lead Dance to realize that he is not living in a Candidean best of all possible worlds, but he becomes consumed with the goal of re-creating his world in the image of the better world Wink seems to inhabit.
Throughout the novel, Dance, and eventually his family, appear to be separated from their community. Yes, Danceís son, Brian, becomes friends with the boy who lives next door and his daughter, Jill, becomes involved in the anti-war movement in the late 1960s, just as Dance and his wife, Bette, were involved in World War II, but Goonan doesnít really show those interactions, leaving her characters isolated from their world, just as Dance himself is isolated from his army buddies except when enough of them gather together to reach critical mass. This alienation carries over to the readers as well, making Dance, Bette, and others a little more difficult to empathize with than might be desired.
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