I'm not particularly attracted to time travel novels. Or to Greek philosophy and history. So deciding to read The Plot to Save Socrates was something of fortunate whim (yes, I do have whims on occasion). But what I feared might be a bit tedious turned out to be a fascinating volume with a story line that works on many levels, from philosophy to romance.
The basic plot is just what the title says. A missing Socratic dialogue is discovered that relates Socrates' last conversation. A conversation in which he is offered the opportunity to escape his impending doom and flee into the future. Offered the opportunity to participate in this adventure by Professor Thomas O'Leary, doctoral candidate Sierra Waters embarks on a complex journey that will have her following the tracks on an ancient (or modern) inventor, taking one of Socrates' best friends as a lover, and, eventually, joining in the effort to bring a reluctant Socrates to safe harbor.
At heart, this is a 'puzzle' story. Riding time traveling chairs across millennia, Waters and others crisscross each other; making sure that events happen in the right sequence, staging more than one hair's breadth escape, and generally muddying the waters. Only gradually does the real sequence of events emerge. This is often precisely why I don't like time travel novels - the artificial nature of the plot - but Paul Levinson displays the writing skills needed to keep this artificiality from overwhelming the real story.
What is the 'real' story? For each reader it will be something slightly different, but for me it is the insights into the nature of Socrates himself. This is a man who spurned democracy, was willing to chose death to make a point, and who greatly distrusted the written word. Levinson shows us a man whose inquisitive nature can gently turn any discussion into a dialogic investigation. A natural teacher whose ideas have had inconceivable influence on the next 2500 years. And he is an honest, principled man who is impossible to dislike. It amazed me to find that several passages in the book found immediate application in other exchanges. That's quite something for an innocuous, slim, science fiction story.
Levinson's style is sparse, frequently surfacing feelings and ideals with a few sure strokes. Romance, suspense, and the theater of thought are the settings for a writer to display considerable breadth. You may find Levinson's character development quirky, but keep in mind that we meet many characters in out-of-order time slices, which are only blended together as the tale comes to its delightful, quixotic ending. This turned out to be surprisingly good reading and I heartily recommend it.