Chad Orzel, Trent Goulding, and the Hugo nominators had fairly positive things to say about Robert Charles Wilson’s The Chronoliths, and Chad managed to clear up my misconception that Robert Charles Wilson was Robert Anton Wilson, so I thought I’d give the book a whirl.
As you might guess from the title, it’s… not a time-travel novel, exactly, but a novel that deals with time-related stuff. Which means, inevitably, that it sometimes gets fuzzy and quasi-mystical around the edges. On the whole, though, it handles the chronological stuff fairly well, with a minimum of inconsistency and hand-waving.
The titular conceit of the book is that giant monuments begin springing up around the Earth commemorating military conquests by someone or something named “Kuin”—conquests twenty years in the future. Kuin’s identity and the secrets of the chronoliths form the central science fictional mystery of the book.
Interestingly, though, all the science-fictiony stuff is really just background to what is, ultimately, a very personal novel. The book is suffused with the voice of its narrator and protagonist, Scott Warden, writing from old age about the early days of the chronoliths. The tone is one of deep regret and loss; by and large, it's appropriate and achieves the desired emotional tone, but occasionally it veers into “if I had only known then…” excess.
In a way, this is actually a coming-of-age novel; though instead of the usual boy-to-man transition, it’s concerned more with the transition from a young, feckless guy to a mature adult. This is a thematic element that I probably would have ignored if I’d read this book as a teenager, but which resonates particularly with me just now, as I find myself moving into something of a parental role.
The Chronoliths just lost the Hugo to Neil Gaiman’s American Gods; having read both, I’m not inclined to call that outcome an injustice—but if The Chronoliths had won instead, I wouldn’t consider that a bad outcome, either.