you spend a day in London, you will be photographed no fewer
than 200 times. As a paranoid Alan Moore noted in V For
Vendetta, cameras are everywhere. If you believe author
John Twelve Hawks, it's all part of "the Vast Machine,"
the culmination of a millennial struggle between two ancient
secret societies that will leave us with no private lives
or possibly even private thoughts.
Twelve Hawks admits to writing fiction, but his latest novel,
The Dark River has enough elements of reality in
it to make it a more than slightly uncomfortable read. That's
as it should be, as this stew of science fiction and new
age mysticism posits a world not too far from our own -
in fact, it can't be much more than five minutes into the
The second book in a trilogy called "The
Fourth Realm," The Dark River still flows pretty
easily if you haven't read the first book, The Traveler.
Though a few early passages seem clunky as Twelve Hawks
gets readers up to speed, that's more because the publisher
Doubleday had already lifted them out and put them in a
Left to its own rhythms, this novel sort
of sneaks up on you. Opening in a small community that prides
itself on living "off the grid," it would seem that The
Dark River might be about the struggles of trying to
be a utopia in a dystopian world. The people of New Harmony
follow the teachings of Matthew Corrigan, one of the last
"Travelers." All should be well as they grow their own food,
get along with their neighbors, and naturally do a lot of
arts and crafts.
Unfortunately, these government helicopters
are on their way. In the first of Twelve Hawks' genuinely
creepy touches, they're loaded with soldiers who have taken
a pre-traumatic stress pill, aka Pits, that keeps them from
ever feeling guilt about slaughtering innocents. If the
government isn't developing such a thing right now, you
know it's only a matter of time.
For New Harmony, it's over before the story
can even begin. A secret cabal calling themselves The Brethren
want to stamp out all traces of the Travelers. The Brethren's
enemies call them The Tabula, for they see humanity as a
blank slate upon which they can write fear and order. Unfortunately
for those enemies, The Brethren have pretty much taken over.
Our only hope would be the Travelers, men
capable of transporting their consciousness from Earth,
the Fourth Realm, into one of six other realms. They can
then bring back teachings of peace and light and it's really
not as preachy as it sounds. Though sometimes it's a narrow
escape, Twelve Hawks does keep avoiding the trap of stopping
and lecturing the reader about philosophy.
Instead, you can glean a few messages from
characters' behavior, most dramatically through the warrior
society pledged to protect the Travelers. Inexplicably labeled
Harlequins, these soldiers of the spirit forsake love for
duty, and as the novel progresses, that gets examined from
a lot of different angles. It isn't just the reader noticing
some sort of irony in these emotionless people trying to
Twelve Hawks cleverly ties in a lot of
action. Nobody has much time to moralize, as the Tabula
works on its Shadow program that keeps tabs on you through
a virtual avatar. To stop it, nascent Traveler Gabriel joins
forces with a band of Free Runners and …well, they're just
as exciting to read about as they are to watch in action.
Since Twelve Hawks talks a lot about other
Realms, he has to let us visit, too. Though he keeps the
violence fairly circumspect, he has created a pretty disturbing
vision of Hell, the First Realm, and by the time that gets
introduced, you'll have been hooked for a while.
it was easy to get into the novel without having read the
first book, reaching the end will be difficult, because
you know it's going to be a while before the third
you buy the book, also check out John
Twelve Hawks' website, which is full of resources to
help you up your social awareness -- and sense of responsibility.