Book Review of “The Traveler (Fourth Realm Trilogy, Book 1)” by John Twelve Hawks

Grounded in the time honored conflict of Good versus Evil and with both sides pitted against paranoia, this novel is set in the present, technology-driven world.  Factors such as the usage of surveillance cameras from either the public or private sector; online activity that can be monitored; and clandestine activities on an international scale – all serve as key elements to the novel’s central theme. The narrator dictates that those who conform to “living on the grid” are monitored by members of “The Tabula”; an entity made up of a small group of powerful and influential people who are literally well connected in the technological sense. Their quest is to maintain global order – as they deem appropriate – through the means of keeping a close watch on everyone and anyone. Those who resist The Tabula, or the “Vast Machine” as they are often referred to in the book, are eventually captured through high tech means and left at the mercy of The Tabula’s unobserved actions. While quite the futuristic sci fi drama, “The Traveler” begs the question – how do we reconcile imposed intrusions on our privacy such as The Patriot Act with modern day tools that aid in preventing – or minimizing – criminal and/or terrorist acts?

Although the story’s premise is interesting given its relevancy, the writing style is often didactic and outright corny. About a third of the way into the story, “I got it” and toyed with the idea of not finishing the book (something I rarely do). This was right around the time of the Boston Marathon bombing. No doubt, surveillance from both public and private sources as well as the tracking of activities through technological means helped in identifying and ultimately capturing the bombers. So I decided to continue reading “The Traveler” out of curiosity to see if any parallels could be drawn between the story line and a Post 9-11 bombing. There weren’t any beyond the issues of mass surveillance and government dealings on a global scale.

“The Traveler” continued in true sci fi form. Two of the main characters are gifted with the ability to travel between realms or dimensions. When they meet in these other realms, they are adversaries. Their ability however to travel to other dimensions gives them access to a civilization with advanced technologies that can enhance that of The Tabula’s and in turn, provide the group with even more power and control. Yet one Traveler opposes The Tabula while the other Traveler is out to further its cause. Complicating the struggle between the two Travelers, is that they are brothers. Political espionage and romance also add further intrigue.

The author’s name – John Twelve Hawks – is a pseudonym according to the novel and an individual who claims to live off the grid himself (herself?). This in and of itself is not only a clandestine act which serves to reinforce one of the novel’s main elements but also a political statement since it is difficult to discern if the paranoia based on an imaginary (or real?) Vast Machine is grounded in ideology, or dictates, from the Far Right or the Far Left without the author’s identity. Clever move.

“The Traveler” is somewhat in lockstep with Stephen King’s sci fi novel “11/22/63” where the main characters are able to travel back in time in order to rewrite history ostensibly for the betterment of the world. Eventually, the line between good and evil becomes blurred in “11/22/63” as is the case for “The Traveler”. The reader cannot help but question whether the Vast Machine is a good element for society, a danger, or somewhere in between.

This novel is an entertaining, page-turner so long as the reader is willing to suspend disbelief. As for Books 2 and 3 of the trilogy, there are plenty of reviews available “on the grid” that provide enough of a snapshot to sum up the tale’s conclusion. “The Traveler” on its own however is a perfect read during your commute, at a café over lunch, or simply in the privacy of your home. But while reading the novel, that little voice that lives inside everyone’s head will be gnawing away asking – Am I being monitored?

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