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The Plot To Save Socrates
Paul Levinson
Tor paperback $14.50

review by Duncan Lawie

The Plot To Save Socrates begins in 2042 with a fragment of a Platonic dialogue, presented to Ph.D student Sierra Waters by her mentor, with an indication that he believes it to be authentic. Although a historical detective novel could begin this way the content of the fragment refers to both time travel and cloning as the methods to save Socrates from his death sentence. Sierra discovers a 150-year-old picture of her mentor while researching the fragment; at which point the story jumps to 150 AD, where someone quite like Sierra is giving a copy of the same dialogue to Heron, a famous inventor in Alexandria.

The fragment is threaded through the novel, developing an intricately woven plot. Other pieces of the tale are told from the viewpoints of different time travelers at different points in history and their journey, and overlapping with those of other travelers. They interfere with known history, their own histories and those of each other to the extent that there are several loops in the story. The characters, however, feel like tokens in the game that the author is playing. They seem to slip into different cultures with ease - a lone woman travels across the Roman Empire without mention of any difficulties, and a classical-era Greek makes his way in the 21st century world. Regardless of their supposed passions, they all seem able to abandon lovers and friends whenever required. This contributes to a rather bloodless feel to the novel.

Also shaping the book as thought experiment is the undercurrent of philosophical argument, principally on the nature of history and the monuments of historic figures. Is it possible to save works from the library of Alexandria? What impact would it have on history if Socrates did not die at the known point? What if Socrates himself wrote the dialogues that are attributed to Plato? Despite the revelations in the final chapter, it isn't possible to be sure of the motivations or manipulations of the character that invented the time travel devices. It is quite possible that all the business around Socrates is merely a distraction whilst the original time traveler attempts to perfect history beyond the remit of the apparent players. This presents yet another layer of potential historical and philosophical paradox. Yet, even if we cannot be quite certain of solving the puzzle, there is considerable intellectual pleasure in unraveling the tangled threads that make up The Plot To Save Socrates.
The Plot To Save Socrates

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