THE PLOT TO SAVE SOCRATES
by Paul Levinson
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Paul Levinson has written a complex story in which he examines the implications and confusions of time travel in The Plot to Save Socrates. Beginning with the discovery of a lost Platonic dialog detailing a visit to Socrates on the night before his death after the visit by Crito described by Plato, time travelers from different eras team up to discover who wrote the dialogue and to try to make the dialogue's suggestion, saving Socrates and replacing him with a clone of himself, come true.
The primary character is Sierra Waters, a graduate student who is given a copy of the dialog by her mentor, Thomas O'Leary. When O'Leary disappears from a boat in the Aegean, Waters begins to track down the provenance of the dialogue and discovers a series of time machines located in New York, London, and Athens. At this point, Levinson's narrative kicks into high gear. Not only is Waters plying the time streams, but the nineteenth-century publisher William Henry Appleton is moving through time as well as O'Leary and the mysterious Heron, all tied in some way to the Socratic dialogue and plans to save Socrates' life.
The action covers a geographical range from New York to Athens to Alexandria to Persia and a chronological range from the fifth century BC to the twenty-first century AD, with stops in the second and eighteenth century to keep things lively. Levinson uses these various time periods to not only introduce characters and advance the plot, but also to examine the way in which the understanding of history in general and Socrates in particular has changed over the years.
While many time travel stories focus on the creation and resolution of a single paradox, The Plot to Save Socrates positively revels in the possibilities for paradoxes as well as causal loops. In Richard Matheson's Bid Time Return, the pocket watch that forms the bond between Elise McKenna and Richard Collier can never have been made or purchased. In The Plot to Save Socrates, people's motives are based on things that they are told by people who have already been affected by their activities, making for a confusing at times, but ultimately rewarding, story.
For all the manipulation of history which occurs in The Plot to Save Socrates, the characters all have a strong sense of predeterminism. Despite this, none of them are sure of the success of their actions, since the general plan to save Socrates that all of them are working towards would not result in a change to the history they know. At other times, they willingly sacrifice others, or even themselves, to ensure that the world they know will happen.
Levinson's novel is more complex than many time travel stories since he is aware of the various paradoxes and loops which may be inherent in any world in which people can move through time. His decision to include multiple travelers, occasionally working at cross-purposes, helps with the necessary complexity of the story, providing a fresh and welcome look at the time travel genre.
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