Visions of Paradise

Friday, July 02, 2010

Time Travelers Never Die

I consider a book great for two possible reasons: it can be great in the artistic sense (characterization, thoughtfulness, sense of wonder, world-building), or it can be great fun. In my opinion, no current writer’s books are more consistent fun than those of Jack McDevitt. His Alex Benedict series is my favorite ongoing series, well-developed mysteries based around historical events in our future. I did not expect to enjoy his contemporary sf mystery Time Travelers Never Die as much, but I was absolutely delighted by the book.

Its premise is simple: a scientist invents a portable device which serves as a time machine, then vanishes. His son Shel, also a physicist although nowhere near as his brilliant as his father, finds the device and along with his friend Dave begins searching through history for the missing physicist.

The best parts of the book are the visits to famous historical locales, such as the Library at Alexandria, and encounters with influential people, such as Galileo and Socrates. The first third of the book details the search for Shel’s father. When that is resolved, the second third is pure travelogue, but as a lover of history I found it delightful. The third portion concerns another mystery involving Shel himself, which has an unexpected but satisfying conclusion.

Besides the main plots, there are several individual scenes and threads which are small highlights. Such as the running thread about the missing plays of Sophocles, or the encounter with Cesare Borgia. These segments alone would be worth reading the entire book for, even if it were not as much fun overall as it is.

Much of this book reminded me of Robert Silverberg’s fiction, since he also loves intertwining his fiction with historical people and places. Up the Line is perhaps the book which came to mind most frequently, which is high praise since that was my favorite time travel book ever. I recommend Time Travelers Never Die for its storytelling, its cleverness, and its glimpses at history.

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