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Time Salvager
by Wesley Chu
Tor, Hardcover, $25.99, 384 pp
Published July 2015

Wesley Chu has been getting a ton of accolades (and a Campbell Award nomination) for his humorous sci-fi series, “The Lives of Tao,” which concluded in May. Time Salvager proves that he still has plenty of material to come.

Set 500 years in the future, the novel follows chronman James-Griffin Mars. A prisoner recruited by the government, he is the titular time salvager, travelling into the past to recover essential technology to help preserve humanity for a few more years.

Despite the marvelous time-traveling technology, humanity is in pretty bad shape. The Earth is hopelessly polluted; the oceans are a gunk-filled brown, the population decimated by World Wars. Space isn’t much better, as pirates and mega corporations control the planets and spaceways.  The time travel has warped Mars’ mind, from seeing humanity in its glory and having to return to the despair of the 26th century. And it has harmed him physically, time travel affects his body and only highly addictive drugs can stave off the damage. But he still has several years of servitude before he can retire, assuming he doesn’t commit suicide like most of his fellow chronmen.

So, when he gets a rainmaker of a job that will assure his early retirement with his health and sanity intact, he jumps at the opportunity. The job takes him to a pivotal moment in humanity’s history, the destruction of an oceanic base in the late 20th Century that lead directly to war and famine throughout the world.  He does his job admirably, until he impulsively brings something back that he shouldn’t, violating the first law of time travel. Soon the government, in the form of his boss, Cole, and the corporation that contracted this salvage job, represented by the brutal, ruthless soldier of fortune Kuo, are both on his trail looking to recover the contraband.

The action scenes are exciting especially a scene between Cole and his nephew, a rogue chronman who is attempting to hide in ancient China — the chronmen wear energy suits that give them superhuman powers leading to a fight that falls somewhere between Iron Monkey and David Lynch’s Dune.

The real strength of Time Salvager, however, is the heart that Chu injects into the story. Mars is a bitter, beaten man who is only looking for an escape, but he rediscovers his humanity on the run from his former employers, and finds hope in restoring Earth and humanity to its former glory.

Sadly, we have to wait for the conclusion, as Time Salvager ends on a suspenseful, yet hopeful cliffhanger.  In the meantime though, I have some “Tao” books to catch up on. ~~ Michael Senft

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