Back to the Future - and the Past; Newest Jack McDevitt Novel Can't Be Contained in Just One Time

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Byline: DAN SCANLAN

It's about time, Jack McDevitt.

In fact, the Brunswick, Ga., author's latest novel is all about time and traveling through it - chatting with Gen. George Washington; watching Socrates' last conversation with friends before he takes his hemlock; meeting an aging Galileo; and visiting Selma, Ala., on a very fateful day.

These and many other destinations await Shel Shelbourne and his buddy Dave, as they span the centuries in search of Shel's missing physicist father and satisfy their own curiosities in "Time Travelers Never Die," an Ace Hardcover that's $24.95 when it comes out Tuesday.

McDevitt has authored 16 novels since 1996, the latest entertaining readers with the adventures of antiques seeker and dealer Alex Benedict, or star pilot Priscilla Hutchins and her fleet of starships of the 23rd century. But the former English teacher, Naval officer, taxi driver, customs officer and motivational trainer has also written many short stories, some of which were published recently in a collection called "Outbound." So it was that "Time Travelers" was born from a piece of short fiction originally seen in Asimov magazine in 1996 with the same title. McDevitt told me that he's "never enjoyed myself so much writing a novel," and adds that he hopes it shows.

It does.

A widower in the near future of 2017, physicist Michael Shelborne, disappears. Shel can't find any sign of Dad and neither can the cops. Then his father's attorney gives him a mysterious letter, telling him to destroy three q-pods (future portable multimedia devices) in his father's home. Intrigued, Shel fiddles with one and finds himself hundreds of miles away and has to call Dave to get him. The oddness continues when Shel's secretary gets a call from him, while he's in the office. Then he figures it out: Dad invented a time machine, and now his son has time traveled too!

Shel finds his father by going back in time a few days and learns more about the q-pods. But Dad disappears again, presumably lost in time for good. Could he have gone back to see Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, or visited the great Library in Alexandria? Shel and Dave travel hither and yon seeking Dad, and get into some scrapes as they run into history the hard way. And yes, they find what happens if you try to change stuff - you can die, or can you?

I've always loved McDevitt's realism when it comes to his characters, even if they were far future humans. They have loves, hates, prejudices and desires that readers can relate to. Now we join two regular 30-something Phillies' fans who love a good movie or book, chow down at neighborhood restaurants and hope to find the right someone. …