Book Review: Time Salvager

Time Salvager
Wesley Chu
Tor Books
(c) 2015 by the author

Several centuries in the future, the Solar System is dominated by a handful of corporations. Civilization is fading, thanks to what seems to have been an almost non-stop parade of wars and disasters. A quasi-independent organization controls access to time travel, and uses it to plunder the past for technological assets that would have otherwise been lost or destroyed.

James Griffin-Mars, our protagonist, is one of the “chrononauts” who dive back in to the past, risking life and limb to scoop up those artifacts. On one mission, he has a crisis of conscience about leaving people in the past to die…

Kind of sounds like Kage Baker’s “Company” stories, doesn’t it. Chu takes a very different approach to the theme. There’s a heck of a lot more action, for one thing, and the scope of his story is a lot bigger. Humans have spread all over the Solar System, and Chu adds in tantalizing hints of a rich future history. Though not a pleasant one; it’s all references to wars, plagues, and uprisings.

There’s a lot of cool technology, too. Personal force fields are used for both offense and defense, for one. To his credit, Chu doesn’t get bogged down in talking about how all the tech works. It suffices that it does, and does so in a consistent manner. No deux et machinae here.

I must also give Chu a lot of credit for making his technology believable, at least in the world he’s created. The story’s set at least 500 years in the future – far enough for there to have been some major advances, but not so far as to be incomprehensible. That’s one gripe I have with a lot of “far future” SF. Take a look at how far we’ve come in the past few decades. Heck, I remember when my school got its first computer (a Commodore PET – I wrote about it for the school paper). Now, we can wear devices with many times more power than that on our wrist. How far will we go in the next century? The next millenium? It’s not easy to describe technology in the far future. Imagine trying to explain to someone from two hundred years ago what “posting a selfie to your Facebook wall” means….

If I have any complaint, it’s that there are quite a few loose threads left dangling at the end. The story isn’t wrapped up satisfactorily. I checked other reviewers, and yes, there’s a sequel in the works.

Sigh.

I understand the publishing reasons behind making trilogies and series, but that doesn’t mean I have to like them. It is, believe it or not, possible to write stand-alone novels in the same series or universe. The recent novels by Larry Niven and Edward M. Lerner set in the former’s “Known Space” universe are a fine example. Each is self-contained and can be read and enjoyed on its own, but read together and in order they provide a truly grand adventure.

The biggest complaint I have is that doing this type of series badly means that the reader is practically forced to read all the novels in the specified order. If the publishers would make it clear that the novel was part of a series, and put a number on the cover, that wouldn’t be so bad. But to pick up a book and find out at the end that you now have to read another one to find out what happens next – or worse, that you need to go back and read the first book to figure out what you just read… sheesh.

Anyway, back to Time Salvager. If you don’t mind the weak and rather abrupt ending with a lot of little things left to be resolved, it’s a really great ride.

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