by Connie Willis
New York : Bantam Books, 1998.
About fifty years in the future, time travel is not only a reality, it's how historians work - by going back into the past and observing events. Note the key word: observing. They cannot create paradoxes by getting involved or taking things forward in time, or the entire space-time continuum might break down. One of these historians, Ned Henry, is overworked and "time lagged" due to Lady Schrapnell's insistence that everything be perfect for the recreation of Coventry Cathedral down to the last detail. In particular, was the bishop's bird stump present when the cathedral was bombed during the blitz? He's so tired he can barely function, so when one of the historians in the Victorian time period takes something forward in time, he's sent back to get his rest in a place Lady Schrapnell can't find him, and repair the damage all in one.
Up until a few years ago, I had almost never read a science fiction book, and I asked a friend and co-worker to recommend a book that is a good introduction to the genre. This was her recommendation for me, and I have to say it was spot on. It's a light, funny story that still has a lot to say when you think about it, with a little bit of chaos theory and theories of history thrown in, as well as more than a few nods to Jerome K. Jerome's Three Men in a Boat, to Say Nothing of the Dog. If, like me, you have never read that book, never fear - there's plenty of fun to be had in this story in its own right and those (and other) literary references can go straight over your head. Though it's not quite as much fun to reread, it remains one of my favorite science fiction stories.