04 March 2011

Time Traveleres Never Die by Jack McDevitt

This book falls squarely into one of my greatest areas of interest--time travel. I think perhaps I watched Back to the Future too many times growing up, but not nearly as often as I watched Indiana Jones. Though I don’t seek out stories with Indy, I seek out stories with time travel quite frequently. Many of my fantasies and daydreams involve time travel (okay Indiana Jones too): Where and when I would travel? Who I would meet? How would I affect a change on history? A great icebreaker is to ask what person/band from the past would you like to see perform live? The resulting answer can lead to hours of conversation. Trust me.

Actually, I started this book on audio in my car sometime last summer and didn’t like the reader, so I stopped after just one disc. A few months later my dad bought the book (though I hadn’t mentioned it to him) and I recently borrowed it from him after he had finished reading it. Before I had begun the book, we got into a conversation about time travel (which is normal for us) and he used an example from the book about the father’s assistant having a heart attack, which was Time/The Universe’s way of preventing her from creating a paradox.

I have this theory about time travel, in which paradoxes cannot exist because if a person goes back in time, whatever he does has already happened by the time he steps into his time machine (or uses whatever mechanism) to travel back in time. In other words, his actions in the past merely fulfil history; they cannot skew it. A great example of this is in the first Terminator movie: Kyle Reese’s best friend is John Connor and Connor sends Reese back in time to protect his mother before he is born. This has to happen. It could not be anyone other than Reese. Reese has to be the one to protect Sarah Connor because he has to conceive John Connor with her in the past. Had he not done so, John Connor would never have existed. Reese fulfilled history in Terminator by traveling back in time. Jack McDevitt appears to subscribe to a similar theory of time travel in this book, though the characters do not initially understand this paradox-preventing view of time travel.

Shel and Dave are the two main characters. Shel’s dad has disappeared and Shel soon learns that he has gotten lost somewhere (somewhen?) in time. So they set out looking for Shel’s dad using the device of his design. The device is small, looking like a Q-pod, which I assume is similar to an iPod. No bulky TARDIS or DeLorean for these guys. This makes it easier to hide their method of travel from the people they encounter on their travels, which proves very very handy on some occasions. (The encounter with Cesare Borgia comes to mind.)

At some point the characters start just having fun with it. They can travel anywhere at any time and they take advantage of this, usually together, but occasionally on their own. At one point they settle down in their seats at the Globe Theatre and chat with the fellow sitting next to them and the play starts. Hamlet. Opening night. I shut the book at this moment and emailed my dad. I was just so jealous of Shel and Dave that I had to stop reading for a bit. Daddy told me that he had a different reaction: he just got more and more eager, his mind racing to what he would do if he had access to such an extraordinary device. Of course, this is what I’ve been doing all my life, but I remained in wonder of the descriptions in this book. There’s a scene at the death of Socrates which actually brought a tear or two to my eyes. I read Plato’s dialogue on the matter in college but I guarantee you I was never so moved by it as I was by the same story here. (Which is slightly blasphemous, I admit.)

As should be obvious by now, I highly recommend this book. It’s not only clever, it’s very well written and just a plain old damn good book. Read it!

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