The Traveler walks the fine line between complex and complicated, presenting a world that may well be our own – if we’d perhaps bothered to look a little closer or maybe asked the right questions. Much of the surveillance technology The Vast Machine makes use of is fascinating (RFID-tags, satellite surveillance, etc.) not so much because of its futuristic trappings but, rather alarmingly, because it is not too far removed from what our own governments make use of in the name of national security. In this respect, the novel offers much food for thought as the author skillfully blurs the line between what is and what well could be. It’s scary stuff that, in my opinion, delivered the book’s most interesting and challenging throughline in its exploration of things like The Panopticon. Conceived in 1785 by Jeremy Bentham, a philosopher and social theorist, The Panopticon is a prison design in which a guard can observe prisoners without being observed in turn. The prisoners never know when they are being watched and so, theoretically, are ever-vigilant, always operating under the assumption that a set of eyes could well be on them at any given moment. In Bentham’s view, this allowed the observer to exert incredible influence (mind power) over a potentially increasingly paranoid prison population. Replace the guard with a government, the prisoners with ordinary citizens, and the dynamics become unsettlingly familiar.
That said, I think the novel would have been well-served by a voice of (seeming) reason with in the ranks of The Brethren, someone who could have made a real case for the benefit of state-driven security over individual freedom rather than simply echoing the nefarious company line that people are essentially little more than sheep.
Overall, an involving and provocative first novel by mystery author John Twelve Hawks that mixes SF and Fantasy with varying degrees of success. The book’s mythology is rich and rewarding, the real world elements compelling, but the sequences involving the various other realms, while intriguing, are at times bewildering. Of course, the fact that this is the first in a trilogy may well explain why certain aspects, like the realms, feel underdeveloped. That said, it will be interesting to see how Twelve Hawks fleshes out these worlds in The Dark River, the second book of The Fourth Realm Trilogy.
So, what did everyone else think? Let’s get this discussion underway. And if you have questions for author John Twelve Hawks, start posting them!
Well, Paul and I completed our first day of pitch meetings today and it’s certainly been…eventful. I’ll fill you all in on the hilarity tomorrow as it looks like a last-minute rescheduling has freed up my afternoon for some quality update time with you, dear readers.