I think I first got intrigued enough to add The Traveller to my wish list when I read some of the story about the author while hearing many critics singing the book’s praise. John Twelve Hawks is a name that stands out from the crowd. He, as far as we’re aware, isn’t a native American (or one of the First Nations as I think the new PC term has it), in fact, no one is, apparently, even sure that he’s a man. The story goes that he ‘lives off the grid’ in that he wishes to remain anonymous and stay separate from the ‘Vast Machine’ he believes runs the world. Communication with is editor is done by satellite phone and he uses a voice scrambler. How he submits his manuscripts and collects his royalty cheques hasn’t been mentioned. It’s a good enough story on its own (the only interview he’s given as far as I can see is this one with SFF World). It could all just be a publicity stunt and, to be honest, finding out that this book is part one of three was a little disallusioning. I liked the idea of someone who wrote a book in his cabin in the wilds of Wisconsin, in a room where the sun shone in, on an old typewriter, popped up to deliver his warning to the world, a complete message, then disappeared back into the masses. Learning you’re only reading part one is disenchanting.
Anyway, on to the book. The basic story is that Maya, one of a few remaining members of a group called the Harlequins, travels to see her injured father. He asks her to take on the family mantle and defend a pair of brothers who may or may not be Travellers. Travellers are people who can allow their psychic energy, their soul if you will, to float free from their bodies and travel to alternate dimensions. They provide some sort of faith, inspiration and, to a certain extent, chaos. Harlequins have vowed to protect them for thousands of years. Harlequins are trained from a very early age to be as deadly as possible and to survive and protect. The reason Travellers need protection is because an organisation known as the Tabula (aka The Bretheren) is out to kill them all, and they’ve nearly succeeded. The Tabula are an organisation bent of bringing the world into order by using covert means of control and building a digital, worldwide Panopticon, a prison where the prisoners do no wrong because they may or may not be under constant surveillance. They strive for order and control, predictability and stability, at the cost of individual rights if needs be.
Now, however, the Tabula wish to catch a Traveller and use them, so while Maya races to the brothers in an effort to protect them, the Tabula hunt them in an effort to capture them. They need a Traveller to help them show the aliens from another dimension, with whom they’ve made contact, by accident, via a quantum computer, the way into our dimension. With the advanced technology they keep being fed by this extra-dimensional intelligence they can leap lightyears ahead and make total control theirs.
The book has drawn remarks regarding similarities to George Orwell’s 1984, which is rather untrue, in 1984 the control is total and obvious, the idea with the control desired by the Tabula is that most of us wouldn’t even notice. In fact, many of the systems mentioned and used in the book are already in place in much of the western world. Other material like The Matrix, The Da Vinci Code and Minority Report (I think Enemy of the State is a little closer). The main idea, that a shadowy group are manipulating the general populace, has been expressed in many books and keeps resurfacing in conspiracy theories like the Illuminati. The difference here is that so much more of the theory is intertwined with reality. Many of the systems used to monitor people mentioned in the book are already in place, and that give the whole novel a subtle ring of truth that makes it much easier to swallow the more outlandish parts. It’s a clever idea, not too disimilar to Tom Clancy or Dale Brown using high degrees of technical detail in their military thrillers to provide greater realism.
The book plays on people’s fears of privacy, of government control and manipulation and our general fear that somewhere, someone knows a lot more than we do, which is rarely the case, anyone who has worked in a government agency would have seen how incompetent they are, secrets are hard to keep. More and more information is being kept about us, from what we buy on our credit cards, to where we use our passports, soon they’ll be GPS tracking in our cars and CCTV cameras on every corner, or so it seems. I agree that it’s a scary thought, it’s easy to see that one piece of data on its own is not very powerful, but collect enough and trends start to show, the more info you have, the easier it is to make accurate assumptions. It’s not guys with guns you want to fear, rather database technicians in windowless offices and psychologists.
Back to the book, I found it pleasant enough to read, with enough unique and interesting ideas to make it fresh, but it’s not something that changed my perspective on the world or left me with a buzz. If you’re into conspiracy theories I think you’ll love it, if not, I don’t think it’ll make you change your mind.