Wesley Chu, “Time Salvager” (2015) – This was fun. It’s set in the 2500s after humanity has fled a toxic Earth into a precarious existence on space stations and in outer moons like Europa. A profoundly unequal, megacorp-dominated society fighting a losing battle against economic and social decay, they use time travel technology developed in earlier, better days to essentially loot the past for raw materials and the types of goods they can’t manufacture anymore.
Of course, like any time travel story, there’s a bunch of more or less arbitrary rules, both to time travel itself and the way the time-looting agency, ChronoCom, uses it. In order to protect the integrity of the time stream, you can’t give the secret away, or cause major ripple effects. In the book, this means they wind up looting a lot from people who are about to die imminently, particularly at the sites of battles or disasters. Looting engines from spaceships about to blow, for instance, or art (of course, the megacorps commission custom jobs) from a cathedral about to be shelled. You also can’t bring people back, but that turns out to be more of a political rule. There’s a bunch of other rules that basically are there for story purposes- as Time Pimp informs us, “Nobody knows or cares how time travel works.”
Of course, somebody has to break the rules, and of course, that somebody is a grizzled veteran of ChronoCom who’s seen many a disaster, on top of an already rough life. The main character, James, is your basic gunslinger character put into this time-travel story. Everything changes when he meets the love interest, a scientist named Elise who works on a doomed experimental ocean station in the late 21st century. She’s nice to him, so when the station is destroyed, after looting the stuff he was sent for, James saves Elise. This is a big no-no, so they become fugitives among the tribes of the toxic Earth, with both a megacorp and James’s chronoman buddies after them. Despite being stranded amongst the primitive scavenger tribes of post-apocalyptic Boston, on an Earth where every ecological disaster was turned up to 11 over a few centuries, Elise discovers a potential way to save the Earth. Naturally, it ties in with what she was doing before she got time-napped, which of course ties in to various dark secrets of time travel, etc. etc.
This isn’t Philip K. Dick or Octavia Butler here. Hell, it’s hardly Shakespeare, even. The characters are pretty basic- James the hard-drinking vet who’s seen some shit, Elise the optimistic scientist who’s tougher than she looks, Levin the by-the-book enforcer whose honor compels him to hard choices, etc. etc. The prose doesn’t sparkle, especially the dialogue. But it’s fast and fun. I also think the various futures we see (Chu makes the interesting, and I think smart, choice to have the characters go back more often to the future history — the period between now and the time the main action is set — rather than doing our past) are assembled out of found parts, but well-assembled without too much exposition. The action is fun- close escapes, fights with assorted future technology, etc. It’s a good subway/beach read that plays familiar rhythms well. ****