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Publisher's Summary

Scott Warden is a man haunted by the past - and soon to be haunted by the future. In early 21st-century Thailand, Scott is an expatriate slacker. Then, one day, he inadvertently witnesses an impossible event: the violent appearance of a 200-foot stone pillar in the forested interior. Its arrival collapses trees for a quarter mile around its base, freezing ice out of the air and emitting a burst of ionizing radiation. It appears to be composed of an exotic form of matter. And the inscription chiseled into it commemorates a military victory - 16 years in the future.

Shortly afterwards, another, larger pillar arrives in the center of Bangkok - obliterating the city and killing thousands. Over the next several years, human society is transformed by these mysterious arrivals from, seemingly, our own near future. Who is the warlord "Kuin" whose victories they note?

Scott wants only to rebuild his life. But some strange loop of causality keeps drawing him in, to the central mystery and a final battle with the future.

©2002 Robert Charles Wilson (P)2009 Audible, Inc.

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  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    3 out of 5 stars

Strong start, anticlimatic ending

A few years in the future, massive monuments marking the victories of a warlord known only as "Kuin" start appearing around the world. The dates on them are about 20 years into the future. As more and more of the monuments appear, it becomes obvious that Kuin is using some unknown technology to not only mark his victories, but to send the announcements into the past - possibly in the belief that warning the world in advance that he's already won will make his victories even more guaranteed.

As scientists scramble to try and figure out how the massive monuments (chronoliths) are being deployed, and theoreticians debate about whether Kuin's actions are self-fulfilling and/or have created a paradox that will change Kuin's very existence, a programmer called Scott gets swept up in the events surrounding the chronoliths and finds his life permanently entwined with them from the appearance of the very first. Through Scott's memoirs we learn of his history with the chronoliths and his involvement, at first just as an observer, but later working with a group of the scientists studying the temporal phenomena around them, and finally involved in an attempt to try and destroy one. Meanwhile the world itself is dramatically changed simply by their arrival; groups of "Kuinists" form, convinced that Kuin is inevitable and that humanity may as well just embrace their future overlord.

The science and in particular the theories around the chronoliths are really interesting, in particular the discussions of how Kuin might have changed time, and the idea that maybe there never was a Kuin, or at least not really a warlord, but if someone managed to send back the chronoliths and convince the world that there WOULD be a Kuin, then it would become a self-fulfilling prophecy as groups like the Kuinists embrace the 'inevitable' and make it come to pass, even if it hadn't ever really been. The science is cleverly written and the story sparks lots of interesting thinking along these lines So why only three stars? Because I found Scott himself a fairly unlikeable character, as are many of the characters in fact. Some aren't terrible, but as they're all seen through Scott's eyes there wasn't a single one I really fell in love with. In addition, Wilson chooses to define all the women in Scott's family (wives and daughters) by their relation to Scott. He is variously savior, swooping in at the last minute to rescue them, or they are beaten up and raped so we can see his reaction to it. They have so little actual existence of their own that we never even seem to find out what happens to his daughter's husband in the end. And yes, the story is told by Scott so to some degree it makes sense that he's telling it as if the world revolves around him, but it still felt like a very self-centered view of the world in which nobody else's character gets to develop and everything that happens to them happens because of its affect on Scott. Nobody in the story has anything happen to them that is irrelevant to Scott, and I just found that made for a rather boring narrative. And I want to know what happened to his daughter's life in the end - actually I'm far more interested in that than what happens to Scott, truth be told.

So in summary: interesting science, thought-provoking time paradoxes, strong start, moderately interesting middle, rather unsatisfying ending, and lots of 'women in refrigerators' revolving around Scott as center of the universe.

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • M. Stephenson
  • McHenry, Illinois USA
  • 2009-11-20

A haunting, beautiful work...

I was taken by Robert Charles Wilson's work first with "Bios" (hint, Audible, hint, hint...) and then with the wonderfully weird and epic "Darwinia." I think "The Chronoliths" is my favorite. This is a compelling, often melancholy novel peopled by sympathetic characters who come alive in their vulnerability, ambivalence and, in the end, profound commitment to helping each other cope with a world made despairing and dysfunctional by forces beyond understanding. The reading is flawless and perfect for this novel, well-paced with good character differentiation and a keen sense of irony, wit and melancholy. My sincerest compliments to Mr. Wyman. While my library of Audible SF readings is ridiculously large, almost begging clinical intervention, this is one that I will be happy to experience more than once. A fine work of character-centered science fiction. God, I wish I could write like RCW!

13 of 13 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars
  • David
  • 2012-04-07

Big Idea SF, family drama story

This is a fine mix of Big Idea SF with human drama on a much smaller scale. The Big Idea is a conqueror from the future named "Kuin" who is somehow able to send massive monuments to his victories back in time, where they stand invulnerable and ominous over the lands he is destined to conquer. The first ones are in Thailand, but over the next few years they appear all over Asia. Some materialize in relatively unpopulated areas, but some appear in the middle of cities, flattening them with shockwaves. Scientists determine (using hand-wavey physics) that these "chronoliths" are indeed from the future, which means Kuin really is going to conquer all of Asia in about twenty years. This sets off global turmoil. Some prepare to fight; others begin urging accommodation or outright capitulation. By the time Kuin's chronoliths are appearing outside of Asia, there are entire "Kuinist" militias and organizations, and of course innumerable warlords in the now-devastated Asian warring states claiming to be Kuin.

This is the backdrop of the story, which is really about Scott Warden and his family. Scott is a kind of mediocre husband and father slacking off in Thailand when the first chronolith appears there. Being one of the first witnesses to the first appearance of the chronoliths inescapably binds him to the events that follow over the next few decades. As he is told by Sulasmith Chopra, the scientist who studies the chronoliths and believes that Kuin can be stopped, "there are no coincidences." Scott goes through a divorce, his ex-wife marries a Kuin accommodationist, his daughter, as a teenager, hooks up with a young Kuinist ideologue who turns out to be a psychopath, which brings Scott together with the psychopath's mother. His drug-dealing friend from his time in Thailand reappears, as do all the other characters we meet over the course of the book.

It's Scott's interactions with his family and friends that are the heart and soul of this book. The characters are not all vivid or interesting, but they are distinct and they each have a purpose in the story, and Scott narrates a compelling story as he weathers a long, brutal economic downturn that turns even the U.S. into an impoverished country, works for Sulasmith Chopra trying to understand who Kuin is and what the chronoliths represent, travels to Mexico to save his daughter from Kuinists who have gone on a "haj" to see the manifestation of the first chronolith in North America, and finally, goes to meet his destiny in a climactic confrontation in Wyoming.

"Kuin" is basically a MacGuffin; ultimately, it doesn't really matter who he is or if he even exists. It's what he represents that drives all the world events. With the rules of time travel Wilson establishes in this book, cause and effect are looped together, so we are finally able to understand why all the small human dramas Scott was involved in add up to something of greater significance at the end. Wilson's take on time travel is intelligent and subtle, and by keeping Kuin a mysterious off-screen presence whose very existence remains in doubt, he makes the whole thing plausible without having to deal with paradoxes, parallel universes, and the like. Wilson has thought through all the implications, and if the end of the story seems like a bit of an anti-climax, it's also one that makes perfect sense.

Wilson's writing is straightforward but occasionally he waxes almost poetic. He's one of those writers who likes to show off his vocabulary, yet even the tech and time travel physics infodumps were brief and clear.

Although this wasn't the most wonderful book in recent memory or a true masterpiece, it's definitely a hidden gem of high quality, and I came very close to giving it 5 stars. Given the eloquent but clear writing, it's a science fiction novel that a non-sci-fi fan might well enjoy, since the time travel and near-future history is only background for the characters and the plot which drive the story. I give it 4.5 stars; it's very good, I just didn't quite find it unique or mindblowing or the characters memorable enough to make it awesome.

11 of 11 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    2 out of 5 stars
  • J. Rhoderick
  • Frederick, MD USA
  • 2010-05-20

Not Wilson's Best

In The Chronoliths, the world is rocked by the sudden arrival of massive obelisks, or "chronoliths," which appear to be a future conqueror's monuments to battles that have not yet occurred. As the chronoliths continue to appear, the world descends into economic and social chaos. Robert Charles Wilson is a brilliant writer and this is standard fare for him: a character story involving normal people caught up in major, world-altering preternatural events.

While The Chronoliths has an interesting premise, it is flat and intensely boring at times. Much of the action occurs elsewhere when the viewpoint character is not present and we are simply told about things that happened. Wilson fails to use the chronoliths' potential. They are fascinating objects but they are reduced to a setting, a mere backdrop by which our hero, Scott Warden, looks retrospectively on his life. To make matters worse, Warden is unlikable and apathetic. We often get the sense that he isn't involved in the story but rather that he just happens to be standing there when the story occurs.

Wilson almost always surprises the reader with something completely unexpected at the end. Unfortunately, there are few surprises here. The chronoliths turn out to be disappointing and less interesting than expected.

The narrator is decent and he has a good voice. Unfortunately, he chose to read Scott's part in a slow, monotone voice that made the character sound constantly stoned. The lack of intonation made the boring bits worse and I often found my mind wandering.

If you're a Wilson fan you may enjoy this one, but it is hardly Wilson's greatest achievement. If you haven't read Spin or Blind Lake, I suggest going there first. Overall, The Chronoliths was anti-climactic. Whereas most Wilson novels leave the reader feeling awed, I finished it thinking, "Is that it?"

11 of 12 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Charles
  • WellingtonNew Zealand
  • 2009-10-06

Entertaining

The Chronoliths is a story about people, and one mans journey through world changing events more than it is about the objects themselves. RCW's stories have always been more about the characters than the sci-fi, and Chronoliths is no different. Don't expect hard sci-fi, don't expect obvious villains and good guys, instead look forward to an entertaining tale about causality, destiny and time.
I enjoyed the narration, Wyman speaks clearly, although the voice he uses for female characters sometimes sounds a little timid and weak.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Julie W. Capell
  • Valparaiso, Chile
  • 2014-05-27

Less interesting than other Wilson titles

By chance, I read this right before reading H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds, and although the two books are separated by more than a century, they clearly share the same basic genetic code. Immense objects appear from out of nowhere, gouging tracks of devastation into the landscape. The objects are beyond human technology and quickly begin to wreak havoc on the Current World Order. The protagonist, our Everyman (who is a white male in both books), accidentally finds himself caught up in the Thick of Things and is there for every Significant Plot Development.

I realize I am sounding cynical and I don’t mean to. In fact, I quite enjoyed The Chronoliths. It is only due to a happy circumstance of timing that I am able to make this comparison between it and that masterpiece of Victorian speculative literature . . . revealing that perhaps not that much has changed in the intervening century. As far as science fiction goes, that may not be such a bad thing. But, unlike other Wilson novels, I thought this one had less interesting ideas in it, and ended with a bit of a whimper.

[I listened to this as an audio book. The narrator, Oliver Wyman, did a fantastic job. As he did on the Z.A. Recht Morningstar Virus books, here he changes voices for every character, helping the listener keep everyone straight. I particularly liked the way he voiced the women, especially Sulasmith Chopra, the scientist who is obsessed with discovering the time-warping secret behind the man responsible for sending the Chronoliths into the past.]

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Amazon Customer
  • 2012-05-24

Not what I had hoped

Would you try another book from Robert Charles Wilson and/or Oliver Wyman?

Probably not. I previously listened to Spin and Axis, and those were ok. This one was not.

Would you recommend The Chronoliths to your friends? Why or why not?

No. It was very slow. Too much telling, and not enough showing. I kept hoping there had been an abridged version available.

What didn’t you like about Oliver Wyman’s performance?

Too low key, but I was especially bothered by the way Sue Chopra was voiced. This is a woman who came to this country when she was 3 years old, and yet she has this vague foreign accent. How does that happen? I didn't hear anything in her history that would justify an accent. I believe she should have been voiced without an accent.

Could you see The Chronoliths being made into a movie or a TV series? Who should the stars be?

No, there is not enough action to hold anyone's attention.

Any additional comments?

I really wanted to like it. I like anything having remotely to do with time travel, and this seemed to fall into that category. However, it was very tedious. I'm sure this is just the ticket for a lot of people. Just not for me.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Mr. Stephen Morton
  • Uk
  • 2012-05-03

Strap in and enter the Tao Turbulance !

Would you listen to The Chronoliths again? Why?

Great story, great narrator !

What was one of the most memorable moments of The Chronoliths?

Interesting ideas and a nice twist on the usual ideas around time travel paradox.

What about Oliver Wyman’s performance did you like?

Narrator does a great job immersing you tin the story.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Robin
  • 2011-07-08

Another great read from Robert Charles Wilson

Wilson weaves a futuristic threat into a world that feels very much like the one we live in now, making it easy to relate to. The characters feel real and are better developed than in many sci-fi books. The premise - a warrior, in the future, conquers one nation after another, and sends monuments of himself into the past (our present) - is inventive and has all sorts of interesting political and psychological factors, which Wilson develops well. I love the way the plot sweeps up a seemingly disparate cast of characters and unfolds across the years of their lives. Big thumbs up.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Jim "The Impatient"
  • 2011-07-23

good writing kept me going

Some writers just know how to put words and thoughts together well enough that you have to listen. This book is depressing and exciting. I am not a fan of books with bleak outlooks, but RW is such a good writer that he can keep your interest with his thoughts, even though you may not like the subject matter. The science in this is exciting, but seems to be a very small part of the book until toward the end. It is written as a narrative, which is not my favorite style. Often in the book he mentions how awful something is and then follows that with, but not as awful as it would become. I believe these type of teasers to be a cheap way out for the writer, and it is especially cheap if the ending does not live up to the billing. Through 75% of it, the book had my full attention, but toward the end my mind started to wonder and I was a little disappointed in the ending, though it keep true to the mood of the whole book.

It may sound like I am hard on the book, but I did give it 4 stars which I do not do lightly. I think it is worth the money, it just might not be your favorite. If you have not read RW, then you should start with Spin.

13 of 20 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Anonymous User
  • 2019-03-18

Unexpectedly Brilliant

I bought this book, only vaguely curious yet I was pleasantly surprised. The book is binding, the story paced well and perfectly balanced between personal history and global events. Thoroughly enjoyable.