Time Salvager by Wesley Chu

8/10 A fast paced story with big characters and cool sci-fi concepts

Time Salvager is a new series by Wesley Chu, a far future sci-fi novel where people use time travel to salvage resources from the past just before they would have been destroyed. It’s definitely a cool concept that is well executed, and while it never rose above the level of popcorn fiction, I still had a pretty good time with it.

The story follows James Griffin-Mars, a chronman who is tasked with retrieving resources from the past without disrupting the timestream. Entry level chronmen get the easy salvages, like going back in time and retrieving wood from a forest that is destined to burn. The more valuable the resource and the higher the retrieval difficulty, the higher the rank of the chronman. James is a Tier 1 chronman, the best of the best, but when a particularly difficult salvage goes south James does the unthinkable and breaks the most important Time Law of all - bringing a living breathing person back from the past.

Time Salvager is set around 400 years in the future in a solar system running short on resources with a scorched Earth that has been stripped clean of all natural resources and sparsely inhabited by savages. Chu paints a bleak future where humanity has stopped progressing, and sets up a time travel system that prevents chronmen from changing the past to influence the future. The setting is not overwhelming dark, but it is dark enough to make the moments of hope and humour seem positively brilliant by comparison. Chu has certainly done a great job of laying a foundation for what could spawn multiple stories (quite similar to how he built the setting for his Tao series).
The story itself is straight-forward, a useful vehicle for getting from one action sequence to the next. It’s a familiar story with enough twists and turns to keep the reader engaged, but I can't say it’s a story that will stick with me. The characters on the other hand were a lot stronger, especially our main chronman James who is a damaged individual barely holding it together. Elise Kim, the scientist from the past, gets a few moments to shine but she is stuck in reactive mode for most of the book. One character who surprised me was Levin, a Time Auditor responsible for ensuring the stability of the time stream for earth. He is a strong-willed and direct character who puts service above self, even though he knows his service is being twisted and used against him. His internal conflicts are fascinating, and I really like where Chu left him at the end of the book.
Time Salvager delivers a fast paced story with big characters and cool sci-fi concepts. It's not going to change the world, but it will give you plenty of value for money. Chu has proven himself to be a reliable provider of entertainment, and I'll be sure to read anything he writes in the future.

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