by Wesley Chu
Edited by Marco Palmieri
Cover Artist: Richard Anderson
Review by Wes Breazeale
Tor Books Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780765377180
Date: 07 July 2015 List Price $25.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Time travel is an SF staple, allowing authors to explore past events, create causal loops, or simply add layers of complexity to their stories. Within this sub-genre is yet another subset – agencies that police time travel itself. With Time Salvager, author Wesley Chu, creates a delightful blend of these various aspects.
James Griffin-Mars is a troubled man. A convicted criminal, he happens to possess a unique psychological profile that enables him to succeed as a chronman – someone able to survive the rigors of jumping back in time to recover resources and artifacts from humanity's past. Operating as a de facto indentured servant, James is working off his sentence in the service of ChronCom, the organization in charge of all time travel. Time travel itself is taxing, both physically and mentally, and most chronmen don't live to see the end of their contracts.
500 years from now humanity has lost much of the scientific knowledge it had gained at its height. Relying on energy and technology salvaged from the past has slowed our decline, but it is not a gambit that can work forever. Corporations are looking for any advantage that can put them on top, with solutions to humanity's plight taking a distant second place.
Working a job that is set to erase nearly all of his and his handler's remaining service time, James travels back to 2097 to retrieve several items that might help the Valta Corporation achieve greater success. In the course of his mission he meets Elise Kim, a security specialist on a remote ocean platform to which he has been dispatched – a platform destined to be destroyed within days of James' arrival, Elise included. When the time comes, without thinking of the consequences, James brings Elise back with him to his time, thus making them both fugitives. Their only chance is to lose themselves among the tribes living in the devastated ruins of North America.
For Time Salvager, Chu establishes an intriguing set of rules by which time travel is possible without altering the existing timestream. Though he doesn't dwell on the specifics of how time travel is possible, he surrounds the technology used by chronmen with plausibility and limitations. Adding enough verisimilitude to keep readers drawn in, but not bogging down by over explaining how things operate. The present that James represents is a depressing, corporate controlled dystopian nightmare where Earth itself is virtually a lost cause and humanity is stretched thin across our solar system, struggling to survive. The details of what led to Earth's state, and what role ChronCom plays in trying to slow humanity's demise, is also nicely touched on, fleshing out the larger picture without taking away from the relationship between James and Elise.
One of the nice touches about Time Salvager is that Chu doesn't try to connect to readers by having Elise come from our time. In fact, other than a section where James travels back to Germany during World War II, Chu for the most part avoids visiting any times prior to our own. This allows him to create and tease several different societal evolutions that are fascinating to read and wonder about. Further exploration of his potential expanded universe would not be unwarranted.
Time Salvager is a fun, fast paced read that hides deeper questions about free will and how the decisions we make help shape who we are. It is highly recommended.