Time travel sounds like fun but every iteration on the theme ends up bad, from a paradox where a kid born 20 years after you is your father (John Conner); having your own mother crush on you (Marty McFly); to going crazy watching the world die, as is the case for the protagonist in Wesley Chu’s inventive Time Salvager.
Chu has created an evocative future dystopia where humanity has nearly destroyed both itself and it’s habitats through constant war and consumption. The last dregs of the human race are forced to rely on Chronmen; trained time travellers who jump back into the past to retrieve valuable commodities such as raw materials and power sources. James Griffin-Mars is just one of those revered and feared men. People with exceptional technological powers whose minds are slightly unhinged. Forced to leap back in time into disasters and conflicts of the past where the robberies they enact won’t disrupt the time continuum, these Chronmen must constantly deal with death at every turn.
Sometimes, it becomes too much. For James, who becomes enamoured with a women 400 years in the past, the pressure results in him breaking the first, and fundamental time law – bringing someone back into the future. The cascading result of which powers the novel along at a brilliant clip. Suddenly, the time laws seem less than set in stone and the agency of the Chronmen, who swear to uphold them, less than pure in the meddling with history.
Chu’s world building is exemplary and the whole premise really gripped my imagination from the start. The ensuing story, of a man haunted by so many ghosts and starting to unravel yet trying to become a better person, is well handled. The cat and mouse nature of the plot is exciting and though I felt the book got a little bogged down towards the last quarter, the potential for more tales within this universe is clear. Whilst, to me, it seemed Chu was anxious to show his actors’ developments, I felt that he didn’t really need to drive it home as much as he did – I was already invested enough to comprehend the changes.
The main characters were nicely filled out and the logic of the time travel system was cleverly thought through. Time Salvager is an excellent read with a truly interesting concept driving the story, and I hope Wesley Chu revisits this fascinating scenario again.
Published by Angry Robot