Paul Levinson; Tor Books; hardcover; 272 pages; Feb. 2006
Socrates said he knew nothing but, even so, he was the smartest guy in Athens. Apparently a lot of Athenians found that amusing—at least for a while. Eventually, though, he got on enough people’s nerves, and in ancient Athens that was enough to get a death sentence. (In the contemporary U.S., it just gets you a life sentence, unless you’re being held in Guantanamo, in which case nobody bothers with a trial.) Paul Levin’s novel The Plot to Save Socrates, which resonates with the current political climate, is premised on the thought that some future time traveler might time-warp back to 399 B.C. (or whatever they called it back then) to try to persuade Socrates from drinking the hemlock.
Trouble is, Socrates doesn’t want to be saved. He is, however, intrigued by the idea of time travel. And, well, who isn’t? That’s the charm of Levinson’s novel: he bootstraps the time travel paradox into an airy castle of baroque proportions. (The time travel paradox, in case you need a quick refresher, is quickly summarized in the classic question: What would happen to you if you traveled back in time and killed your grandfather? But I’m sure you don’t need a refresher because you remember the episode of The Simpsons where Homer [hey, wasn’t he a Greek?] squashes a butterfly back in dinosaur days and turns his house into a cupcake decorated with Bart and Lisa candles.) Alas, that is also the trouble with the novel: Levinson is having so much fun watching his characters going boing-boing across the centuries that he forgets about the key word in his title: plot. Continue reading