The Plot to Save Socrates (2006) is a standalone SF novel. A previously unknown dialog with Socrates is apparently found within a dig in Egypt a few years in the future. This dialog between Andros -- an unknown person from the future -- and Socrates involves the substitution of a mindless clone for Socrates before he drinks the hemlock. As in the dialog with Crito, Socrates refuses even this high tech solution.
In this novel, in New York City circa 2042, Thomas O'Leary provides his doctoral student, Sierra Waters, with a partial copy of this recently rediscovered dialog. She reads it several times and discusses it with her boy friend. Finally, she turns to her mentor for some answers and Thomas cannot be found.
Sierra was told that this copy was found misfiled in the library of the Millennium Club and wrangles an invitation to discuss it with the club librarian. Although she cannot find Cyril Charles, another librarian confirms the existence of the document and the efforts to date the ink and parchment. He also provides her access to another fragment of the new dialog. Then Sierra finds a report on the web of the death of O'Leary and two other men in a boat on the Aegean.
Sierra and her boy friend fly to London to follow up a lead and meet William Henry Appleton, who provides them with access to the timetravel chairs in the Parthenon Club. Sierra and Max travel back to Brittania in 150 AD. There her boyfriend is apparently killed in an attack by unidentified Romans, but Sierra escapes with a Celt shipmaster, who calls her Ampharette.
From Londoninium, Ampharette travels to Rome and then to Alexandria. There she meets Heron -- or Hero -- who is known for his invention of many toys such as the aeolipile -- a miniature steam engine -- that use technological concepts well in advance of their time. Heron was reportedly born in 150 BCE and died about 250 CE; however, the real Heron did not live quite that long. A time travelling impersonator took his name and contributed even more toys. Moreover, this impersonator had also invented the timetravel chairs.
In Phrygia, in 404 BCE, Alcibiades -- favorite student and friend of Socrates -- is rescued by Heron and Ampharette from Spartan assassins, but a mindless clone is killed and left behind in his place. Alcibiades sails back to Athens with Heron and Ampharette, but refuses to travel in time to rescue Socrates from his imprisonment. Instead, Alcibiades stays hidden in Athens and builds an organization of disaffected Athenians.
In this story, these primary characters cross paths in New York, London and Athens at various times. Heron, Sierra and Alcibiades, of course, converge on the time just before Socrates takes the hemlock. The timetravel chairs are controlled by Heron and so are not reliable transportation to ancient times, but are used frequently between 1889, 2042 and 2061.
Obviously, Socrates is guilty as charged of corrupting the youth of Athens. After all, he encourages them to question the customs and traditions of their society. Very few parents, especially in ancient times, would approve of their children asking -- or answering -- the questions discussed in the Dialogs. Such questioning could overturn all of civilization.
The reasons for rescuing Socrates is based primarily on the strength of his mind. Whenever Socrates is portrayed in this novel, he displays an amazing ability to cut to the quick of any discussion or argument. Socrates, however, fails to understand the rare quality of his thinking.
Socrates is against written treatises, since they are immutable. Yet he doesn't realize that his philosophy only has to ask the right questions. Subsequent generations are still finding their own answers.
This story is an elaborate time travel puzzle. The main mystery is the author of the new dialog, but other questions arise and are answered. Still, some are left hanging, so a sequel is possible.
This reviewer has not read the author's other works. Reportedly, they are within the SF mystery genre. A similar approach is used to good effect in this story.
Highly recommended for Levinson fans and for anyone else who enjoys tales of time travel conundrums, ancient societies, and courageous characters.
-Arthur W. Jordin