Wednesday, September 23, 2015

What We’re Reading: Speculative Fiction

What will the 26th Century be like? Aldous Huxley’s most famous novel, Brave New World, is set in the 26th Century in a seeming utopian world under the strict control of a World State. Vin Diesel’s films Pitch Black, The Chronicles of Riddick and Riddick all show a universe of advanced technologies, interplanetary space travel, and different varieties of bad guys and beasties to be battled. Joss Whedon’s television series Firefly, and motion picture Serenity, have a markedly different tone, focusing on the crew of a small ship providing services--sometimes legal but mostly not!--on the fringes of a large, interplanetary community known as The Alliance starting in the year 2517. In Time Salvager, author Wesley Chu takes readers to a decidedly more dystopian vision of our future.

The earth is primarily a toxic wasteland, and most of humanity has moved off-planet to the moons of the gas giants. For most, existence is extremely hard, with survival the first and foremost daily concern. One way to a more stable existence is to join Chronocom. Chronocom is an organization that exists outside of the remaining political factions and corporate mega-conglomerates. It coordinates and executes forays into the past, both far flung and more recent, to secure resources for the present while minimizing the disruption of the chronosphere.

Training is difficult. The psychological and physical requirements mean that only a select few make it through to become a "chronman," an authorized time traveler. Once you become a chronman, you must work off the debt you accrued while in school. Chronmen are very well paid, but their debt is enormous. And the strains of regular time travel take their toll--most Chronmen don’t live long enough to be free and enjoy the wealth they have accumulated. James Griffin-Mars, however, is one of the best chronmen there is. He is a Tier-1 chronman, and he has just secured a “golden ticket,” a job sponsored by a powerful mining company that will, if he retrieves the desired items, buy out his contract and allow him, and his handler, Smitt, to retire on Europa in luxury. Golden ticket jobs are never easy, which is why they’re rare and the payoffs are so generous. He will have to retrieve several items from the midst of an explosive catastrophe.

Once James makes the jump to the location in 2097, things begin to unravel. The information he was given regarding the locations of the items he is supposed to retrieve is sketchy, and changes made mid-jump only make the odds of successfully completing this mission even worse. And then there is Elise, the first person James interacts with once he makes the jump to the past. Elise Kim is a research chief on the facility James knows is about to be destroyed. To him, she is a ghost, someone who died centuries ago in an incident that will secure his freedom. And yet, there is something about her that James can not shake.

In the seconds before Elise is supposed to die, James saves her and brings her back to the present. His present. Her future. By doing so, James has broken one of the most sacred and important laws imposed on chronmen: NEVER bring anyone back from a jump. Now that he and Elise have become outlaws, James must figure out how to keep them alive, which is especially difficult because Elise has no idea of how treacherous, and toxic 26th-Century Earth can be. But as she is exposed to her new environment, it also becomes clear that the research Elise was doing in the 21st Century may hold the key to saving the Earth in the present!

In Time Salvager, Wesley Chu, author of The Lives of Tao trilogy, takes readers to a future that is fraught with peril(s), devastation and toxic environments, but is also blessed with both interplanetary and time travel. Chu uses the world he has created to comment on our present, focusing on the growing chasm between the “haves” and “have nots” and the increasing power and control exercised by corporate entities on governments and individuals. It is a world that is completely believable because it all stems from actions being taken in our world. 

The characters are strong, well defined and believable. There is one character who seems to be simple and somewhat one-dimensional, but as the story progresses it becomes clear that the character is an extension of the singlemindedness of her employer. 

Time Salvager is a thoroughly enjoyable time travel adventure that holds the present accountable for the future that may come. According to the author, there will be a follow-up to Time Salvager. The release date has not yet been set.


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