Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Time Salvager Book Review

by The Wanderer

Author: Wesley Chu
Publisher: Tor Books
Genre: Military Science Fiction
Series: Time Salvagers Book One
Pages: 380

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When I started this site a few years back, I kept hearing the name Wesley Chu over and over again as one of SFF’s best new authors.  I wanted to read the man’s work, but he got lost in the shuffle of the big pile of books that I also wanted to read. Flash forward a few years and now Chu’s got a new trilogy on the way, and I finally decided to see what all the hype was about. Having high expectations going in, I could not be more disappointed with what I read.  Even if you ignore the sure to be glaring plot holes that inevitably come with any book about time travel, Time Salvager remains one clunky cliche ridden mess.

In the 26th century mankind has breached out and started civilizations on other planets within the solar system. However, lack of resources has turned the future into a corporate run dystopia where poverty and pollution are widespread. The allocation of new resources is largely handled by ChronoCom, and institution that sends agents (called chronmen) back in time to allocate resources. In order to not disturb the history of present day, a number of strict time laws must be followed.  When the elite chronman, and very much an alcoholic to boot, James Griffin Mars brings 21st century Earth scientist Elise Kim to the future, the two become the most wanted fugitives in the solar system.

There are a lot of problems with this book, and I doubt I’ll get to all of them, so I’m going to start with the prose.  Probably the worst part of this book, the way everything is written is unbelievably clunky. Just about everything wrong the writing can be found in this short dialogue between James and his rival (and boss) Levin:
“Finally, a visibly frustrated Levin stood up. ‘You’ve given me the exact same answers for three audits in a row, so let’s cut to the chase.’ He walked back around his desk. ‘Don’t think I don’t see the shakes in your hands. I will call you in after every job until I get straight answers from you. Unfortunately, you’re too senior for me to slap you back to running wood recoveries in the seventeenth century, or I would. Now listen closely: next time you get back from a job, you report straight to your handler before you hit the bottle. Understand?’
‘Or?’ James shrugged.
Levin slammed his fist on the desk. ‘I’m getting tired of your insubordination,’ he said rising to his feet. ‘I control your fate in ChronoCom. I can keep you here forever, regardless of your credit.’
‘I’ve made myself clear on where I stand with your idle threats,’ James said, standing up as well.
The two glared at each other for several tense moments.
Granted this exchange takes place in the 26th century I don’t think boss and employee, no matter how much they hate each other, would ever straight up tell their rival exactly how they’re going to ruin the others’ life. They would just do it, or at the very least be a whole lot more subtle about it. This reads like a cliched “horrible, tight ass boss” piece. It’s so stereotypical it’s ridiculous.  After this exchange Chu tells readers what to think about it with, “The two glared at each other several for several tense moments.”  No shit the moment was tense, I think anyone could see that. The book is riddled with telling and not just showing. Why do we have to be told that the moment with two rivals arguing is tense? … why do we have to be told that a nightmare is horrifying? … why do we have to be told that a bunch of soldiers under fire that are trying to save some women and children are brave?

The major characters feel like one dimensional caricatures. The numerous plot points lack originality. Additionally references to other works of fantasy and science fiction don’t seem to come off as tributes but rather as parodies. I think the easiest way to demonstrate the issues I’m talking about will be with bullet points, so here we go.
  • James, the main character, is a man’s man alcoholic loner that is only able to get on the path of redemption with the help of a spunky woman.
  • Props to the leading lady, Elise, for having things to do besides fall in love with the leading man, but her “heart of gold” is so over the top, it makes it nearly impossible to get behind someone who’s so flawless.
  • James escapes near death situation after near death situation, instilling a belief in readers that no matter what this character does, he can never die.
  • Corporations are responsible for the destruction of the environment, and every corporation in the book is presented as evil.
  • The mentor/genius figure – Grace Priestly – is a verbally abusive mentor that conveniently knows the answers to just about everything.
  • Levin never discovers any of the corruption in ChronoCom or Valta by himself rather he’s just conveniently told about it by his superior.
  • The incorruptible auditor, Levin, plays this cliche out only until it’s not convenient for the plot anymore.
  • Living and working together as a tribe can solve all of life’s personal problems.
  • The tribe’s abuse by the corporate world plays out like a stereotyped retelling of the real life oppression suffered by various Native American tribes in America.
  • A rooftop chasing scene in Ming Dynasty China between Levin and his nephew comes across as a ridiculous tribute to the floating across roof top scenes found in many oriental films like Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon.
  • A time travel sequence to 23rd century Earth pays a heavy-handed, not even remotely clever, or subtle tribute to Orwell’s 1984 in just about every aspect. The title to the chapter is even called Big Brother.
For a book that’s about recovering the past to make a better future, Wesley Chu sure doesn’t do a good job of using past science fiction character tropes, settings, and plot devices for providing an inspiring future of writing science fiction. For a book that hates corporations so much, I can’t help but find the irony in the fact that Chu didn’t give this new series to his independent publisher Angry Robot Books, but rather decided to give it to Macmillan, aka the big corporation that’s part of the Big Five book publishers. I don’t fault Chu for this, we all got to make a living, but I can’t help but be amused. Having visited the author’s website and after reading some of his blogs, his bio, and the forward to Time Salvagers (best part of the book if you ask me) I can’t help but really like the author.  He’s got a great sense of humor and comes across as really likeable, which of course makes posting this negative review all the more difficult.

Score: 4.0

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