Sunday, September 26, 2010

Review: Time Travelers Never Die by Jack McDevitt

Lately I seem to be saying, not my usual sort of book, a helluva lot. I think I'd just better get used to the confounding thought that, perhaps, my idea of what my usual sort of book is or was, has changed. I guess I am now, officially, an omnivorous reader. (I probably always was.)

Of course this could be due to a total lack of intellectual discrimination but I prefer to think of it as my annoying tendency
to want to know all kinds of esoteric stuff. Since my own days of adventuring seem to be over (and boy have I had a fun life), I guess I'm now searching for adventures of the brain. Adventures from an arm chair.
TIME TRAVELERS NEVER DIE by Jack McDevitt was one of many titles mentioned in At Home With A Book's Time Traveler's Challenge. Shortly thereafter, I noticed the book at the library and took it home. Kismet. I'm a fan of time travel writ well. My favorite writer who happens to incorporate time travel in her stories in a very smart way is the one and only, Connie Willis. There's little that can match her brilliance, but that won't stop me taking a look at other writers who take on time travel.
By the way: This will be my very FIRST Book Challenge, so we'll see how it all goes. If I mess it up (I admit, that's as likely to happen as not), then please remember I am NEW! Hopefully the pressure won't get to me - ha!

I'm not claiming to completely understand how and why time travel should work, I only know that in some strange way it all makes sense to me.

TIME TRAVELERS NEVER DIE is a fairly simple story : Shel and Dave Go Back in History, Meet Famous People and Have Excellent Adventures. But it is more like a tv show than any deeply, satisfying adventure film. Despite that, it was a lot of fun to read. When I was a kid, there was a terrific tv show called, You Are There, in which the camera purported to take the viewer back to a famous day in history so we could experience say, D-Day or Lincoln's Gettysburg Address or the assassination of Julius Caesar - each week, a different historical incident. On each show, a 'newsman' would interview witnesses and participants in the events as if they were being filmed on the spot. It was great tv - wish they had something like that today, might teach kids (inadvertently or not) a bit about history. McDevitt's book definitely has a you are there touch to it.

It is the year 2019 and physicist Michael Shelborne has disappeared into the ether leaving his son, Adrian (known as Shel), an enigmatic message, two strange devices Shel's been ordered to destroy, and not much else. The police are suspicious but there's little they can do without a body. Shel, a physicist and lover of history, quickly figures out that his father has invented a very spiffy (my word) time travel device no bigger than a cell phone. Deducing his father is stranded somewhere in time, Shel enlists his friend, linguist David Dryden to help him go back and bring dad home.

But where to go? The search field is wide open and thousands of years old. Michael Shelborne could be anywhere in the past.

This is why the book is so much fun. Shel and Dave try to figure out where Shel's father has gone, allowing for Michael Shelborne's brilliance and historical interests. We get to watch two clever young men of today (it's only nine years in the future after all) using their wits, travelling in time, adjusting time, using time to their benefit, all the while attempting to keep from seriously affecting past events - nobody wants to confront the dreaded, deadly paradox.

Along the way we meet Galileo, Aristotle, Michelangelo, Cesare Borgia, a young Benjamin Franklin, writer Aldous Huxley, and a whole other cast of familiar and unfamiliar characters. If you have even a nodding knowledge of history you will be delighted by the ease with which Shel and Dave figure out ways to meet people who helped change it in some way.

In their quest, the two friends travel to Selma, Alabama on the eve of the 1965 march across the bridge which resulted in the infamous attack by the Selma police on peaceful civil rights marchers. They meet John Lewis, Rosa Parks, Andrew Young and a whole slew of incredibly brave people who had no clue they were about to be attacked in such a terrible way - a historic watershed event in America's quest for civil rights.

Shel and Dave travel to ancient Alexandria, to the magnificent library which housed thousands of books and plays in scroll form - the library which in later years would be completely burned to the ground, most of its irreplaceable books destroyed. To this day it is impossible to judge just how much wisdom and knowledge was lost to the ages. This is one of my favorite parts of the book as author McDevitt makes the whole idea of such an imposing setting very approachable. Shel and Dave even manage to save many heretofore unknown ancient Greek plays by the simple expedient of making copies and sending them on to the 21st century with not, perhaps, the best results since they can't reveal their true sources.

My only quibble with the book is the absence of any really deep characterization. The two main characters never touched me in any real way. From my point of view, their emotional lives remained flat and uninvolving. I also felt that the book would have benefited by being a few hundred pages longer. There was, certainly, much in the past that could have been explored in more depth.

Despite this, the storyline arch is expertly done - from a funeral in the very beginning to the unique deciphering of a 'crime' near the end, it adds up to a mostly satisfying adventure in time. Shel and Dave meet almost everyone who's anyone and generally have fun doing it and we have fun reading about it.

I enjoyed the adventure and can highly recommend TIME TRAVELERS NEVER DIE as a page-turning, fast read with a few vivid lessons in history thrown in for good measure.


  1. I agree about the characterization and the length of the book. I wished there would have been more in-depth scenes from the past and future.

  2. Hi Alyce, thanks for posting. Yes, with deeper characterization, etc., this would have been a dynamite book. But as it is, I still enjoyed reading it. I'm going to check out more of McDevitt's stuff just to see what he's been up to. ;)

  3. I like MeDevitt. His novel 'Eternity Road' was one of those capture the imagination books for me.
    Once in a while one comes along. Either in books or in movies. Or both. Stargate was one such movie. Eternity Road one such book.
    I've yet to read 'Time Travelers'.
    Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

  4. Hi Andy, thanks for dropping by. Well, McDevitt was new to me until TIME TRAVELERS, but not any longer. I'm definitely adding ETERNITY ROAD to my tbr list. I seem to be turning into a sci-fi reader at long last. Better late than never. ;)

  5. Hi Yvette,

    I appreciate your taking time to read TTND and to post your reaction. Thought you'd be interested to know that I also fell in love with You Are There when I was a kid.
    Jack McDevitt

  6. Jack, thanks for posting- so nice to hear from you. It hadn't occurred to me that authors might see my reviews, but it keeps happening. Very intimidating. :) As for YOU ARE THERE - great show. I think it would still work well today. It's amazing the things we remember.


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