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The Chronoliths

Robert Charles Wilson


US Hardcover First

ISBN 0-312-87384-0

301 Pages; 23.95

Date Reviewed: 03-20-02

Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel



Science Fiction


I'm pretty sure that there's an alternate universe, not too many steps to the left or right of this one, where Robert Charles Wilson tops the bestseller list every time a new book comes out. Alas, given the state of the publishing industry today, it would probably take an event on the order of those chronicled in 'The Chronoliths' to force-step us over into that time stream. In this particular universe, at least his books are easy to find. I read 'The Chronoliths' on the heels of the events of September 11, 2001, when two airliners were used to destroy two huge buildings in Manhattan. As with many things in those fear-fraught days, it struck me as remarkably poignant, born of an ominous prescience. One can only hope that Wilson is wrong, and that he will continue to produce evocative novels like this, no matter what the future really holds.

'The Chronoliths' tells the story of Scott, a software slacker who is slumming on the beach in Thailand after a software contract collapses. His wife is less than pleased with the prospect of bringing up their five-year-old daughter in this rather chaotic place, but Scott is entranced. When his friend Hitch Paley tells him about a disturbance up in the hills, Scott leaves his wife behind to tend to their sick daughter, who apparently has a cold. In the hills, he sees something straight out of 'The Book of the Damned'. A huge monument has appeared out of nowhere. Three hundred feet high, made of a material never before seen on earth and difficult to analyze, it hold an inscription near the bottom celebrating the victory of "the massed forces of someone (or something) called 'Kuin', and beneath the text was the date of this historic battle. December 21, 2041. Twenty years in the future."

Wilson does much more in 'The Chronoliths' than set up a first-rate sci-fi mystery. He peoples his work with fascinating, flawed characters. Scott, Janice (Scott's wife), Hitch and Sue Chopra, the scientist in charge of studying the chronoliths, weave themselves into the readers' consciousness with the heft of people you really know. When the second chronolith appears in the center of downtown Bangkok, obliterating much of the city and killing thousands, Wilson effectively ups the ante. Then he does it again. He keeps a fevered pace, both conceptually and in plot. But for his evocative descriptions, you would want to read the book overnight. You may do so anyway.

'The Chronoliths' covers a lot of time a small number of pages, and at times I found myself wish that there was more to see in Wilson's awful and prophetic world. He takes his speculations into economic and political realms as well as scientific and social and everywhere he goes he displays a natural ease. Though 'The Chronoliths' itself does a lot of contemplation of alternate timelines and is purely imaginative from the first page, Wilson seems to be writing about a world he knows intimately. We can only hope that he remains the sole repository of that knowledge.