Thursday, January 3

The Chronoliths – Robert Charles Wilson

Software designer Scott Warden moved his wife, Janice, and their young daughter Kaitlin to Thailand for work, but his contacts dried up. He intended to write a book about expatriate beach culture but lost interest and now he drifts in Chumphon, barely supporting them, young and cocky. When ex-Marine Hitch Paley approached him late one hot night, asking if he wanted to check something out Scott, pissed from a fight with Janice and generally restless, agreed without hesitating. Paley had heard a low-thunder-like roar the night before and wanted to investigate. What they found, bypassing the military security, was the first Chronolith – a giant, four-sided, obelisk-shaped monument of a material like blue glass, impossibly implanted in the ground, commemorating in English and pidgin Mandarin, the surrender of Malaysia and southern Thailand to something or someone called “Kuin” on December 21st 2041 – 20 years in the future.
Scott and Paley were captured by Thai police and interrogated, and finally released. But while they were in jail Janice, who had taken their increasingly unwell daughter to hospital, where she was diagnosed with a rapidly progressing necrotising infection – Janice repeatedly tried to contact Scott, without success, before she and Kait were airlifted to the American embassy hospital. Kait permanently lost hearing in her ear but lived and Janice, who could not excuse Scott’s unavailability, left their marriage and moved back to the US.
Scott, too, returned to the States, where the puzzle of the Kuin monument occupied only a fraction of public consciousness. Studies revealed that it was made of no known matter and could not be damaged; nobody believed that the date was accurate, that it had somehow been projected into the past – that must surely be a false clue about its origins. Then the second monument appeared – taller this time, in the shape of a stylised conqueror, in the heart of Bangkok, where it tore gas mains and killed thousands.
As more monuments appear Kuin, who has not yet identified himself, let alone fought a single battle, becomes a symbol of ever-increasing power and his victory seems assured. After all, we can’t even work out how his monuments are created, let alone how they’re projected back in time some twenty years and three months. And if we can’t destroy his monuments, how have we any hope of defeating Kuin himself?
The Chronoliths explores ideas about interconnectivity, the logic of correlation and the meaning of coincidence, and the power of belief. Threaded through the story of the impact of the world as a whole (including some fascinating insights into cults, and the need of people to affiliate, conflict and belong) is woven the story of our narrator, Scott, and his increasing centrality in the crisis.
I’m writing this review almost a week after reading the book, and I’m still not sure if I enjoyed it. It certainly made me think, and I don’t think I’m doing the themes of the book or its scale justice. I think on reflection that I found it interesting, but not arresting, and I didn’t feel a compulsive need to finish just one more chapter but I’m glad I read it. - Alex

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