Ross Murdock just can’t follow the rules, so he keeps getting in trouble with the law. He’s arrogant, rebellious, independent, smart, competent, and proud. That makes him the perfect recruit for the government’s secret Time Traders program, so when they offer Ross the option to either join up or go to jail, he doesn’t have much choice. Ross has no idea what’s going on with his new job, but he figures he’ll be able to escape. That turns out to be a lot harder than he expected — because they’ve sent him back in time! Ross’s job is to figure out how the Soviets (“the reds”) are getting their advanced technology. The U.S. government thinks they are getting it from somewhere in the past and Ross must try to find their secret base in a Bronze Age society. Stubborn and hard to defeat, Ross Murdock is the perfect man for the job. But this job isn’t easy — it’s a constant fight for survival.
The premise of The Time Traders reminds me of Kage Baker’s COMPANY books, which I love — modern humans go back in time to find information or objects that are needed in the future. They have to deal with the discomforts of life in the past while trying to masquerade as a native of that time and place. Much of the challenge involves learning how to cope without modern technology and conveniences, hiding their more enlightened sensitivities, and dealing with the ignorance and superstitions of the natives.
The Time Traders lacks the humor that’s such a big part of Kage Baker’s books, but it almost makes up for this with non-stop adventure. In just this first book of the TIME TRADERS series, Ross encounters numerous deadly wild animals, gets a serious head injury, loses his memory for a while, rides a raft down a river, meets aliens, fights with enemies of all types, gets captured, gets abandoned in the past, trusts a traitor, and more that I can’t tell you without spoiling the plot. Most surprising of all, Ross realizes that maybe he’s not really the loner that he thought he was. It’s an exciting story that would be appropriate for teens or adults.
There are some thoughtful bits, too. For example, there’s an interesting discussions about how some personalities thrive or suffer in certain times and/or civilizations. Murdock was an outcast in the society he was raised in, but he blooms as a Time Trader. As an extension of this, for example, someone with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder will have trouble in our sit-in-your-seat-and-be-quiet kind of society, but might easily rise to the top in a different environment.
I listened to Peter Ganim narrate Audible Frontiers’ version of The Time Traders and I’d recommend it. I bought the free Kindle version at Amazon and then purchased the audiobook for $1.99 with the Whispersync deal. You can also find free audio versions at Librivox because The Time Traders is in the Public Domain. There are six sequels. The last three books are co-authored.