Monday, July 9, 2012

Stories To Paint By: Time Travelers Never Die by Jack McDevitt

Time for another audio book review.  As I've mentioned before, listening to Audio books is probably my favorite way of occupying my mind while at long hours in the studio.  I do listen to a lot of podcasts, but the imagination wants story-time so that is what it gets.

Fairly regularly Audible has sales, so when I can get a book for quite cheap or two for one credit, if anything looks good I can be tempted to take a chance.  Time Travelers Never Die was one such title. Time Travel is one of my favorite genres, not surprising, considering I love history as well as science fiction: win-win.

The book is shorter than I usually look for, just a bit over 13 hours, but the price point was right and the narrator, Paul Boehmer, was one I'd listened to and enjoyed before so I went with it.

I always try to limit spoilers as much as possible and still have a reason for my ratings.  

There are a number of great, even classic, stories of time travel, but I'm afraid this is not one of them.  
Overall I can say it is enjoyable in a light treatment of the mysteries and paradoxes which tend to arise with time travel, but it didn't live up to the potentials for a few reasons. 

Lack of Curiosity.
For one thing, the characters suffer from what I think of as "movie character blinders'.  You see this most often in characters in speculative fiction movies.  For example, in almost every science fiction movie the main characters, upon meeting aliens for the first time in human history don't seem to have any questions for them beyond the immediate circumstances.  Really? If I met an alien I'd be like a five year old kid! 'where do you come from? how did you get here? how does that work? why'd you come? what's your home like? how many other planets have you been to? what's the history of the universe? do you know how it was made, was it made? how do you know?' and more and more. But no, movie characters seem to be satisfied with a hint at most if that. And the main characters here are no different.  Knowing they effectively have all the time in the world to find out the answer to their immediate personal life problem, they nonetheless seem to have only mild curiosity about the past.  They do visit several time periods, but curiosity takes a secondary motivation.  And the future? Let's leave it with saying I was very, very, disappointed with the lack of any curiosity drive.  I have a hard time believing anyone could be so blase' about knowing what the far flung future is to the point that they can't be bothered to walk a mile (or push a few buttons) to find out.  Then again, I've met people who have no desire to travel and don't seem interested in the scientific or metaphysic or anything beyond the sitcom level of distraction, so maybe it is realistic, but why write about such characters? 
Time travel is wasted on these two characters.  Give it to someone who'd appreciate it! Like me! ;) 

Mystery Too Easy
There are a couple mysteries set up, but I found them predictable. Won't say more. 

The secondary character is too underdeveloped.  He almost gets a chance to flesh out with a believable personality and drive, but the author pulls him back and he returns to being two dimensional.  That was one 'mystery' that I didn't figure out ahead of time, because the author simply let this story line potential hang untouched.  Why I couldn't say, I think it had potential. 

Time as Planned
This aspect bugged me. In this presentation of how time travel works, time can be changed, but not.. too much? Or, not by you, about something that affects you.. too much.  It's an odd, not fully fleshed out and not very logical premise.  For time travel to 'work' under this set of laws, it would require time to be both self aware and aware of you, the time traveler.  
This makes time constructed by either plan or predestination or both. It allows for some wiggle room, but not a whole lot.  It makes no sense. It isn't even dictated by the old 'you can't kill your grandpa before you were born' type of scenario, it's a more active system than that and it got in the way of me accepting the premise of the story. The other dimensions don't revolt and prevent your actions.  The third dimension won't prevent you from walking off a cliff, so why would the 4th? No, it just didn't feel well thought-out. 

On the plus side, it is about Time Travel.  It has some tense moments, some action, some interesting interaction with people from different time periods.  It did allow me to daydream off about what I would do if in the time & places they go to, though often that brought me back to wanting to smack them for their lack of initiative. In short, this would make a good made for TV movie, but it's not blockbuster material nor is it ready to join the shelf of great time travel stories. 

For the Gamers: 
It is time travel. The genre alone sets you on the right path, but there isn't a lot of new fodder for games, at least not tabletop games. For an RPG it has potential material.


I give this audiobook 2.66 bottles out of 5. 
It is light, entertaining, raises interesting questions, but doesn't provide much exploring of them.
I'd recommend it for casual entertainment. 


Bill said...

Thanks for the review. I'll either avoid it or et it free from the library. I always enjoyed the Phineas Fogg stories by Phillip Jose Farmer for time travel fiction.

I want the clock pictured above.

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