Books: Time Travelers Never Die

In Brief:  Time travel story that tackles the paradoxes intelligently but shies away from the big moments.

Pros:  Time travel is a fun sub-genre of sci-fi, and Jack McDevitt is a steady hand at story telling.

Cons: McDevitt clearly sets up the rules to avoid time-stream tampering, but his protagonists are still too hesitant to go for the gusto.

Review:  Time Travelers Never Die begins with college languages professor Dave Dryden attending his good friend Adrian ‘Shel’ Shelbourne’s funeral.  To no one’s surprise (certainly not Dave’s) Shel shows up in the house right after the service.  He still has one of the ‘time convertors’ – iPod looking contraptions that allow the bearer to dail into the time-stream – and he needs his buddy Dave’s help in chasing back through time to find his father.

In flashback, we learn how Shel’s father, Michael, a brilliant physicist left three of these convertors to his son and disappered into the ether, warning Shel to destroy the remaining devices and keep them away from the government and anyone else.  Shel quickly concludes that his father is stuck somewhere in time and enlists Dave’s help.  Since Dave is a classics professor, fluent in Ancient Greek, Latin, and French, this is not only a happy conicidence but useful in moving things along.

McDevitt illulstrates how a couple of non-survivalist travelers might deal with abrupt swtiches to say, Selma during the Civil Rights movment, or the depression-era Midwest.  Dave and Shel don’t do particularly well, but the misadventures are entertaining.  The author then shows how he’ll handle the old time-space contiuum question and any paradoxes, which he explains away vaguely in that if the travelers attempt to direcly alter anything/place that they’ve already visited, the will die instantly of heart seizure.  Kind of deals with the old going back and trying again and again until you get it right.

They travel back further, heading for the Rennaissance and Galileo, searching in England at a Shakespeare primere, and doing other cool time-tourist things while looking for clues to Michael’s father’s whereabouts.  Eventually they both get tired of their conventional lives, and both utilize the devices to acquire independent wealth (horse races and antiquity sales), and Shel decides to exeperiment with moving upstream (into the future).  Dave, meanwhile, an unlucky dude when it comes to the ladies, wrestles with trying to go back and try harder for the one girl he felt he missed out on, and ends up falling in love with a dame in the 1940s.  They also have some close calls with accidentally breaking one of the convertors and getting themselves trapped by the Inquisition.

Dave and Shel are likable enough guys; they’re not really all that ambitious, though.  Neither is McDevitt.  While he broaches some of the classic themes of the time travel paradox story, he shies away from some of the more difficult, sticky narrative questions.  The guys can’t really go back and directly alter events; so taking out Hitler or Pol Pot are both out.  They do provide little nudges here and there, like giving Thomas Paine a writing endorsement, providing Bill Shakespeare some postivie dramatic feedback, etc.  But why not go to Roanoke and try to figure out what really happened to the colonists?  How about a visit to Mecca to hear what Mohammed really had to say.  And, of course, wouldn’t you want to head for Jerusalem in about 33 .A.D. to invistigate the myths and realities of Jesus?

Not for Dave and Shel.  There are some cool moments with Aristotle and Galielo and other pivotal figures, and I enjoyed their visit to the Great Library of Alexandria and the side-plot that develops there.  But looming over the whole story is the question of Shel’s funeral and how they will deal with his apparent death.  This plot-line takes over the last quarter of the book, and I found myself frustrated with not seeing a more in-depth central question or impending showdown.  It’s too bad, because McDevitt is obviously a great admirer of history, and his historic scenes are carefully drawn with detail, occassional humor, and style.

Bottom Line:  While it has some good moments and some heart, Time Travelers Never Die lacked the scope and ziel I was hoping for.  Still an enjoyable read in the time travel sub-genre.


One thought on “Books: Time Travelers Never Die

  1. Nice review! I’ve never been that enthralled with sci-fi time travel…. That said, perhaps I’ve ignored that sub-genre too long 😉

    I guess I prefer the 60s/70s treatments…

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