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A story for our time

The debate of whether the human race is the result of God’s divine power (creationism) or of millions of years of change (evolution) is a heated one, and it’s the primary topic tackled in John Settle’s first novel, Time and Time Again, published earlier this year. As the son of an Anglican missionary and priest as well as a student of philosophy at the University of Guelph, it’s a  familiar debate for the Grade 5, 6 and 7 teacher at Wellesley Public School. The fictional story is aimed at young-adults and follows a pair of teenagers named Adam and Evelyn as they try to unravel the secrets of a mysterious group of men that are travelling through time.

While Settle admits he isn’t particularly a fan of traditional science fiction, the genre granted him some freedom in exploring his ideas for the story, which he’s been working on for nearly 20 years.
“I was playing with the ideas of evolution versus creationism, and the time travel gave me a way to discuss them in a unique way.”

The story’s main character is Adam, a 14-year-old boy living in the year 2040 where time travel has become so mundane it’s almost boring, and where people can travel back and forth in time at will using Time Taxis.
“Some people work in different time periods, but then some people just vacation,” explained Settle. “Evelyn finds that someone has done something wrong in the past. She doesn’t understand what it is, but she gets chased by the bad guys and Adam tries to help her and figure out what is really going on.”

“]
Wellesley Public School teacher John Settle has published his first book, Time and Time Again, which touches on the debate of creationism versus evolution in a world where time travel has become as common as driving is today. [James Jackson / The observer

What ensues is a voyage spanning through the extreme limits of human history, from 2.5 million B.C. to 2.5 million A.D. The mystery focuses on Australopithecus, an extinct species that arose in Africa about four million years ago and which many archeologists and paleontologists believe played a significant role in the evolution of humans today.

Settle said that the book takes three perspectives on evolution and creationism. The first side argues for the sake of creationism and that God gave birth to the human race; the second argues for a purely evolutionary understanding of how humans became the dominant species on the plant; and the third view (expressed by Adam) is that it shouldn’t matter which side is right.

Throughout the book the first two factions begin to oppose the others’ ideals. Protests break out, and the conflict eventually escalates into nuclear war that the reader never experiences but the fallout of which is witnessed when Adam and Evelyn travel 2.5 million years into the future.

“There is no mention of who won the war,” said Settle.

The author said he drew inspiration from his daily life, in particular from his father, Tom, and their conversations about evolution and creationism.

Prior to becoming an Anglican minister and Archdeacon in Quebec, Settle’s father was a philosopher of science for many years and believes in the idea of evolution from a religious context.

“He believes that God needs to be taken into consideration when you consider evolution. He believes it was influenced by God,” said Settle.

“A few of those ideas sneak into the book.”

Settle’s upbringing spans nearly as far as the timelines in his book. Born in Hong Kong in 1960, he moved to England when he was five years old then to Guelph two years later. He studied at the University of Western Ontario, completed his degree at Guelph in 1984, and studied for one semester at the University of Florida in 1985.

He said it was his experience living in Florida, “in an apartment by myself in a strange country,” that really sparked his interest in writing.

That writing is also influenced by his experiences as a teacher, and as a father while raising his own two children, Jeremy and Stephanie, who are 16 and 18 years old respectively.

“I think it’s helped me understand a little bit about how to portray characters that are approximately their age. The kinds of things they think about and the way that they talk and things that they are interested in,” he said.

“I hope it has, anyway,” he added with a laugh.

While he didn’t write the story with the intention of having it act as a parable or a lesson for our time, he said it could certainly be perceived that way. Themes such as tolerance and violence in the name of religion are prevalent in thenovel.
One of the challenges he was faced with was keeping the scope of the story manageable, which was difficult given the fact that the story spans some five million years of human history. He noted, though, that the timelines gave him some creative freedom in interpreting the future, while using historical and archaeological records to remain faithful to the past.

“I could invent a lot of things,” he laughed. “So I did. I invented some means of travel, and not just time travel, but vehicular travel.”

He imagined a world where oil prices spiked so high that airline travel was no longer viable, and used other real-world scenarios we are witnessing today to influence his future in the book.

Like any good science fiction writing, the book contains a plot twist at the end that may surprise readers. Without giving it away, Settle tried to hint at the fact that the names of the main characters were not chosen at random.
“It’s not a coincidence. It’s intentional.”

Time and Time Again is available at three locations: The Bookshelf in Guelph, Upper Case Books in New Hamburg, and The Robins Nest café in Elmira. Settle will be holding a book signing in New Hamburg on May 5 at 3 p.m., and in Elmira on May 12 from 3-5 p.m.

Settle is working on an idea for another novel, as well as a trilogy of children’s picture books with Cambridge artist Mircea Gabor, the same artist who completed the cover art for Time and Time Again.

For more information, visit www.johnsettlebooks.com.

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  1. Thanks for the article, James, and for the link on my facebook page. I dispute, however, that my own life spans nearly five million years!

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