The Plot To Save Socrates by Paul Levinson
The book begins with doctoral student Sierra meeting with her advisor Thomas O'Leary in 2042. Thomas shows her what appears to be part of an ancient document - a previously unknown dialog between Socrates and a stranger called Andros. Socrates has already been sentenced to die and is awaiting the execution day. Andros attempts to convince Socrates that Andros is a time traveler who could arrange to have a clone of Socrates die so the real Socrates could continue to live elsewhere.
Thomas tells Sierra that he showed her this because he will be undergoing surgery that weekend and would like her to continue researching this if Thomas can no longer do it. Thomas disappears and Sierra learns he was not scheduled for surgery as he had claimed. She then finds a news report on the internet saying Thomas and two other men were reportedly lost in a boat off the coast of Greece. Sierra investigates further and eventually comes to learn of time machines which were invented at some other time, but are available to shuttle between certain permitted destinations in time.
The story jumps around between different characters and times. Ampherate [Sierra] travels back to 150 A.D. (the closest to Socrates’ day that the machines will take her) and shows the dialog to Heron at Alexandria. Heron, Heron's student Jona, Thomas, Socrates' student Alcibiades, 19th century publisher Appleton, and others move around in time to try to save Socrates or achieve other objectives. Along the way, various attempts are made to stop them by others who apparently travel in time.
Meanwhile, Socrates does not want to avoid his execution. He presents philosophical arguments that it would be wrong for him to circumvent the law. He also wants to be an example to discredit the Athenian government. And perhaps he has other motives.
Ampherate and Alcibiades become lovers. Jona becomes disenchanted with Heron...
The story ends up being more about competing time travelers hopping here and there in time than about Socrates. I’d call it a “time travel caper”. I usually don't like time travel / historical fiction adventures. But a chance to spend some time with Socrates sounded like something different with more ideas, etc. However, it was more about groups of time travelers in conflict with each other - a conflict which wasn't entirely satisfying as they supposedly wanted basically the same thing. The reader’s time spent with Socrates is rather limited.
I don't care much for books such as Crichton's Timeline which (to my way of thinking) are basically historical fiction with some characters who are "outsiders" to the historical culture being portrayed. The Plot To Save Socrates didn't really turn out to be "historical fiction" in that the characters didn't tend to spend most of the book immersed in one particular historical setting. Rather, they hopped around between a number of times and places. It also didn't turn out to have that much "idea SF".
I wouldn't recommend the book for readers anticipating a generous portion of Socrates. By the end of the book some readers may even feel Socrates' secret adds an absurdist element to the book.
We do meet some interesting historical characters. At least the edition of the book I listened to had an appendix about those historical persons - helping to clarify (for me) what was actually historical fact about them.
I'd mostly recommend the book to:
(1) Readers who have a taste for time travel tales [and aren't too concerned with the logical consistency],
(2) Readers who like adventures with enough complexity to make the word "caper" come to mind,
(3) Readers who would like to see a bit about ancient Greece without taking on an entire book about it.
Time Travel And Story Chronology
Often in novels that have a mystery element, the chronologies of different characters are presented somewhat out of sync in order to maintain suspense or otherwise leave some obscurities in the story. In a time travel story such as this, the chronology murkiness is even greater. For the most part, we see a particular character's experiences in the order the character does, regardless of what years the character jumps back and forth between. (That is, the confusion isn’t increased with memory flashbacks in addition to time hopping.) That's good. However, when the book switches from the experiences of one character to another, we can't rely on clocks and calendars (as we can in other books) to know what year other characters are in or how many days other characters have had in which to act. Perhaps, what I'm trying to say would be clearer by saying the following: At some point, two characters could enter time machines sitting next to each other in time and space, but take their individual time machines to different years. From then on, "simultaneous" for the two threads describing the experiences of the two characters means the characters have breathed as many breaths, seen as many sunsets, aged as many months or otherwise had as much normal time flow pass them by. But this isn't as clear because they are located in different years and may time travel from this year to another.
It is also not possible for readers to "count down" to an upcoming event in the book. A reader can't say, "It’s Jan. 1 and an event is scheduled for Jan. 5, so the character has only 4 days to prepare for the event." With time travel, the characters aren't limited to that single option.
It turns out we can’t even be sure what era of the past, present or future a character originally was born in.
There's a lot of talk among the characters about the potential paradoxes of time travel and problems that could be caused by making a change to history. Personally, I tend to be rather inclined to believe that if you go back in time and breathe there, the result is something different than what was supposed to be your past when there was no time traveler breathing there. Please note: At least some physicists believe that if someone did go back tin time to 400 B.C., the presence of the time traveler would not constitute a change to 400 B.C. because that would mean there had never been a version of 400 B.C. that did not have that time traveler. I can understand that the universe might have come into being with all the times and events already defined so that the universe always had a 400 B.C. with a time traveler from "the future". However, as best as I can understand this theory, it describes a predeterministic world. People don't have meaningful choices - whether or not you will time travel to 400 B.C. was decided when the universe came into being. Although that may be an accurate description of the universe, we usually don't want to read novels about people who are just helpless props in a rigidly predefined universe.
So, if we approach The Plot To Save Socrates with the assumption we don't live in a predetermined universe and people can choice whether or not to time travel, we have to ask whether the characters' actions are actually as innocuous as the story suggests. I'm not so sure that is the case.
Readers who are as picky as me will find some questionable circular causality in the story.