Yes, there has been a lot of marketing hype regarding the hyper-anonymity of Mr. John Twelve Hawks who, like his countercultural characters in "The Traveler," has supposedly decided to live off "the Grid" and avoid exposing his precious identity in a post-9/11 world where the government has increased its surveillance of citizens under the guise of anti-terrorism paternalism. And yes, one could engage in an endless debate over whether this book is best labeled as speculative fiction, techno-thriller, urban fantasy, or science fiction.
But these issues, while perhaps interesting topics of discussion, are ultimately much less relevant than the fact that this is a highly entertaining thriller, with a premise that will appeal to fans of "The Matrix" franchise and an anti-control theme that will resonate with conspiracy lovers and Robert Heinlein readers. Heinlein once wrote that "political tags - such as royalist, communist, democrat, populist, fascist, liberal, conservative, and so forth - are never basic criteria. The human race divides politically into those who want people to be controlled and those who have no such desire." Mr. Hawks's work fully embraces this same theme as well as the Aldous Huxley-ish viewpoint that science without mysticism is ultimately meaningless.
In the tradition of the best thriller writers, the author manages to avoid the pitfalls common to many first-novelists, juggle multiple points of view, and keep the pages turning with cliffhanger chapters. He also writes with a direct, unpretentious style that aids in the suspension of disbelief and fits well with the technology-laden world he has created. And his characters, particularly Maya and Gabriel, have more depth than the cookie-cutter heroes common to books of this sort.
At times, this book teeters on the edge of becoming an over-the-top amalgamation of too many proven Hollywood elements (martial arts, quantum physics, Buddhist meditation, "Highlander"-esque chases, a "Terminator"-like bodyguard, travel to other dimensions a la "The Matrix," etc.), but the author's palpable passion for the philosophical threads running through the book somehow links everything together in a way that is both entertaining and mentally stimulating.
on June 30, 2005
The author (whoever he or they might be) knows the conventions of the genre, though I wonder whether the genre this is meant for is really film or print. There's been a tremendous amount of publicity around this book. I even wonder how many of the ecstatic reviews posted are from publicists. Certainly the people determined to make this into a product like Harry Potter or The DaVinci Code are at least as diligent -and perhaps as powerful - as the Tabula who run the world in the book.
The set-up for the story is pretty good. The author postulates the six realms of Buddhist teaching (gods, demi-gods, humans, animals, hungry ghosts, hell) as real places coexisting in the universe. The realm we live in is the human realm, fourth in the numbering system used by the author. OK, an interesting spin on the many realities idea used so well by Philip Pullman in "His Dark Materials".
Our world is controlled by a secret society and the events in the news are staged to keep us ordinary folk distracted and diverted while the people who really run the show do - well we don't get to learn what they actually do except know people who can do things for them everywhere and try to stamp out the Travelers, who are able to do out-of-body travel to the other realms and then come back with insights that make people less like sheep, and the Harlequins, who don't write Romance novels as you might think, but are instead extraordinarily trained and dedicated fighters who protect Travelers. Sort of The Matrix and a few others.
In the time covered by this book, the bad guys have changed their strategy with the Travelers. They want to capture one and use him to communicate better with beings from another realm (we don't know in this book whether and how that will come about, or even which real it is but it doesn't look as if any good will come of it[shades of Peter Hamilton]). They still want to destroy the few(?) remaining Harlequins.
This book, like most first books in trilogies, is primarily set-up for what follows. It's not especially well done in that regard. There are a lot of pages of characters telling each other things that we readers need to know and they aren't especially gracefully worked in to the narrative. The chapters tend to end with cliffhangers, some nicely done.
Maya, the Harlequin we spend most of the book with, has some traces of shading as a character. The other characters are pretty flat.
I'm at something of a loss in assessing this book. The interesting world alluded to in it is not very evocatively created (read Dan Simmons's Hyperion books to see what can be done), as a thriller it's nowhere near "Eye of the Needle" or Tim Powers's "Declare". It's a workmanlike book, no better. It's good to see a major publishing house get behind a work of speculative fiction but this one almost could have been written from market research. It never seems to take pleasure in telling a story. That troubles me.
on August 7, 2006
Is the Traveler by John Twelve Hawks the best thing since sliced bread? No. Is it an incredibly original plot? Definitely not. However, it is still a page-turner and combines all of the derivative elements others have noted into a satisfying adventure/martial arts/sci fi novel.
The main protagonist, Maya, is a Harlequin, although a reluctant one-- she has been trained to devote her life to protecting Travelers, people who can shift into alternate universes. However, she doesn't really want to be a Harlequin, but she is forced into it by her father's death. She takes on her assigned duty of protecting Gabriel and Michael because it is her duty, not because of any emotional affection she may have for either of them.
When Michael is captured by the opposition, who want to use him for their own nefarious purposes, she focuses her energy and her fighting expertise on protecting Gabriel. She stubbornly tries to focus on the mission while he just as persistently tries to focus on the human side of things-- demanding that Maya take risks in order to save friends or intervene when a group of road warriors terrorize a waitress and her father at a roadside cafe.
Yes, the symbolism of Michael and Gabriel hits you rather heavily between the eyes (think archangels, folks.) However, I still enjoyed the book. There's nothing wrong with derivative fiction if it's done well and if the author puts his or her own twist on it. John Twelve Hawks accomplishes this in The Traveler, and I look forward to reading the next book in the series.
on August 21, 2005
It would be unfair to say that the Traveller is a concoction of Brave New World, 1984, the Da Vinci Code, and The Matrix, because it is a much more literary and thoughtful work than that that statement would otherwise imply, analysing some of the major themes of life in an unusual way. This novel fulfils many of the aspects of science fiction that I, personally, enjoy, and despite a certain fixation with swords, and despite the non-motorcyclists' belief that somebody riding a bike can use a weapon with his right hand and maintain the speed of the motor cycle, the novel is worryingly believable. The simple writing conveys an atmosphere of menace emanating from what one normally considers boringly mundane systems and certainly realises the worst nightmares of conspiracy theorists and paranoids.
The heroine or, perhaps, more correctly, anti-heroine is engagingly real in her mental anguish and uncertainties just as her charge is a convincingly vulnerable young man.
With all books of this sort of genre, published these days, one has a lingering suspicion that they are really being written for the bigger money of the film industry but, in this case, the writer comes across strongly as someone who is definitely trying to put across a message, ahead of making big money, although retaining anonymity could be seen as a bit of a gimmick, and the timing of the book could not be more appropriate - when so much new and constraining legislation is being used under the banner of anti-terrorism.
Anyway... despite these small cribs, I found it an excellent read, exciting and thought provoking.
on September 19, 2009
After skimming a few of the high praising reviews for this book I have to sit back and wonder if we are all reading the same book. Like so many of the people here I was attracted by the title, and the cover, and reading the back of the book it promises much within. The problem is that it's all promises and no delivery.
Let me start with my biggest gripe. The prose. It's atrocious. It's horrendous. So much of it could've been weeded out if someone had done a serious readthrough of the book, but Jonathan Twelve Hawks (or whatever his real name is) is spending far too much time trying to "live off the grid" according to his little biography excerpt to actually revise his work. I know that just stating something like that will be a way to get flamed, so let me give you an example. Turn with me to page 215 of your mass market paperback copy. At the top of the page there is a jewel of a sentence. "Gabriel did something to the motorcycle so that it got even louder." We're never told what exactly he did to it. Did he stick a card in the spokes? Did he make brmmm brmmm noises like a child would do to simulate the sound of a motorcycle? Did he (and this is just a shot in the dark) maybe rev the engine? Or gun it? Just a paragraph down there's another great example where he's pulled over to a gas station, and what does he do? "He filled up his motorcycle's fuel tank," what about he filled the bike's tank, or just the bike? And don't think that these are the only examples. Look around the earlier portions of the book. A character is described looking at someone like they were about to destroy everyone.
Then we'll go to the pacing of the action. A scene where our Harlequin gets to use her oft over-described samurai sword to mess a couple of dudes up. Right? Chick with samurai sword and lots of training, and two thugs who don't know the she-train that's about to hit them. Sounds like a good setup, but at the pace of his prose there is no intensity, or emotional urgency to the situation, leaving the action even more bland than the prose.
Don't forget about story either. We spend over half the book reading about "the vast machine" and "the grid" (in quotations like they are brand new concepts that Mr. Twelve Hawks came up with). We hear about what travelers are (I won't be a spoil sport, but their super powers get withheld from us worse than the monster in most horror films until the very last bits). The thing about hearing about all these people is that we never quite get a real understanding over the importance of it all. All we know is the vast machine is bad because it wants to control us, and the travelers are good because they want to free us...His relentlessly bad prose does little to expound on this for the first 200 pages of the book, and it's like the characters are talking around in circles without ever coming to a conclusion.
In Stephen King's memoir of the craft, On Writing, he makes a point of telling us to read everything, outside of our genre, inside our genre, nonfiction, fiction, and bad prose. Wait, bad prose you say? Yep. Being able to identify bad writing, and elucidate why it's bad allows us as writers (and readers) to grow more appreciative of those with skill.
This....is one of those moments.
on March 6, 2007
A good way through this book, I figured I would be giving it a three star review as a passable thriller with a nicely mysterious premise, some well-phrased portions, and a bit of tension, but also with too little plot, too much repetition, and pacing issues due to the somewhat densely written narative. (Unlike some other reviewers, I can believe this is a first time author--if nothing else due to occasional point-of-view shifts mid-scene that are an issue with many novice authors and which a good editor should have found and fixed. Pacing alone sets this apart from the likes of Dan Brown, Steve Berry, Douglas Preston, and Lincoln Child.) But, as I continued along, too many things began to bother me. Foremost was the lack of forethought by supposedly intelligent people, mostly on the Brethren side (bad guys are often played too incompetently). For instance: (a) it is hard to imagine that a super secret agency (other than the CIA in the terrible Mission Impossible movie) has failed to give any thought whatsoever as to how to maintain top secret information in the event of a fire (the Brethren have virtually unlimited power and money--they can't have their own fire station?); (b) a General works to give critters from another realm access to ours without any apparent thought that they might be a harmful influence or an invading army; and (c) despite awareness of the ruthlessness and resources of the bad guys, innocents are constantly put at risk unnecessarily and without any thought to the consequence and not just by the Harlequin (Gabriel spill the beans to Michael on where he is and who has helped him without a moment's hesitation). Second, the back and forth of a series of chases without any serious discussion of what these other realms actually have to offer the Traveler begins to wear (Why exactly would we want to connect with hungry ghosts and a hell dimension?). Third, the author's apparent belief in a vast conspiracy of watchers leaks through too often, making the book increasingly preachy. And finally, the lack of an end to the book and the intentionally hidden fact that this was merely part one to a book that is not a stand-alone work is beyond irritating. I suspect some will find this review too critical, but I guess you can just consider me underwhelmed after being over-hyped.
on May 29, 2006
Wow! This is an amazing book. I read between 150 and 200 books a year and I must say that this is one of the best books I have read in a decade. It is like a cross between the Matrix and Blade Runner, or Dan Brown's Angel's and Demons and a Tom Clancy novel. Or like a little known author James Bryon Huggins, it has mystery, suspense and intrigue, weapons and people who know how to use them.
The main premise is that there is a war going on in this world, but it is a war that most are unaware of. Like all wars there are two sides, The Harlequin's and the Tabula or as they prefer to be called `The Brethren'. The Harlequin's are warriors committed to protecting the Travelers; Travelers are people who have the ability to send their life energy from their body and travel to other realms. They are lonely isolated people who live to serve. The travelers often become gurus or healers or prophets. The traveler's after returning from a different plane of existence return changed and their views of life challenge other people to look at their own lives and to seek something more. The Tabula on the other hand want to control the world. They want to have control over every person's life.
Michael and Gabriel Corrigan are brothers and believed to be the last descendants of travelers. Michael ends up with the Tabula and Gabriel with the Harlequin's. This becomes a battle between good and evil, and a battle between brothers, like Cain and Able of old, the brothers will war. Also of significance is their names, only three angels are named by name in the Bible, and the brothers each bare one of those three names.
The book is a literary treasure filled with religious and literary reference from around the world and across traditions. It is a book for book lovers who will be intrigued by finding all the reference, yet the story is strong enough to capture the imagination of even the most casual of readers.
I believe this is a book that anyone could enjoy, and I can only hope that the characters will return in a sequel to continue the story.
(First Published in 'Imprint' 2005-05-06 as 'Traveling Through Life')
on September 6, 2007
Just finished The Traveler. I don't think I'll be reading the sequels. Very unfulfilling. Not trash, but having just graduated with a creative writing degree I have to say that it seems like the book went to print without an editor. It's rife with cliches. The phrasing is awkward at times. The similes feel forced. The action is minimal and poorly rendered (When you're doing a "spinning back-kick" steel-toed boots don't help much since you're mking contact with the sole of your foot.) The secret history aspect of the book leaves much to be desired. (The Illuminatus Trilogy blows the doors off this lightweight if you're looking for age-old conspiracies.) Honestly, there were so many instances where I wished that I could have given some feedback to this inept writer before the book went to print. I'm not saying he's terrible, but for the amount of hype that this book have been getting...let's save our genuine praise for books of more merit. There is a huge void in this genre, and I think that this book is doing so well due to a lack of competition; it is filling that void in a way that Clancy and Brown aren't really capable of. I can't think of any books published in the last year that are along the same lines. People want this kind of a story, but they want it done well, with characters that have depth and action that matches the story's ambition. For sci-fi I think I'm going to stick with Asimov, Simmons, Card, and Bradbury for a while. The Traveler was enough junk food to last me a few years. If anything, though, it is a nice example of what not to do, or at least what can be done with minimal effort. I would say that it shows promise. Maybe in a few years Mr. Twelve Hawks will have organized his philosophy and weaved it into something that sounds more like storytelling and less like preaching.
on November 12, 2005
The following review is for the unabridged audiobook of "The Traveler", so please keep that in mind.
After listening to the abridged version of "The Da Vinci Code" and listening to the wonderful narration, I was somewhat disappointed in the unabridged "The Traveler" not just for its lackluster narration, but also for the seemingly haphazard combination of fantasy and reality which is supposed to be convincing in the book.
The story was also filled with plot holes and in all honesty, the character development was not so great. I didn't think this was possible in an unabridged book...but c'est la vie.
Again, back to my initial complaints.
The narration was tolerable, but with the breadth of multi-ethnic characters in the book, all of them of different ages and backgrounds, you'd expect the narrator to at least have more than three distinct voices. I'd say that there are at least TEN important characters in the book: one 'European' woman, her father, two African-Americans, two Caucasian brothers, one ex-military general, one anal security manager, one Japanese-born-and-American-raised worker, and a scientist from New England. Of course there are many more minor characters, but regardless, the narrator only has three voices - his own, a nasal European accent that fluctuates between feminine and masculine, and an 'American' accent that goes from chicano to samoan to ebonic to southern to east-coast...you get the picture.
My other complaint is that the combination of fantasy and reality that the author wants to be convincing is just not plausible. In the story, the world is being controlled by "the tabula" who want to watch your every move while you're in "the grid". This 'grid' involves anything which can be connected to some sort of infrastructure, whether it be credit cards or property ownership or internet usage or using your real name...There are ways to get around the 'grid'...or are there?
According to the author, you can avoid the 'grid' by:
-Living in a commune in Southwest Arizona (this commune is connected to the Internet, owns their land, and makes their money by providing remote technical support to large companies)
-Using a satellite phone (let's not forget that satellite traffic is monitored because satellite bandwidth has to be owned and distributed)
-Wearing costumes and concealing your fingerprints (oh, by the way, every character that wears a costume is always carrying A METAL CASE CONTAINING A FREAKING SWORD!!!)
-Using "soft language" on the Internet to avoid the "carnivore trackers" online (I'm sure the ISP's of those who are avoiding the grid are sharing lots of music and movies online as well, since they're NEVER TRACKED DOWN)
I actually found this inconsistency entertaining...
But, I can go past the negatives and say the following positive things about this book:
-There's a neat and unexpected interview with the author after the story...if you think the plot holes in the book were glaring, you have to imagine the huge "reality holes" that the author probably needs to fill.
-The main character is a woman. I'm not sure why I find this to be so positive, but I do.
-All ethnic groups are positively portrayed. Yes. Even Samoans.
on February 10, 2008
I bought this book at my local bookseller over a year ago based on the good reviews on the back cover. Read about 10 pages and gave up - it was that bad. Just bought the book again by accident because it had a different cover - but again based on all the good reviews. This time I really tried to stay with it and give it a fair shake - I mean there must be some good reason for all those great reviews. But after getting to page 200 and STILL not caring about any of the characters and STILL finding the story, well, pretty boring, I'm just not willing to put any more energy into it. I guess I'll never find out what happens - and you know what, I don't care!
The writing itself is bad - but I'd be willing to overlook that if there was a interesting story somewhere in all that awful writing - but there just isn't. I don't understand the reviews comparing this book to The Matrix or the Blade Runner. This story has so many potholes as well as unbelievable characters, dialogue, transitions, background stories - all of it just so weak. I can't tell you how many times I thought, You've got to be kidding!