Tuesday, November 29, 2005

49. The Chronoliths by Robert Charles Wilson

The Chronoliths in the Ring book picture
Wilson is another Canadian science fiction author (I also heard him interviewed on The Arts Tonight on CBC). They seem to need to mention that he was born in California but moved to Canada at a young age, grew up there and currently lives in Toronto. Did he not take Canadian citizenship?

The Chronoliths takes place in the near future and is the story of a man who was present when the first chronolith appeared in Thailand. These giant crystal pillars just appear, one by one, either in the remote countryside or later in the middle of Asian cities, destroying everything around them. According to the inscriptions at their base, they are memorials to battles that take place 20 years in the future. As they continue to appear, they disrupt the world, with their physical destruction but more with their psychological impact. Societies begin to brace for this unknown world tyrant who appears to be taking over the world from the future. But as the world adapts to this future threat, it starts to create the conditions that will make it happen.

Caught up in this conceptual time struggle, the protaganist leads us through the development and how it impacts his own life. The appearance of these giant memorials are like a destiny he can't avoid and they mess with him and his family in direct and indirect ways as much as they affect the earth. The book follows both storylines, though more of the impact is with the psychology of the narrator.

It's an interesting book and an intriguing premise. The story plays out well, keeping you engaged with suspense and interesting characters. The conceptual element and the way the potential time paradox is resolved is satisfying as well. I found it just a bit dark. The mood was sort of sombre and regretful throughout, which may have been appropriate. It just didn't make me feel super excited. There were also a couple of small little errors that stood out for me, like the suggestion that downtown Baltimore had gone to seed during the protaganist's lifetime (when it's pretty common knowledge that that happened in the second half of the twentieth century) and a misuse of the term syllogism.

Overall, though, Robert Charles Wilson is a skilled writer and his story delivers. If all his books have such a sombre tone, I might not be so interested. Otherwise, I'll check out his other works. There are some good Canadian sci-fi authors!


Crumbolst said...

I am intruiged by the idea of the chronolyths suddenly appearing. I have to wonder, though, about the self-fullfilling prophesy aspect (in an effort to stop the phenomenon, we create it). If that's the case, why bother trying? I mean, what's the point of such stories?

I might pick this one up, though. I like the time problems it presents, especially if, as you say, the author does them some justice.

OlmanFeelyus said...

It really is intriguing. Your two questions are very different. To answer the first one, that's the problem that the characters are struggling with. Part of the difficulty is that the monoliths have a worldwide impact, so that people are reacting to them (either by hating this future conqueror or worshipping him) and the question then becomes do we fight against that reaction or does that very fight make it come into being? For instance, by developing technology to fight destroy these monoliths, the characters may be creating the very tech that allows them to come into being!

But as for what's the point of these stories, well in the case of this book, Wilson I think is dealing with how individuals deal with ucontrollable adversity, the powerful external forces that can guide your life. It's not just a big time travel paradox wank.

But you should read Starfish by Peter Watts first. I think you'll like that book.

Crumbolst said...

Starfish, definitely.