by Robert Charles Wilson
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Robert Charles Wilson postulates a world in which cause and effect have gone haywire in The Chronoliths. The novel opens with the sudden appearance of a strange monument outside Chumphon, Thailand. Not only is the monument enormous, it appears, based on the text found on it, to commemorate a victory twenty years in the future. Scott Warden, an American expatriate is living in Chumphon at the time and is dragged out to the chronolith by his friend, Hitch Paley. Despite all his desires, from that moment on, Scott’s life is linked to the strange monuments from the future.
The Chumphon Chronolith is only the first of many of the monuments to appear, tracing the future expansion of an unknown warlord name Kuin. In the wake of the monuments appearances, and the destruction that comes along with them, the world plunges into a global recession. Scott manages to get back to the United States, where he tries to make ends meet and comes to terms with his marriage which failed just as the Chumphon monument appeared. Scott would be more than happy living his own life, except he continues to find himself tied to the Chronoliths and, through his daughter, ex-wife, and her new husband, to the Kuinist groups which have sprung up in the wake of the chronoliths’ appearances. When an old college professor of his begins working on the problem, Scott is pulled even further into the circle.
While Wilson could easily have written a novel in which the purpose and technology behind the chronoliths were the main story, the strength of the book comes from the fact that throughout, those questions remain secondary to Scott. His goal is to live his own life and to help his daughter in whatever way he can. Scott is surrounded by a crumbling society which is constantly approaching the conquest by Kuin without knowing exactly what it means, and panic at the approaching conquest mixes with the financial uncertainty which has plagued the world.
Wilson gives indications of the eventual path the world takes to get from Scott Warden’s time to the actual conquests of Kuin, but he never explicitly states who or what Kuin is or how he achieved his colossal conquests. Wilson introduces several possible paradoxes, as well as circular causality, but he does not attempt to explain any of them away, mostly because it is not necessary for the reader, or the characters, to understand what has happened, for it to affect their lives.The chronoliths are omnipresent in the novel, but they never drive Scott Warden’s story. Instead, Wilson moves his and Scott’s story along by exploring the human reaction to the strange monuments. It is the fact that Wilson can focus on the human scale in the face of massive upheaval and the appearance of strange objects is what makes The Chronoliths rise above other novels of global disaster.
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