I received this book for free from the Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Time Salvager by Wesley Chu
Published by Tor Books on July 7 2015
Genres: Adult, Science fiction
Format: Finished hardcover
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The nitty-gritty: A rip-roaring adventure through time with an awesome premise and complex characters. A fantastic start to a new Wesley Chu trilogy!
I absolutely adored Chu’s Tao series (well, me and every other SFF fan on the planet!) and so I was curious to see what else he had up his sleeves. And I’m happy to say Time Salvager fit the bill nicely! Chu has written a top-notch time travel story that didn’t tax my brain too much, and sets the stage for an exciting and thought-provoking series. And even better, his characters are just as good as the characters in the Tao books. Even though there weren’t nearly as many humorous moments in this book, I had a blast reading it!
Chu’s story is set in a dismal future, where humans have conquered time travel and space exploration, and yet many resources are scare and humanity seems to be just hanging on by a thread. Earth is a desolate wasteland, and its oceans have turned a sludgy brown, due to something called the Earth Plague. But a company called ChronCom has figured out a temporary solution: with the ability to travel back in time, people called chronmen make time jumps in order to salvage resources that Earth desperately needs, mostly technology and power sources, stealing them right before a natural disaster would destroy them anyway. In this way, the chronostream is left more or less intact.
James Griffin-Mars is considered an “old guy” among chronmen, since he’s been making jumps for over ten years, which is just about the life expectancy of a chronman. And the job is taking its toll on him. Not only does each jump destroy his body just a little bit more, but he’s going crazy from the stress of watching people die and not able to do anything to help. He uses the chronmen’s mantra, “The past is already dead,” to make himself feel better about all the deaths he’s witnessed, but that doesn’t seem to be working. James’ only hope is to finish up his time with ChronCom and retire someday soon. When a “golden ticket” opportunity drops into his lap (meaning if he completes the job, ChronCom will buy out his contract and set him up for life), James takes the job, knowing he may not come back alive. He’s sent back to the year 2097 to salvage some badly needed equipment, but in a moment of panic, he breaks the most important rule of time traveling: he brings someone back with him.
Now he’s a fugitive and on the run from a very tenacious auditor, a man whose job it is to monitor every move chronmen make, and to dole out justice when necessary. Now saddled with Elise, a scientist from the past, James must stay hidden long enough figure his way out of this mess.
As much as I loved the action and world-building, I just have to talk about the characters first. The four main characters—James, Elise, Levin and Smitt (James’s handler)—are all multi-layered in the best possible ways, and their relationships with each other are even more complex. James is a hardened man, battling depression, who is only able to find relief from his stressful job at the bottom of a bottle. He’s willing to do anything to get out of his contract with ChronCom, even take on an extremely dangerous jump. When he meets Elise in the past, he has a hard time at first relating to her wide-eyed optimism, but eventually even he can’t resist her enthusiasm.
Elise was like a breath of fresh air, and I really enjoyed her character. Right before she’s pulled out of her life, she’s about to embark on a momentous scientific discovery, and when she gets to future Earth and sees how horrible things have become, her optimism wins out as she sets about figuring out how to change things for the better. I also loved Smitt, who is a loyal best friend to James and puts up with all kinds of shit from him, and I thought his happy-go-lucky personality was a nice contrast to moody James.
Levin turned out to be a much more interesting character than I expected. I guess you could call him the “bad guy” of the story, since he’s the one who is tasked with finding and capturing James and Elise. (Although there is a much worse “bad guy” and I’ll let you discover her for yourself!) But he’s not the sort of antagonist you run into that often. I actually began to sympathize with him, and I hope that Chu delves even deeper into his character in the next book.
Chu brings up some timely issues, like taking care of our natural resources before we ruin our planet, but his message is integrated into the story so well that you don’t feel like you’re being preached to. Time Salvager will definitely make you think about where we’re headed with our planet—Chu’s description of a brown ocean was enough to make me sick to my stomach—but the action scenes definitely take over the story and keep it from sinking into a depressing observation of the human race.
Strangely enough, the one part of the book that didn’t work so well for me was the growing romance between James and Elise. For some reason, it reminded me of the movie Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, which also had an awkward romance between a man from the future and a woman from the past. I wanted to feel something whenever they were together, but I just didn’t.
The time travel aspects of the story did raise some questions for me, like why are there so many illegal jumps happening, and why can’t ChronCom figure out who’s doing them? But as with most time travel stories, it’s best to just roll with it. And Chu’s story is very easy to roll with, despite my nitpicky questions. There are several surprises at the end of the book, not the least of which is the Epilogue! And oh boy, there is so much I haven’t gotten around to talking about (Grace Priestly!!) You’re just going to have to read the story for yourself. Multilayered, action-packed and full of the best kind of human drama, Time Salvager will knock your socks off.
Big thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy.