The Chronoliths
by Robert Charles Wilson
Review by James Walton

I picked up The Chronoliths immediately when I saw it on Larry Smith's table because I been impressed with Wilson's previous novel Darwinia. I am happy to say that Wilson continues his winning streak.

Wilson is revisiting territory he covered in Darwinia. (Ann says Wilson wrote the same book several times.) In both books we have strange artifacts appearing mysteriously without warning. These artifacts change the world forever. The main character in both books must find his place within the brave new world, a place where neither wants to be. Where Darwinia is about a man taking a journey into unknown lands due to an improbable event, Chronoliths is about a man taking a journey into himself due to an improbable event.

The Chronoliths is told in first person via the view point of Scott Warden (as opposed to the third person account in Darwinia). Warden is a young American on wanderjahr in 21st century Thailand. Unfortunately Warden makes the poor decision to strand his wife and young daughter there with him while he wastes his life. His lack of direction and ambition place a strain on family relationships. The sudden appearance of the first Chronolith signals the end of Warden's marriage and drastic disruptions in his life.

All through the book Warden berates himself for being a poor father and an even worse husband. He is a decent guy who is smart enough to recognize his mistakes but is not clever enough to find a way to travel back in time and erase those mistakes.

Chronoliths are huge monuments made of seemingly indestructible materials. Each of these monuments commemorate a great victory by a military leader named Kuin in a war of conquest that takes place some time Warden's future. The Chronoliths have been sent back in time to grace future battle fields.

Despite himself Warden winds up working with a semi-secret government organization dedicated to understanding and eradicating the Chronoliths.

Warden admits he doesn't understand the physics or mathematics behind the Chronolith phenomenon. The explanations by other characters make the "tau turbulence" sound like more a new age religion than a legitimate branch of science. The tau is sort of a study of time and space and history and how they interact. Events in the past have an effect on events in the future and the future can exert an influence over the past to manufacture the future. The parameters of tau are difficult to define: the science is more intuitive than quantifiable and it is difficult for the leading tau scientists to know if they are making real progress in understanding or are going crazy.

The world of The Chronoliths is one of economic depression, odd religious cults and even odder political factions. War is a constant. Kuinism is very popular among young people who make up their new religion as they go along and participate in pilgrimages to see the Chronoliths. Older people seem to gravitate toward semi-secret radical political groups, some of which advocate overthrowing the government.

All through this the identity of Kuin the future conqueror and exactly why he is sending monuments back through time remains a mystery.

At the end of The Chronoliths we find ourselves thinking about the nature of time, predestination and inevitability. It is an interesting and thought provoking book. Though not quite as imaginative as Darwinia it is enjoyable.

(Chronoliths? Isn't that two different languages?)

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