Hype. The modern American way of getting attention. It seems to have worked for John Twelve Hawks, the pseudonym for the author of The Traveler.
The book is a cautionary tale set in the near future (or today) about the pervasiveness of surveillance and intrusions on privacy. Twelve Hawks claims to live “off the grid,” avoiding contact with “the Vast Machine,” the worldwide system of computer systems and cameras that track our daily lives. Twelve Hawks isn’t doing a book tour. He doesn’t do media appearances or interviews. He has not met with his publisher in person, speaking only by satellite phone. Random House has launched a sophisticated web page for the book. There are plans for it to be the first in a three-book series, and the movie rights already have been optioned.
All this hype has pushed Twelve Hawks and his book into the pages of the national press and on to The New York Times bestseller list. Hype may be necessary because the tale boils down to a battle between the Illuminati and Buddhist/new age philosophy over whether anyone will retain any privacy in the modern world.
The world of The Traveler consists basically of four groups. At top are the Brethren, also know as the Tabula. They control the computer systems and surveillance cameras, and are the shadows behind what are essentially puppet governments. For decades, they have been hunting and exterminating The Travelers, individuals with the ability to have their inner “Light” leave their body and travel to different realms. Travelers have been responsible for bringing beneficial change to the world throughout history. Travelers are guarded by the Harlequins, ninja-like martial arts and weapons experts whose sole purpose is to protect Travelers from harm and combat the Tabula. Like the Brethren, Harlequins have virtually disappeared in modern society. Everyone else is a “citizen,” more accurately, drones going about their lives ignorant of the true state of affairs.
Almost all Travelers have been eradicated, but the Brethren now want to find a Traveler and use a quantum computer to map his or her brain during travel to another realm. Michael and Gabriel Corrigan are the sons of a Traveler believed to have been killed by the Tabula when they were adolescents. The Corrigans, though, do not know their father was a Traveler. In fact, no one knows if Michael or Gabriel might be Travelers. Still, the Brethren are searching for them, to find out if they are Travelers and, if so, make one or both of them part of their plan. At the same time, Maya, a Harlequin in England who has fought being a Harlequin her entire life, sets out on a mission to locate and protect the Corrigans from the Brethren.
Twelve Hawks bases this good vs. evil story on a confrontation between an amalgam of ideas and modern technology. The Brethren plainly are patterned on the Illuminati, and seek to render society a “virtual Panopticon.” The Panopticon was a prison designed by 18th-century philosopher Jeremy Bentham, in which every inmate could be under continuous surveillance with a minimum of guards or effort, without the inmates knowing if they were currently being observed. Likewise, the realms Travelers visit are six realms from Buddhist teaching. Our world is the fourth realm, the realm of humans.
The Brethren avail themselves of many of the buzzwords of post-9/11 society, such as the “Carnivore” software used to track electronic communications, radio frequency identification (RFID) tags, and the “Terrorism Information Awareness” program proposed by the Pentagon. The Travelers, in turn, may be proof of “brane theory,” a current theory in physics that indicates there are more than just our three physical dimensions. There is even use of a variation of neural implants for depression, a treatment just approved by the FDA last week.
Still, this book’s success to date seems to be based on its hype. Telling the public you’ve published a book examining threats to our privacy in the context of a battle between the Illuminati and new-agers isn’t likely to put the book on the bestseller list. Yet that is exactly what this is. Moreover, the characters tend to be clichéd and flat. It is also heavy-handed at times. For example, the head of security for the Brethren’s project to find and utilize a Traveler says things like:
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.
Most infuriating is the book does not indicate to or otherwise forewarn the reader that it is only the first of a series. As such, there is no real resolution; The Traveler largely introduces the character cast and sets the stage for future books. Absent having obtained the information elsewhere, the reader finds this out with the last six words of the book: “Book One of the Fourth Realm.”
While The Traveler does raise interesting issues about the loss of privacy in modern society, it doesn’t rise above the level of a summer read. And hiding the ball on being only the first in a series means any future books in this realm—or any other—are coming from the local library, not my pocketbook.