Time Salvager, by Wesley Chu
Posted July 10, 2016on:
where I got it: purchased new
I do like me some time travel books. And a time travel story where objects and people are brought into other times, and you have to go. . . . back to the future? Great Scott, sign me up! Seriously though, I’m a sucker for a good time travel. That movie Looper? It made no sense and all, and I loved it. So, it makes sense that Wesley Chu’s Time Salvager would be right up my alley. The gist of the plot is in a few hundred years, Earth is in shambles. Chronmen go into the past to get resources, batteries, energy sources, valuable minerals, just about anything that’s worth anything. ChronoCom uses the time travel technology to give Earth a few more years of existence. Anyone who can afford to left Earth long ago to live on a colony elsewhere.
Chronman James Griffin-Mars self medicates his way through too many dangerous missions. He’s left too many ghosts behind, too many people he couldn’t save, too many people he had to let die, because the history books said they died. You can’t rewrite history, you can’t change the future, everyone knows that. When James brings a woman back into the future, he breaks every law of time travel, and he seals his own fate as a traitor to everything he thought he believed in.
Cinematic action sequences and high octane pacing, this sounds pretty intense, right?
Even before it’s release last summer, Time Salvager was optioned for a movie, with director Michael Bay attached to the film. The B&N scifi blog had a fun quick article about a few reasons why this book would make such a great movie. So, as I was reading, I couldn’t help but think about the differences between why movies are so much fun, and why books are so much fun, and how they both succeed but through wildly different methods. Something that makes a book awesome make not make for an awesome movie, and vice versa. It’s a fun thing to think about.
And what I came up with is the difference is in breathing time. In a high octane action movie, the pace is so fast you barely have time to breath. By the time you’re done saying “that was so cool!”, the impressive visuals of the next scene has started, and you barely have time to think about what you’ve just seen. Flaws in characterization or plot points can be hidden with the “cool factor” of lens flares and explosions. Telling a story visually is completely different from telling a story through prose on a page. When you’re reading a book, you have a lot of breathing time. Every time you put the book down for a few hours or a few days, you are free to think about how much everything made sense, free to pick scenes apart, to enjoy them if they worked, and be annoyed by them if they didn’t work.
Time Salvager functions as a great movie book. Lots of huge set pieces, lots of intense action, predictable chemistry between characters, corporate conspiracies and corruption, characters who are haunted by their past. This book is going to work for a lot of people, but the more I stepped away from it, the more breathing time I had, the less I enjoyed it. Like I said, telling a story on the page is very different from telling a story on a big screen. On the page, you’ve got get me to suspend my disbelief for a few hundred pages with nothing but your writing chops.
It didn’t help that I couldn’t stand James Griffin-Mars and ChronoCom from the start. Talented Chronmen are in short supply, yet the company works them to the bone and encourages their most talented Chronmen to self medicate through booze and prostitutes. (booze and brothels…. are we in the future? Or are we in Game of Thrones?) There is corruption in the funding of the company, but the high auditor admits that he doesn’t like to pay attention to things like that, thus everyone is shocked (shocked!) when the corruption comes to light. Props to Chu for writing characters that I had such a visceral reaction to.
Moving forward in the plot a bit, James and Elise find themselves on the run from the authorities. They find shelter with the savages who live outside the cities. James assumes the savages are cannibals who will kill civilized folk if given the chance, and he’s shocked (shocked!) that they care for their young, have developed agriculture, and actually live a pretty nice, if rustic lifestyle. Overall, this entire book just did not work for me. I felt the plot was rife with cliches, the characterization fell flat, and as the story progressed I had a harder and harder time suspending my disbelief.
I could go into specific details about certain scenes that didn’t work for me, but I don’t think there’s a need at this point. If you like high octane action stories that feel like a movie, you’ll probably like this book. If that’s not your thing, then you probably won’t like this book.