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Bookends: What happens when the future intrudes on the past October 20, 2015

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends.
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Bookends: What happens when the future intrudes on the past

By Dan Davidson

April 15, 2015

– 886 words –

 

The Chronolithschronoliths

By Robert Charles Wilson

TOR Books,

315 pages

$9.99

This novel begins in the early part of the 21st century, in 2021. Scott Warden and his family, wife Janice and daughter Kaitlin, are at lose ends in Thailand, Scott’s job having ended, when the first monolith, later to be called the first of the chronoliths, materializes.

Scott and his friend, Hitch, ride off to see what has happened, not knowing that Kaitlin is about to come down with a raging fever and that his extended absence will be the straw that breaks the back of his marriage. Mind you, getting arrested as if he somehow had something to do with the appearance of a 200 foot tall spire made of an apparently indestructible substance, did delay his getting home long enough for wife and child to be medevaced and for her to return to the USA and begin divorce proceedings.

The Chumphon Chronolith was a message from the future, created and sent back in time to celebrate the conquest and surrender of southern Thailand and Malaysia to the massed armies of someone named “Kuin”. The date of the battle was December 21, 2041, 20 years in the future.

Over the next decade or so, more chronoliths materialize, each one celebrating the latest of Kuin’s victories. When they arrive, they destroy everything in the area they occupy, and the combination of massive energy discharges in the form of intense light and heat and atmospheric displacement do damage on the order of a non-radioactive atomic bomb.

At first they appear only in the East, but eventually they spread westward. Scott, an ace programmer, is recruited by Dr. Sue Chopra, his former university professor, and the world’s foremost expert on time displacement effects, to be part of her team. They are present when a chronolith arrives in Jerusalem, by which time it is clear that these things will eventually occupy space on every continent, in every nation. It’s just a matter of time.

As seems to be common in Wilson’s books, quite a bit of time passes, and Scott spends a lot of it of it salvaging a relationship with his daughter, finding a new life partner, and observing events. The first person narrators of Wilson’s novels are often on the edge of events, observers of the actions and reactions of those people around them, people who are probably more important to the overall flow of the narrative.

It is also not unusual for Wilson to examine the social impacts of the high tech events that drive the stories. The chronoliths seem to be designed as a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy device, something to soften up the hearts and minds of the people of the present day, to make the coming of Kuin, whoever or whatever that may be, seem inevitable.

Indeed, that seems to work, and we watch the founding and evolution of several different forms of reaction to the chronoliths. Various Kuin related cults emerge and some of them almost develop as if the chronoliths were intended to be a retroactive recruiting drive, for certainly many disaffected young people, living in a world that is not coping well with climate change, climb on the Kuin bandwagon, and become armed devotees of Kuin’s future success.

This development is rather startlingly similar to the numbers of young people, world wide, who have been heading off to the Middle East to join the ranks of ISIS (ISIL).

For Scott this becomes very personal when his daughter joins one the cult groups and disappears into Mexico, to an encampment that has sprung up near to where the next chronolith (as predicted by Chopra’s work) is scheduled to appear. Scott and some friends mount a rescue mission and manage to extract her from the area before the chronolith can arrive.

By this time, some years later, Chopra’s theoretical work has come up with a way to destroy an arriving chronolith by destabilizing it during its arrival. The social side of her theory is that actually managing to destroy one of them will also destroy the sense of inevitability that surrounds them.

Kuinists, aware of her work, surround the arrival site in Wyoming where the first chronolith to materialize in the USA is slated to arrive and there is a climactic showdown between their forces and the science team.

When a story is being told in the first person it’s fairly obvious that the narrator survived, so this next bit isn’t really a spoiler. The final chapter is told from the vantage point of a 70ish Scott, years later, reflecting on how the attack from the future actually helped to improve the present. By that point he has reached the year from which the original chronolith was launched and there doesn’t seem to be any sign of anyone or anything called Kuin anywhere. There is an implied paradox here, but there always is in time travel stories of any type. Just ask Doctor Who.

Wilson is a Canadian science fiction writer who lives near Toronto. He has won one Hugo Award, has been nominated for several other awards, and picked up the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for this novel.

-30-

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