Time Travelers Never Die by Jack McDevitt (2010) – I knew going in that this book was going to be a challenge. For one thing, I don’t like time travel stories. I’ve never been that interested in “I’m my own grandpa” plotlines, and if you can travel in time, where’s the conflict and the uncertainty? But, I really like Jack McDevitt’s writing and have read many of his novels, so I thought I’d try it.
It wasn’t bad. Nobody is anyone’s own grandpa. But, there isn’t much suspense either. The story is basically about two long-time friends, one (fortunately for the time travelers) is a professor of ancient languages and the other has a father who invents a hand-held time machine. The story is told from both friends’ points of view and begins at one of their funerals (!). After the dad disappears, his son tells his best friend about the “time converters” his dad left behind with an explanation of what they were and an order to destroy them.
Of course, the young men don’t. They go in search of the old man, visiting Galileo imprisoned in his villa, becoming imprisoned themselves in Selma, Alabama, meet Ari, the chief librarian at the greatest library of all time in Alexandria. When they finally encounter Dad, he’s eighty years old and living outside of Florence in the 1600s. Most importantly, he loves his simpler life and doesn’t want to go back to 2018. Since this is only two thirds of the way through the book and they’ve accomplished their mission, I wondered what their next goal would be.
So they spend a lot of time drinking with Benjamin Franklin, Voltaire, and Calamity Jane and basically attending every historical event they’ve ever read about. They can’t find Camelot and don’t attempt to find Atlantis or watch Jesus being born. They take their phones and record unknown plays by Sophocles and send them anonymously to an expert on Ancient Greek literature.
There are drawbacks to time travel. The devices prevent paradoxes (the being your own grandpa thing) by giving the bearer heart attacks or dumping them in the middle of the Atlantic. They are also fragile. Water, ice, and Cardinal Borgia all manage to damage them. If the men can’t reach their converters, they’re stuck in whatever time period they’re in.
There’s still the friend’s funeral, of course. When the son is found dead, beaten with his head stove in and his house burned down around him, the friend and the son’s girlfriend track him down where he’s been hiding in the past and the future, avoiding his death. There’s a subplot where both men are attracted to the lady doctor, but the son has her heart. When the pal sees a report on the television about two weirdos stealing a dead body from a traffic pileup, he realizes what they have to do. He and the lady doctor steal the body, put it in his friend’s pajamas, and set his house on fire.
Then, they track him down at Socrates hemlock drinking party and tell him that he’s not going to die a fiery death. Someone else is in his grave. Fortunately, he’s got a posh penthouse in the future, and he and the doctor head there while the buddy thinks his drinking pal, Katie, would enjoy being a time traveler, too.
Meanwhile, Sophocles’ plays are being produced again even if some experts think they might be fakes. One audience member on the first night of the first performance knows they’re not fakes. It’s the librarian from Alexandria, brought there by the professor.
Convoluted and educational, the story was light on tension, even after they discovered one of them was dead. The most interesting part was when the professor travelled 3,000 years into the future and listened to a concert.
Well written, but I’m still not going to become a time travel fan.