Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Review: The Traveler

The audio version of The Traveler by John Twelve Hawks begins with this spooky recording by the author giving you a little intro to the book. He ends by explaining that he lives Off The Grid. It was an awesome way to start the book, as it totally pulled me in.

The Traveler is clearly social commentary on our disappearing ability to lead a truly private life. Twelve Hawks describes a world where all the various bits of information in our life can be easily accessed by one set of really bad guys - be it purchases on our credit card, facial recognition scans from an ATM or what books we've rented at the library. The bad guys, as you can imagine, don't use this information for good.

The result is not only good social commentary, but a terrific SciFi action story. Clearly Twelve Hawks put in a lot of research to make it as believable as possible. By combining existing technology, spirituality and history, I think he's managed to hit his goal. Plus, it's got a sword wielding chick in that totally kicks butt. So that sold me too.

As action adventures stories go, it's clearly a winner.

As for the social commentary side, I found that useful, too. It's so easy to ignore the privacy ramifications of the conveniences we use every day, that stopping and thinking about it is just invaluable. Even if I decide I'm willing to give up privacy (by say, publishing this blog, or having a Visa card and allowing them to track my purchases for fraud detection) - I should do it intentionally. We need the Twelve Hawk's of this world to keep us honest.

Finally, the book did mention one technique that I've actually adopted. In the book, the bad guys abhor random events. It's their goal to have complete order. The good guys, at least the warriors for the good guys, embrace life's randomness, and one way they do so is using a Random Number Generator (RNG). In the book the main character uses her RNG to make tactical decisions - like say, should she take the left or right tunnel (odd number might be left, even right). The idea is that a random decision will be harder to guard against.

I've gone ahead and installed a random number generator on my phone. While I don't intend to use it fight bad guys (unless, say, I wanted to know whether I should flee-left or flee-right), I do think it could be handy for more mundane parts of life. For example, deciding which restaurant to choose, or which museum to see while traveling. Randomness seems like a good way to break out of comfortable patterns and have new experiences.

The Traveler is just the first book in a trilogy, which fortunately has already been written (ahhh, the joy of discovering books that have been published for some time). So, perhaps the best thing I can say about the book, is that I'm eager to read the next two in the series.

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