Wesley Chu is probably best known as the author of the well-regarded Lives of Tao trilogy. I only discovered this series earlier this year but devoured them quite quickly and enjoyed them a lot. One of the nice things about discovering the series in 2015 as that all three books of the series were out and available to read, with the final book, The Rebirths of Tao coming out in 2015.
Amazingly, Chu has published not one but two books this year. This second book is Time Salvager, which is the first book in a new trilogy. The Tao trilogy is an action-packed speculative fiction (with YA tinges) set in a near-future where two groups (the Genjix and the Prophus) of human-alien symbionts called Quasings are engaged in a violent, no-holds barred battle against each other for control of planet Earth. Time Salvager is very different; it is still science fiction but this book is a dystopian, time-travel thriller.
Time Salvager is primarily the story of James Griffin-Mars, a chronman, i.e. someone who is doing important work to serve humanity by risking his physical and mental health by repeatedly going back in time and grabbing energy sources and materiel that a war-weary and technologically-static Solar System needs to survive. The other main character is Elise Kim, a 21st century biologist who was in charge of a United Nation-sponsored project to investigate and potentially resolve a curious algae bloom which is starting to devastate Earth's oceans.,
The dystopian setting for Time Salvager Chu has dreamed up here is quite compelling (and very depressing). Basically, in the future humanity has lost the ability to innovate and produce enough energy and resources to support itself so the accepted plan for survival basically involves cannibalizing the past in order to support the future. And for most of humanity on various outposts in the solar system (and particularly on Earth) life is grim. The back story for how things got to be so bad by the 26th century would make an excellent prequel. We get bits and pieces of that story (various references to wars and global disaster) as the primary plot involving James and Elise develops in this book.
Chronmen by training and selection are borderline personalities and James bears this out. He repeatedly hallucinates and is wracked with guilty dreams. Elise is from 2097 (still hundreds of years in the past from James' present) and has a fresh (and horrified) perspective on the dystopian hell that Earth has become. (The world's oceans have LITERALLY gone to sh*t and many, many of the world's metropolises have been destroyed by war, disaster or human strife.)
Besides the setting, the other aspect of the book that I found most compelling was Grace Priestly, the inventor of time travel. She is depicted as a feisty old (and lascivious) biddy. Another strength of the book was the villains. There are many evil corporations and their evil minions are doing Very Bad Things. As he demonstrated previously in the Tao books and again here, Chu is excellent at writing bad guys. He's also quite good at writing people who are working with the bad guys but realize at some point they are on the wrong team, so they are at least nuanced in their "badness." You want to hate them but then they do something surprising so you aren't so sure.
There are aspects of Time Salvager that I really did not like, the most notable of these is the inclusion and depiction of the Efren, the tribe of people that Elise and James run into in the ruins of Boston. I don't know why but none of those scenes worked for me whatsoever. It just seemed very patronizing that Elise shows up and can convince the Efren that she can save the planet. Why would they believe her? And why would James? I understand that for plot purposes we need to give Elise a mission to accomplish in the future and a way for James to get over his social maladaptiveness but The Efren subplot really didn't work for me at all. I almost found it borderline offensive, in fact, because basically they are treated as noble savages.
Anyway, another aspect of the book that I really liked a lot was the internal conflict depicted in the time-travel organization and I liked the action/fighting scenes. (Chu is also quite good at writing hand-to-hand combat and other fight/action sequences.) No wonder he won the 2015 John W. Campbell award!
Overall, Time Salvager is a pretty fun book, with some thought-provoking depictions of a dystopian, corporate-dominated future for Mankind, populated by characters that you will probably have strong feelings about (both positively and negatively).
Title: Time Salvager.
Author: Wesley Chu.
Paperback: 384 pages.
Date Published: July 7, 2015.
Date Read: July 12, 2015.
OVERALL GRADE: B+/A- (3.50/4.0).