(Disclaimer: English is my second language, so I want to apologize in advance for there may be mistakes in the text below. If you find any, please let me know so that I can correct it. I'd really appreciate it. Thanks.)
Even before the publication of Time Salvager, Wesley Chu's newest novel, it has already been announced that it will be adapted into movie to be directed by Michael Bay. I don't watch many movies and I usually don't care much about this kind of thing, and I definitely had never thought of opening a book review talking about films, but in this case I think that it clearly defines the type of novel that Chu has written.
For Time Salvager is exactly the kind of book that one can see as easily transformed into a blockbuster. It has a science-fictional element that is well known to the general public (time travel), quite a lot of action, heroic protagonists, clear antagonists and a straightforward plot. In this regard, Chu has decided to keep it simple, avoiding the usual tropes in time travel stories. While reading Time Salvager you won't need to remember a zillion different alternate pasts or fear that a character will end up killing their own grandfather. No closed time-loops or unsolvable paradoxes, either.
Chu, however, does include some interesting elements from other subgenres, some of which are not that usual in time travel novels. In the first third of the book, we are introduced to the chronmen and their work. They form a kind of time police, but with a twist: their main mission is not only to avoid changes in the know History, but also to salvage objects from past disasters to help mitigate the dire situation of the 26th century Solar System.
Thus, in Time Salvager the reader will find not only time travels, but also a bit of dystopia and even some elements of space opera. That is the aspect that I enjoyed most in the novel: the worldbuilding is very interesting, and Chu leaves some really intriguing hints on humanity History from the 21st Century on. The Gas Wars, the Core Conflict, the AI Wars, the confrontation between the Technology Isolationists and the Neptune Divinity, the strictly controlling society of the 24th century... These are things that I would have liked to read more about (maybe in a future novel?).
Another aspect that I did like but Chu didn't focus too much on was the idea of the Time Laws: those rules that the chronmen need to obey at all times (no pun intended) and whose breakers are severely punished. There are some parallels between the initial part of Time Salvager and the classic Asimov's time travel novel The End of Eternity and exploring further these Time Laws would have been a very interesting way of paying homage to the Three Laws of Robotics. But, unfortunately, Chu mostly avoids any too technical discussion:
“How did you do it, anyway? How is time traveling possible?”
James shrugged. “I have no idea.”
Elise was flabbergasted. “Wait, what do you mean, you don’t know?
You’re a time traveler. That’s what you do.
“I’m a user, not a builder. I fly the collie. I have no idea how that engine works.” He held up his arm. “I use these bands. I could care less what makes the exo power up or how the rad band protects me from radiation. Time traveling is the same way. There are people who build the technology and there are those, like me, who use it. There are not enough lifetimes for a person to know both.”
I did also like the internal conflict of the main protagonist and how that naturally leads to a certain event that changes everything. From that moment on, though, the story turns into something much more conventional and, to me, looses quite a lot of interest. The twists become more predictable, the plot holes (that also existed before) become more annoying and the ending is not that satisfying.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that Time Salvager is a bad novel or that you should not read it. Quite the contrary, in fact. I think that it could be a more than adequate book to bring to the beach this summer. I was a bit disappointed, though, that after a promising beginning the novel didn't live up to its full potential. It will be a good movie, but from a book I expect a bit more.