Time to Live by John Rackham
Here he is speeding down a road in an unfamiliar vehicle in an unfamiliar place. Plus, he doesn’t know who he is…
Something happened within the past few hours, he thinks, He knows he is escaping something. But what? He can’t control the unfamiliar car and crashes. The woman who rescues him is not human, although she appears that way. She realizes he is hurt and takes him in. Slowly he realizes he is on the planet Kalmed. She is Kalmede Aporia. They examine his clothes and find an ID. He is Jim Hart, a spaceman who works on the ships as they travel between planets.
Knowing his name doesn’t help. He doesn’t feel like Jim Hart. Working on a spaceship means nothing to him. He can remember his studies about Kalmed. He can remember things from Earth’s history. But he can’t remember any of his personal history. He and Aporia go to check out the car he was driving. While there, some Earthan (in modern science fiction they would be Terran) policeman come up to talk to her. They are looking for him because he killed a Kalmede woman and a young Earthan who had just arrived on the planet. Then he had escaped.
Now he is really confused. He doesn’t feel like the kind of person who could do that. But he certainly has Jim Hart’s face. Aporia takes him to town, where he is put in jail. Some of his coworkers come to visit him. They recognize him, as well, and gossip about the relationship he had had with the dead Kalmede woman. In the 22nd century people are not executed for murder in Kalmede if convicted. Instead they are put in a special mental institution. That’s where Jim next is sent. Something is wrong there, though. If only he could remember his life before speeding down that Kalmed road!
Time to Live was published in 1966. I’m sure I’ve read it sometime in my life, but I didn’t keep track of everything I read until the later 1990’s. I could have easily read this novel (novella?) in the late 60’s or early 70’s. The story was familiar, but not remembered. I couldn’t say what would happen next, but was surprised at the twists.
John Rackham (aka John T. Phillifent) wrote a clever novel using the old theme of amnesia. The nice part of that is, the theme still works as much now as it did 43 years ago. The reader learns about the planet Kalmed just as John does – in bits and pieces and memories that resurface. It brings the planet and people together in an idyllic setting that is a background foil for the problems of humans.
Time to Live is good ol’ early space opera. It’s fun, a quick read, and pulled me right in. While not deep literature, it still forces us to look at ourselves and mankind’s personality.
This book was published in a dual novel with The Man Without a Planet by Lin Carter. It’s out of print, but used copies can be found.