Time Travelers Never Die… Nor Can They Speak Greek

Time Travelers Never DieTime Travelers Never Die by Jack McDevitt

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Jack McDevitt’s work is clever. It addresses issues of paradox rather originally, as far as I’ve seen, and offers some insight into an eternal view of history.

However, the work is plagued by a number of errors that, I imagine, only experts could discover. His Greek transliteration is poor, writing iotai as Ys and upsila as Is, and ignoring rough breathings here or soft breathings there. His grasp of Greco-Roman culture, especially religion, is tenuous at best: Jupiter is the Roman king of the gods, a name which would not be applied in Alexandria (officially or otherwise) for at least seventy years after the visit by Shel and Dave in the story… and he certainly would not be associated with Hera, the Greek queen of the gods (whose Roman counterpart was, rather, Juno). Further, prayer in ancient culture, certainly not at the time of the Trojan War, never involved kneeling or bowing before the gods, and a classicist like the character Aspasia would have known that.

McDevitt’s view of religion in general is remarkably one-sided, only offering a small potential that any good could come of it at all, and then only if religion were libertarian politically – a small group led by a single individual. By implication, any religion that suggested authority was authoritarian, corrupt, and damaging to society. His history of religion, too, has holes large enough to drive a Buick through.

I am not an expert in every historical era and political issue that McDevitt addresses in this ambitious work, but of those things I am knowledgeable about, McDevitt’s attempts are sloppy at best and flatly ignorant at worst.

On top of all of that, McDevitt’s – as I said earlier, rather original – approach to paradox hinges upon a significant flaw of reasoning: McDevitt indicates that any event which is KNOWN in history cannot be altered. By that measure, someone completely ignorant of history, or someone misled about the details of history, could travel to any time and do anything at all – including things that would be paradoxical for a more knowledgeable person.

My final complaint: the encounter with Socrates is notable, not because of its moving speeches or discussion, but because it is markedly absent from the problems that plague Shel and Dave throughout the book: no one knows exactly when Hamlet was first produced, or what exact date Luther posted the Ninety-Five Theses, but Dave can show up at Socrates’ death with precise certainty? The death of a man some scholars believe never to have existed? It is surprising, at least.

This book had a great deal of potential as I went into reading it. It got my hopes up, that someone might have done a grand time-traveling adventure through history with precision alongside a riveting original tale. But the simple errors that riddled the book compelled me to read the last ten chapters in one sitting, just to get it over with.

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