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Time Siege
by Wesley Chu
Tor, $25.99, 431pp
Published: July 2016

This is the second in a continuing story, click here for the review of Time Salvager.

In the century of 2500, most of mankind is off-world and Earth is a cesspool, only sparsely populated with humanity’s cast-offs.  Centuries of hideous wars ruined the Earth and left it infected with a plague that killed most living things; the ocean is a brown sewer, but mankind, like roaches, seemed to find ways to cling to life.  It’s a perfect place to hide for a disgraced chronman so that is exactly where James Griffin-Mars goes.  James was a Chronman - a time salvager who went back to moments in history when a known catastrophe was to occur.  Arriving moments before the catastrophe allowed a small window of opportunity to loot food, supplies and technology without impacting the time line.  Without the salvaged supplies, mankind would probably have suffered extinction long ago.  But the cardinal rule of time salvaging was no bringing back people; a rule that James broke in the first book.

He and his illegal love, Elise, find a group of people in Boston who take them in.  The small tribe of farmers end up having to leave a happy home of six generations and go on the run because the corporations are hunting for James and Elise.  But the Elfreth believe in Elise who has convinced them that she, and she alone, can find a way to help the Earth recover from the plague.  The corporations have sent a head-hunter in the form of a vicious, driven, security chief who has been tasked to find and retrieve Elise - a time anomaly who can’t be allowed to continue to exist.  Elise wasn’t the only time anomaly that James brought to the future, he also rescued the woman who founded the Chronmen and the agency that manages the time salvages and keeps the time line secure.  Grace was the smartest person of her time and she still is; so with Elise and Grace both working towards a cure for the Earth plague, it should be just a matter of finding the resources they need.  But it isn’t that simple, of course.  James no longer has access to the necessary drugs to stave off the effects of repeated time travel and his health is suffering.  Without James to run illegal salvages, it seems impossible that they will find the resources they need.  And now that the corporations have James, Elise and their new people, the Elfreth, on the run, all their energy and resources are about just staying alive.  Grace has her own ideas on how to fix their issues but she needs a new salvager who isn’t on the brink of dying.  James has issues with her choice of a new salvager both in a lack of trust in the new man but also with his own diminished role as savior.  And with Elise’s new role as Leader of the Elfreth and all that the role requires of her, James finds himself pushed into less and less of a significant role; something that rankles in one who had previously been well-respected and even feared.  And James, as with most chronmen, has a drinking problem. 

This is a nicely plotted story; our heroes are special people with great intellect and skills dedicated to doing the right thing.  They hook up with noble savages and are persecuted by the evil corporation personified by one particular villain. Their goal is nothing less than saving the entire planet and restoring a better way of life for the savages who still live there.  And our main hero has feet of clay; he has to overcome his personal demons to once again rule the day.  And it’s a great ride!  Chu is very skilled in creating fully realized characters; even some of the supporting characters get a great deal of care.  The plot is somewhat simple; it’s really all about what the characters do.

I liked the story - a lot.  I did get a little tired of the James-has-to-overcome-his-personal-demons issue.  I enjoyed the world-building but would have liked a bit more of it.  Once the Elfreth arrive in New York, it gets real interesting real fast; and I loved the image of Manhatten although the plot device Chu used to make Manhatten a safe refuge was not only peculiar but also terribly improbable.

Overall, this was a pretty good SF yarn and it’s not over.  It ended, unfortunately, with a cliff-hanger.  Normally, I would hate this and resent a writer that did that to me.  But this cliff-hanger was a necessity to setup the next, and hopefully the last, installment.  I’ll be looking forward to the next book. ~~ Catherine Book

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