the Little Red Reviewer

I can haz time travel!

Posted on: July 11, 2011

Time Travelers Never Die, by Jack McDevitt

published in 2009

where I got it: purchased new

why I read it:  this was the July book for my local SF book club

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Shortly after physicist Michael Shelborne disappears, his son, Adrian Shelborne (he goes by Shel) discovers that his father created a time machine. Bringing his best friend Dave in on the secret, they experiment with the hand held machines and through trial and error, learn how they work. Hoping to find Shel’s father and bring him home, the two friends travel to times and places they think Michael would have been most interested in.

What I found most funny is that Shel and Dave act like completely normal people. They have no interest in changing history, or being superheroes. For much of the middle of the book, they are chrononaut sightseers, visiting times, meeting people, occasionally  snapping some photos, and generally just having a good time. Sure, they are ultimately looking for Shel’s father, but when you’ve got a time machine, you’ve got all the time in the world, right?

Beyond time travel shenanigans and sightseeing, Shel and Dave have more pressing matters, as in they are both in love with the same woman, Helen.  There’s this constant undercurrent of who is going to end up with her, and can they let her in on their time travel secrets? I would have liked for that plot line to have been developed further.

Shel and Dave both promise each other that they won’t travel alone, that they won’t ever try to change the past (the infamous don’t kill your grandfather paradox), and that they won’t visit themselves in the future. The plot takes a turn for the dark and dangerous when promises are broken and Shel’s house burns the ground while he’s asleep upstairs.

Lately I’ve become a sucker for time travel stories, it’s a subgenre that seems more concerned with fun and action and avoiding yourself in another time than with hard SF and the math and physics behind how everything works. I don’t worry about the physics and the engineering while I’m on a rollercoaster at the amusement park, it’s just a fun and satisfying way to spend the afternoon, you know?  Time Travelers Never Die is like a summer blockbuster movie or a fun amusement park ride – the less you think about it, the more you’re going to enjoy yourself.

I’m of a mixed mind about this book. On the one hand, it was killer fun to read, it kept my attention, and I was so curious to find out what happened at the end that I missed my bed time by an hour and a half. On the other hand, the characters aren’t all that developed, the pace is so fast that we’re never anywhere long enough to appreciate it, much of the time travel interactions are on the hokey side, and McDevitt plays so fast and loose with time lines that  he  book could have easily been titled “Time Paradoxes R Us” (paradoxes? paradoxii? paradoxae?).  More than one I was reminded of that silly jailbreak scene at the end of Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.

The book certainly wasn’t perfect, but it was a great summer read and fun enough that I’d happily read another McDevitt.  Another plus is that it’s a stand alone!

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12 Responses to "I can haz time travel!"

Interesting take on the book, Red. The plot and character development issues bothered me a bit more than they did you.

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Jack McDevitt is an author I keep meaning to read but I have never gotten around to doing so. I have several of his books, ones I picked up because I liked the Jon Harris cover illustrations.

Speaking of time travel books, there are a couple of fun books by Joe Haldeman that you might want to check out: Old Twentieth and The Accidental Time Machine. Neither one are life changers but they are both entertaining reads.

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You have a local scifi book club? I am *jealous*

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Jon – for sure, there were major character development issues. It was almost like reading the book version of a movie. Sometimes not a good thing, but in this case I was looking for something light and fun, so it was ok.

Carl – I read Accidental Time Machine maybe last year? year before? and I remember thinking it was just OK. just like you said, entertaining, but not overly memorable, as this McDevitt probably won’t be all that memorable either. have you read How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe? a wacky, more-than-entertaining time travel story.

Wolfshowl – It was a matter of being in the right place at the right time, my local indie bookstore hosts a few book clubs, and I happen to be friends with the guy who organizes the SF club! To bad I can only make the actual meetings a handful of times each year.

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Yes, I read How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe in January of this year. I liked it. I had a few minor issues with it but overall found it a solid debut effort and a very entertaining read.

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I am curious about this book. I may have to read it one of these days out of curiousity…

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I didn’t enjoy this as much as I wanted too. It was fun and I read it incredibly fast, but at the end, I felt as if nothing really happened in the story. They kept traveling but all the history lurking was boring. With time travel, I sort expect the characters to intervene at some point. I plan to try another of his books though; I liked his writing even if this one wasn’t that great for me.

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This sounds interesting and a lot smaller in scope than the other McDevitt’s I’ve read.

Can I recommend ‘Engines of God’ for virgins of his work? If you are not hooked after that one you never will be.

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Kailana – give it a try! your local library probably has it, if you don’t want to buy it. it’s fun and fast, a good summer read. :)

Amy – I’ve been hearing that from a lot of people. and I too wanted more tension, more interaction, kinda just more, you know? I know if i had gone into this with high expectations that I would have been disappointed. and like you, i enjoyed it enough to pick up another McDevitt.

proscrastin8or – Engines of God just might be my next McDevitt! is it a series? stand alone?

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I need another time travel book for the Time Travel Challenge I’m participating in. Somehow I missed hearing about this one when it came out. And being a stand alone is definitely a huge plus. It seems so many of the new releases are trilogies or even more. I don’t like waiting years for the story to conclude.

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Jack McDevitt is the author of A Talent for War, right? Not surprised to hear about undeveloped characters – ATFW had an interesting take on the space opera concept, but it was let down by a tissue-paper-thin cast.

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Leslie – I’m with you on the craving the stand alones. series and nice and all. . . but i don’t always enjoy waiting forever to find out what happens next. almost brings whole new meaning to phrase time travel. . almost! ;)

Peter – I’m not familiar w/A Talent for War. sounds like characterization hasn’t ever been McDevitt’s strong point!

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