(Time Salvager #1)
Release: July 7, 2015
Convicted criminal James Griffin-Mars is no one’s hero. In his time, Earth is a toxic, abandoned world and humans have fled into the outer solar system to survive, eking out a fragile, doomed existence among the other planets and their moons. Those responsible for delaying humanity’s demise believe time travel holds the key, and they have identified James, troubled though he is, as one of a select and expendable few ideally suited for the most dangerous job in history.
James is a chronman, undertaking missions into Earth's past to recover resources and treasure without altering the timeline. The laws governing use of time travel are absolute; break any one of them and, one way or another, your life is over. Most chronmen never reach old age; the stress of each jump through time, compounded by the risk to themselves and to the future, means that many chronmen rapidly reach their breaking point, and James Griffin-Mars is nearing his.
On a final mission that is to secure his retirement, James meets Elise Kim, an intriguing scientist from a previous century, who is fated to die during the destruction of an oceanic rig. Against his training and his common sense, and in violation of the chronmen’s highest law, James brings Elise back to the future with him, saving her life, but turning them both into fugitives. Remaining free means losing themselves in the wild and poisonous wastes of Earth, somehow finding allies, and perhaps discovering what hope may yet remain for humanity's home world.
Review by Rose Red:
I’ve been a fan of Wesley Chu’s books since I first read his The Lives of Tao. Time Salvager definitely has a darker, more gritty vibe than the Tao books. The future is not the nice, shiny golden age that we all expect. Humanity is barely hanging on. They may be able to travel through space and they’ve colonized many planets and moons, but they’ve lost a lot of their technological advancement because of wars and other things. Earth, itself, is a toxic dump that everyone with any means left a long time ago. In order for humanity to survive, they have to send people back in time to salvage resources they need. It is not a great time to live in. This book was the sci-fi/dystopian/thriller mashup that I never knew I wanted. I loved it! It had everything I love about science fiction! What enthralled me from the start was the dark and depressing take on time travel. I don’t know about you but I’ve gotten sick of time travel books and movies that emphasize the time paradox where you go back in time and do something that results in you never being born or completely altering history. That’s not how it is here.
Things involving time travel in this book get pretty timey-wimey really quickly: time ripples, time lag, preserving the chronostream. But there are rules. Very strict rules that allows Chu to ignore most of this because the Time Laws are designed to avoid making ripples in the timeline. They only take resources that would be destroyed in events soon after salvage, so anything missing would automatically be assumed that it was destroyed in whatever calamity that had occurred. The most important rule though is to never bring anyone from the past back with you. Sometimes ripples can’t be avoided. You accidentally save someone who was supposed to die in World War 2, and they go on to have a family? No matter, a car crash will kill them all, so their descendants don’t exist and so can’t contribute to change. You get rogue chronmen that don’t want to go back to their time so they hide in other periods. Most of the time the timeline can heal itself which sets things right. Other times, Chronocom sends in an auditor to correct things. The timeline is something of a fluid thing and subject to change, but capable of being repaired. I really enjoyed the way Chu handled time travel.
I also liked how he handled the mental health of the chronmen. They all suffer from differing levels of PTSD. It makes so much sense. These time travelers are repeatedly sent back in time to major disasters to salvage things but to not interfere with the events. Watching that much death and destruction has to wear on a person. Not to mention, how jarring it would have to be having to travel back to better times only to return to a pretty crappy present. It makes sense for the chronmen to be suffering mentally and emotionally. It’s a rough lifestyle.
One thing I’ve come to appreciate about Chu’s work is that he always has a cast of diverse and complex characters to lead the story. It’s always a treat to read his books because he writes such realistic characters. They feel like proper and real people and not just stereotypes or caricatures. James Griffin-Mars is a complicated lead. He’s not always a great guy and he does some stupid things while frequently being selfish and surly. He was so unlike most SFF protagonists I’ve read. I’ll be honest, I didn’t like him at first but as the book progressed he grew on me. Even with his gruff manner, he was quite a refreshing character with how different he was from most sci-fi protagonists. Elise, on the other hand, has an air of innocence and hope to her. It fit her well because she is someone who believes that what she’s doing can change and improve the world. She’s optimistic and that’s a trait that humanity has lost over the centuries. I love that while she has hope, she’s not naive. She understands just how bad off things are in James’s time when compared to hers. Despite what had to be a shocking transition, she adapts to everything while staying the person she was in her time. I will say that one of my favorite characters overall in this book turned out to be Grace, the Mother of Time, and that was not something I expected when I started reading. She was absolutely fascinating!
I loved this book and I’m really looking forward to getting my hands on the sequel. Time Salvager does a fantastic job setting up for a fast-paced sci-fi thriller series that is brimming with potential and you really can’t ask for much more in a first book. GAH! I need book two! May 2016 is so far away! I need to know what happens!
Recommended for fans of:
Red Rising by Pierce Brown
Zero World by Jason M. Hough