For a long time I haven’t done a much reading of fiction. Often I’m not sure what I want to read or I’m stressed and I don’t want to read anything too serious. I haven’t even read much sci-fi/fantasy in the last few years. Although I’m familiar with the genera through movies, I don’t think I have read any of the famous cyberpunk novels.

So John Twelve Hawks’ novel “The Traveler” was a pleasant surprise. (Thank you Mom!) Certainly The Traveler isn’t high fiction, but it explores interesting themes, primarily the increasing levels of electronic monitoring we are all facing. To summarize: An epic battle between the forces of evil who want to maintain the status quo vs. the forces of good who want to spread peace, love and understanding across the world.

The Good Guys:
travelers-Spiritual leaders who are able to astral project, exploring other worlds and bring back the wisdom they find there.
harlequins- A sort of order of knights templar, sworn to protect the travelers, avoiding being detected by electronic surveillance of “the grid” through use of all sorts of disguises and random (literally random) behaviors.

The Bad Guys:
the tabula-Monitor our every move, killing or disappearing anyone who expresses any dangerous thoughts .

Overall a very entertaining book, very fast paced. I especially like that the traveler is a man and the harlequin who protects him is a woman. She has no problem destroying her enemies and isn’t karmically punished at the end of the book for doing so. There are a number of other strong female characters in the book, but the main point is that people’s roles in the novel aren’t determined by their gender.

Unfortunately although the themes and characters are fascinating, the plot is fairly transparent. The details of the final showdown are revealed slowly and but the central confrontation is obvious within the first 75 pages, so it’s not much of a thriller. Also, there’s quite a bit of hype surrounding this book, especially rumors that the author actually lives off the grid and his true identity is unknown to even his publishers. (Pretty transparent stunt.)

I recently read something comparing the purpose of science fiction literature to classical “high” literature. In contrast to classical literature, in which the plot and characters are central, in science fiction the plot and characters are simply vehicles for exploring cultural trends and moral dilemmas. Maybe that’s why I like it.

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