Time Salvager is very different from the Tao books and it took me while to easy into this new universe. But that lends a lot of credit to Chu's world building skills, something we didn't necessarily see in the Tao books since it was largely set on contemporary Earth.
As the title implies, this is a book that involves time travel, and that's a branch of science fiction that is never entirely easy for even seasoned writers. Do you just use it like magic and have characters go back and forth through time at will? Do you set up a thousand rules and restrict its usage to the point of being almost useless? It's not always an easy thing to balance, but I think Chu did a great job of finding his sweet spot.
Synopsis: Time Salvager is a science fiction novel written by Wesley Chu and published by Angry Robot Books. Disclosure: I received a free electronic copy of this book through NetGalley in exchange for my honest opinion for the work.
The story begins with a spaceship on the brink of death with the Mother of Time lamenting the inevitable loss of her crew and her life. But right before the end of things, she's surprised to encounter a thief - one who has traveled from the future to take something from the past. This is the chronman James Griffin-Mars, a man who has committed a large part of his life to helping the future barely keep together by stealing things from the past. And these include anything from precious artifacts to energy sources.
We're talking about a future where humanity has spread across the stars but lacks the resources and the technology to sustain itself because of years of conflict and loss. And James isn't exactly a hero - like every chronman he's only in it for himself and to get enough credits to buy out his contract and retire to somewhere more peaceful and with a lot less death. It's not an easy life, but James has his own demons to run away from and it's easy enough to try and lose himself in this job.
The tie travel approach this time isn't necessarily explained, but it is a reality where strict Time Laws have been crafted to control the effects of such salvaging operations in the past. In Chu's world, the chronmen can only engage in missions that will have minimal effect on the overall timestream. So this consists of raiding spaceships that are doomed to be destroyed or buildings that are fated to be destroyed in way. This way any effects they have on the timeline will be resolved or compensated for by a larger historical event. It's an interesting enough way of pitching things and it sort of works out.
The concept of a future world scavenging from the past is a strange one, but it's one that makes sense to me given stories like those of the Battletech universe. War is a terrible thing and it can destroy precious things like methods of production or key sources of knowledge and technology. And so it's entirely possible for a future civilization to hold on to what few devices they have left in an effort to make the most of limited resources. And Chu nicely worked with this sort of a reality in the crafting of this story.
He has a lot of different ideas that he plays with in this story including almost magical technology in the form of the chronman's bands and the widespread ecological disaster that has turned Earth into a shadow of its former self. You have mega-corporations determining the future of humanity and you have the men on the front lines having no idea why they do the things they want to do. There are a lot of familiar elements all brought together in an interesting new package. There are times things feel a little rough around the edges or when elements don't perfectly work out combined with all the other moving pieces thrown into the mix but it still works out in the long term.
Time Salvager is a rather ambitious direction for Wesley Chu to take and it's a gamble that I think pays off well enough. And it's just the beginning of a whole new series, and that is something to be happy about indeed. Thus the book gets a good 4 complicated missions into the past out of a possible 5.