One-A-Day: The Traveller

I’m going to try very hard to post a least a short commentary on books I’ve read once a day, or close to it, in part to get me away from repetitious entries on a narrow range of issues. Not reviews, just notes and reactions.

I’ll start with a fairly lightweight book, John Twelve Hawks’ The Traveler.

I can’t recall reading a work of light speculative fiction that was more clearly written to be made into a film. At times, it’s practically a screenplay. A lot of the online commentary on the book focuses on enthusiastic attempts to promote the book, which included various attempts at “viral marketing”.

I’ll give it this much: I read it quickly but with some degree of intense interest in what would happen next, even when I was utterly certain what was going to happen next. That’s almost a more difficult trick than writing something truly original: writing something derivative that nevertheless is an involving page-turner. You can pick out all of the riffs and tricks the stripped-down, cinematic narrative is employing (two brothers, one drawn to good, the other evil! a forbidden romance! a grouchy mentor! bad-ass black warrior almost certainly to be played by a lower-rent version of Samuel L. Jackson! reluctant but sexy warrior with father issues!). You can spot the fairly shameless strip-mining of other cultural properties, most notably The Matrix. But damned if it isn’t kind of entertaining. At times, the sketching out of a successfully panoptic society is creepy and evocative enough to start inducing a kind of paranoia. I began to think about the Vast Machine and the Grid and all that about halfway through. The downside to that, like the Matrix trilogy, is that there are probably enough people out there who will take this stuff just seriously enough to feed the pseudonymous author’s tendency towards pretension in later books.

In fact, the set-up for later books (the sequel is already out, but this is one of the most wait-for-the-paperback things I’ve ever read) is both screamingly obvious and kind of annoying. For example, the bad guys, who are kind of a riff on the Illuminati, have been trying to steer human societies towards order and control under their secret rule for millennia. We only really see two of their faceless leadership, one a loyal and remorseless warrior and the other an American General With A Plan.

This group, called the Tabula or the Brethren depending on whether you like them or not, has been hunting down and killing the titular Travellers because the Travellers can send their souls into other dimensions, returning with spiritual insight that tends to disrupt the order and control the Tabula are seeking. But now the General With a Plan has a new gizmo that puts him in contact with intelligences from one of those dimensions. They just want to share knowledge with us, they come in peace, and so on. They have useful ideas, like using genetics to build killer demon-creature animals. When it gets disclosed in passing that one of the realms that the Travellers sometimes visit is more or less Hell, is there anyone in the room who doesn’t know what’s coming next in these books? I guarantee you that the gate to Hell is gonna get opened, or nearly so, and that the remorseless Tabula warrior (a dude named Boone) is going to ally himself with his enemies, etcetera etcetera. What I don’t know is why the steering committee of a group of people who are really, really into order and control would say, “Hey, the General With a Plan wants us to contact alien intelligences from another dimension about whom we know nothing but who have these cool recipes for hideous demon-beast monsters! Let’s go for it!”

Here’s hoping there’s at least a cool action figure of The Vast Machine when the movie comes out.

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