John Twelve Hawks: The Traveller (Fourth Realm Trilogy #1) (Corgi Books, 2006).
“Freedom is the biggest myth ever created. It’s a destructive, unachievable goal that has caused a great deal of pain. Very few people can handle freedom. A society is healthy and productive when it’s under control.” (p. 294)
John Twelve Hawks is a man with a mission. He is desperately worried about the state of our society and how we are being monitored more and more with each passing year, how surveillance cameras are being put up everywhere and how our information becomes more and more available to access for more people. His point of view is expressed throughout the novel – but even more clearly in the short essay at the end of the book, ‘How We Live Now’ where he talks about the technology used to monitor us now and how it is used – and sometimes abused. I must admit that his talk about smart surveillance cameras that can scan our faces, compare them to databases, put a name to our face and ‘cry wolf’ if someone walks through a city like London in an unusual way – meaning it will post a warning at a police station or something similar – scared me a bit.
Before reading this book, I felt that if you didn’t have something to hide, then it didn’t matter if you were being photographed. But when reading a book like this, the great bonus is that it makes you think and I don’t care for being photographed and maybe flagged in some way because I don’t walk through a city like everybody else. Of course it’s an invasion of privacy – but it’s also a wish for conformity, an attempt to make us all very similar. And I don’t like that – I like individuality, I like being allowed to stand out if I so wish. Now I know for most of us, we don’t have time to stand out very much in our daily life but I want to be allowed to do so. Not only for my own individual pleasure and joy of life but individuality is also needed to make great discoveries, great advances in science etc. I don’t like the way society seem to be headed, I certainly don’t want my book shopping to be monitored to see if I buy the wrong books, and I do think we’re somewhat overreacting to the threats out there. Of course, the state and the government have to protect us – but the price need to be fair.
Now when reading fiction where the author has such a strong message he wants to come across with, it sometimes hamper the book. And it does that in this one as well. When the action stops and one of the character gives a speech – either one of the good guys against surveillance and ‘big brother is watching’ or one of the bad guys for conformity and constant surveillance, the book slows down and then it picks up pace again when the action continues and there’s no more time for talk.
But even with that being said, I really like the book. Hawks puts a light on our society, the way we live today, and although it’s very black-and-white, it’s still illuminating.
He distinguishes between four categories of people. There are of course the Travellers – these are people who are able to cross between the 6 realms we know of. They can leave their physical body and travel to these other realms and through this, they become very wise. Because Travellers can travel outside this reality, they are able to see the walls of the prison, modern technology and surveillance technology have created. This means that not everyone is happy with them. Therefore, we have the Tabula – or the Brethren, as they call themselves – a group of people who have made it their goal to kill every Traveller. And a group which job has been made so much easier by modern technology – so much easier, that they have almost succeeded in killing off every Traveller – and Harlequins, who are the warriers opposing the tabula. The Harlequins see it as their goal to protect the Travellers and try to keep off the grid, to live as random as possible (along the same lines as in Luke Rhinehart‘s book The Dice Man). The fourth group is the rest of us – the citizens, as the Harlequins (somewhat contemptuously) call us.
In this first installment in the Fourth Realm Trilogy we meet all four groups. Maya is a young woman whose father, Thorn, is a Harlequin. Maya has tried to leave that life behind but when her father is brutally killed, she decides to do the last thing he asked of her – to go to USA and protect two young men, Michael and Gabriel, whose father was a Traveller and who might be Travellers themselves. Getting there is rather difficult and when finally there, she discovers that one of the brothers, Michael, has already been taken by the Tabula.
This is in a lot of ways a standard action book with lots of fighting, travelling, hiding, finding people that can help and staying out of danger – but with the added plot of a group of people who wants to take control of everything and everyone and two other groups opposing these.
When this book was published in 2005, there was a lot of hype about it. Mostly because no one know who the author really is. There are small pieces of information about ‘him’ that people have tried to piece together to guess who ‘he’ is (guesses have been Stephen King, Michael Cunningham and more) but no one knows for sure still. In the essay at the end he writes I feel strongly about the growing power of computer monitoring systems, and that belief has a great deal to do with my decision to retain a private life – even when dealing with my agent and publisher. It seemed hypocritical for an author to attack the loss of privacy in our society and then display his personal life to promote a book.” (p. 598-599). As I see it, either he is a already know author who uses this pseudonym to write a totally different type of books and the whole thing is a construct, or he is a truly idealistic person who feels very strongly about this. In either case, we might never learn who he is.
Wow. I had never heard of this book before now, but I definitely want to read it.
the book sounds interesting. i should put it in my book list.
I highly recommend this one! Unfortunately, the next two in the series are not at the same standard.