The Chronoliths

Posted by : atcampbell | On : October 15, 2002

The Chronoliths by Robert Charles Wilson

Fourteen people attended this discussion at Jeff and Judy’s home, and two submitted comments by email. Our topic, the near-future science fiction thriller The Chronoliths, was a recent Hugo nominee. In this book, large artifacts start mysteriously appearing all over the Earth. These artifacts, called chronoliths, bear messages declaring future military victories. The story follows a group of scientists trying to figure out how the chronoliths are getting sent from the future, why they are being sent, and how to avert the supposedly inevitable conquest of the planet. Nine of us had started the book, and all finished it.

We thought this book had an interesting premise and the author developed it well. We enjoyed that much of the action took place in unusual locations like Thailand, Minneapolis, and El Paso. The fast-paced action and Wilson’s lean writing style produced a fast reading experience. We found the emergence of new political groups in response to the artifacts to be believable, particular the youth movement that celebrated the future conqueror. Most of the details of the science were kept offstage, which seemed appropriate for this story that focused on human responses. We appreciated the moral dilemmas of the scientists as they started to figure out what was going on. Several of us thought The Chronoliths would make a good movie or episode of The Twilight Zone.

One person had a dissenting opinion. He felt that the author did not understand physics, the characters were mundane, and the computer programming in the book was bad. His comment on the premise was “One simple time loop. Duh.” He thought the story was unexceptional, but did admit that the book was well written and could be read quickly. He thought the book’s best elements were its title and its short length.

Even those of us who liked the book found problems. A few of us felt that the author made narrative choices that distanced us from the characters. The use of first person viewpoint with intrusive comments from a later time frame was distracting. And having a viewpoint character with a self-described “emotional deep freeze” decreased the emotional intensity for the reader.

We had disagreements about the book’s ending. About half of us found it was appropriate for the story, while the rest wanted more answers to be provided.

Overall we thought The Chronoliths was a good book, and its topic provided us with a lively discussion. After the meeting, many of us had dinner at Brick Oven.

— A. T. Campbell, III