Shortly after the Hugo Awards every year, I look over the list of winners (and other nominees) to get an idea of what I should read in the near future. One of the big awards given out at WorldCon is the Campbell Award, which is NOT a Hugo Award, but it is awarded as part of the Hugo Awards ceremony. From the Wikipedia article on the subject, the Campbell Award is “given annually to the best new writer whose first professional work of science fiction or fantasy was published within the two previous calendar years”.
This year, the winner of the Campbell Award is Wesley Chu. To be honest, I had never heard of him before. But walking through Barnes & Noble the other day, I stumbled upon his latest book, Time Salvager. Since I now recognized his name as the winner of the Campbell Award, I went ahead and picked it up. I’m almost always looking for something new and fun to read, and the book looked like it had an interesting premise: (No spoilers beyond what you could read on the book jacket.)
The bulk of the story is set in the 26th century, by which humanity has spread out through most of the solar system. But due to the variety of wars and disasters that have occurred over the centuries resources are scarce and a great deal of scientific knowledge has been lost. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, the Earth is nearly uninhabitable.
James is a Chronman, a time traveler, from this era. His job, as supervised by ChronCom, is to travel into the past when valuable items (usually power generators) were lost, usually because they were destroyed, and retrieve them prior to their destruction. That way very few “temporal ripples” are created since the end result is generally the same for the people in that particular place and time.
There are a set of Time Laws that govern the appropriate use of time travel, the first and most important of which is that you should NEVER bring a living being from the past into the present.
James breaks that rule when he brings a scientist from the past, Elise Kim, into the present. Which makes both James and Kim fugitives in an incredibly hostile environment.
I was hooked pretty strongly through most of the book. It’s incredibly well written, and the very rarely slows down.
I have two complaints about how Time Salvager progresses, however. First, James begins to suffer physical and mental side-effects due to his frequent time travel while on the run without having access to proper medical care. But those complications seem to be largely unnecessary. They don’t seem to progress much beyond the state of “he has them”. They don’t get particularly worse or better as the story progresses, and only once do they seem to directly interfere with an objective that James is trying to accomplish.
Second, and much more importantly for me, is that it feels like the book is meant to be the first in a series, but doesn’t do enough to provide a sense of closure or accomplishment within the scope of itself. A variety of discoveries and revelations are made throughout the course of the book, but ultimately it feels like all the characters manage to accomplish is a brief reprieve until the next book. None of the big ‘problems’ that are introduced are resolved, and we’re treated to a brief scene at the end where we get a peak that things are about to get much worse for the protagonists.
Given the scope of the problems that are introduced as the story progresses, and believe me they are pretty big, I understand that I’m probably asking a lot to have a better sense of resolution in this one book. Because those problems are huge. It just doesn’t change the fact that I felt more than a little frustrated and a little let down once I finished reading the final page.
All in all, I would highly recommend picking up Time Salvager. It’s a rather inventive and new (for me at least) application for how to use time travel in a story. The characters are very well fleshed out and realized characters, and the writing is great. I just wish that those characters had managed to accomplish a bit more than they managed to in this one novel.