Time Salvager, by Wesley Chu

The year is 2611, Earth Standard, and Tier-1 chronman James Griffin-Mars has just completed another jump back in time to snatch a precious relic moments before it would have been lost for all eternity.

Bound by strict Time Laws, elite chronmen, under the direction and support of the massive ChronoCom agency, can only jump back in time when there is little chance that they will upset the chronostream.  Jumps occur right before a disaster, when historical destruction is hours – or even minutes – away. Sometimes they jump in order to retrieve relics for rich clients, but often jumps are for salvages of past generations:  power cores, chemicals, minerals, lumber, machinery, that help stave off deprivation in the corroded, resource starved worlds of the present day.

Chronmen themselves are a rare breed. They are highly trained and hardened – and more than a little psychotic. James has been a chronman for longer than most, bucking the odds even while becoming more jaded and irritating with each completed job. Most likely his longevity comes from having lived a hard life, for he’s known from a young age what it means to scrape to survive. But now, even his handler, Smitt, is worried about the drinking, the sullenness, the anger – and the nightmares.

So when James is offered a “golden ticket” – a job that will buy out the years remaining on his ChronoCom contract plus residency on the exclusive colony on Europa – he can’t swat it aside, despite the questions it raises. All he has to do is obtain specific equipment from a secret military installation in past Earth’s Arctic Ocean before some kind of malfunction destroys it with everyone on board. History names the target of his jump the Nutris Platform, which sinks into the ocean in 2097 – the final year of prosperity before the Great Decay begins.

But when James makes the jump, he finds a robust scientific station rather than a secret military installation. Still, his job is not to question the intel, merely to nab the objectives before the massive explosions rocking the Platform send it to its doom. What James never expects is for random chance to trip him up, or how one impulsive act would change his life forever.

The action is fast paced, with diverse yet related story lines that complement each other, drawing the reader deeper into the narrative, with vigorous characters who develop intrinsically, allowing us to feel like we’re inside the story, rather than simply watching it pass us by.

Some science fiction writers create fantastic tales where scientific minutiae is part of the environment, or where the main characters can take technology and wield it to their will. Not so in Time Salvager. Author Wesley Chu neatly sidesteps the need for pages of exposition regarding the advanced devices that James utilizes as part of his job by simply stating that chronmen don’t care how such things work, just that they do work.  And the scientific explanation of time travel itself? There is none – it just is – and the story doesn’t suffer one whit for the lack of explanation.

In fact, what I enjoyed immensely about Time Salvager – one of the things I enjoyed immensely about Time Salvager – is that although time travel is a major vehicle for the action in this book, it is not a book about time travel. Instead, it is about the choices we make in the course of everyday life, and how one snap decision can have huge repercussions. This is where the book truly triumphs. For all the future fantastic elements in the narrative, it is the very human moments – good and bad – that truly resonate.

—Sharon Browning

 

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