The Traveler (novel)
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Cover of the Doubleday paperback edition
|Author||John Twelve Hawks|
|Series||The Fourth Realm|
|Genre||Science fiction novel|
|Media type||Print (Hardback & Paperback)|
|Followed by||The Dark River|
The Traveler (The Traveller in the UK) is a 2005 New York Times bestselling novel by John Twelve Hawks. The Dark River, book two of The Fourth Realm Trilogy, was published in July 2007. The final part in the trilogy, The Golden City, was released September 8, 2009. The trilogy has been translated into 25 languages and has sold more than 1.5 million books.
The book is set in the near future and lays out a world where the real power lies not with people or governments, but in the hands of a secret organisation who call themselves “the Brethren” but who their enemies refer to as “the Tabula”. The Tabula are a centuries old secret society who believe in the importance of control and stability, making them in essence advocates of a kind of extreme Utilitarianism. Influenced by the ideas of the philosopher Jeremy Bentham the Tabula wish to enforce a Virtual Panopticon: a society where all individuals become so accustomed to being watched and monitored that they act at all times as if they were being observed and are as such completely controllable.
This Virtual Panopticon is made possible through the use of surveillance cameras, centralized databases, RFID-like tags for each citizen, and assorted spy gear (heat sensors, infrared cameras, X-rays, etc...). The Tabula are a relatively small group, operate largely in secret, but they have great power across the planet, in part by manipulating politicians and other powerful individuals/organisation, and in part because of their great wealth and advanced technology, which is in some cases far beyond the technology available to other groups and even governments.
The underlying premise for the realms in which this book is set greatly resembles the cosmology of Tibetan Buddhism (and other eastern cosmologies). Most notably, the second realm is explicitly labelled the realm of the Hungry Ghosts, but each realm in the enumerated hierarchy is associated with a given human shortcoming, much like in Hinduism and Buddhism. The world we inhabit is the fourth realm, and different Travellers can visit one or more of the other realms.
Although the basic plot is not new, the author provides a setting for discussion of larger issues, such as free will, the rapid increase in public surveillance and information gathering, the culture of fear, etc. While the motivations of the Tabula are explored in the book, this is kept at a rather superficial and crude level. Individual members are generally portrayed as either power hungry, psychopathic or deeply prejudiced, and the Tabula are set up as villains set to enslave humanity rather than misguided humanitarians.
The author has written a post-script at the end of the book in which he talks about his reasons for writing the novel and discusses, among other things, the development in western countries regarding surveillance (such as CCTV), data-mining, RFID and GPS, the Information Awareness Office, etc. He claims that all of the technology referred to in the book is either already being used or in the advanced stage of development.
Travelers, Pathfinders and Harlequins
The Travelers are individuals with a special gift, often but not always inherited, which allows them to detach from their bodies and journey through elemental barriers (water, fire etc.) to other realms. They do this by detaching their “light” (internal energy seemingly analogous to the soul but found by the Tabula to be empirically measurable) from their body. Travelers’ experiences and gifts (they can view the world around them with greater speed and clarity than normal people) can lend them great charisma, wisdom and vision. Many Travelers become religious prophets, or opponents of the Tabula, and the random element they add to societies makes them enemies of the Tabula who have hunted them almost to extinction.
The idea that all people possess the "light" within and can travel through other states of consciousness or "realms" is also a basic tenet of Gnosticism.
The Pathfinders are individuals capable of teaching potential Travelers how to break the light free from their body. Pathfinders can be priests and holy men, agnostics or atheists – different Pathfinders will use different teaching methods and have different beliefs, but all can help Travelers to realize their gifts. Pathfinders are also hunted by the Tabula.
The only information one can get on John Twelve Hawks is that he is living "off the grid". This means that he is invisible to the network of surveillance and authority. He has no fixed home, no bank account or internet connection, and John Twelve Hawks is not his real name.
In the shadows of modern society an epic battle is fought. One woman is standing between those who try to control mankind and those who will risk their lives for the freedom of us all. On one side the Brethren, using high-end surveillance technology for control, supported by officials and politicians. On the other side the Travelers, the gifted ones, who are able to leave our realm and cross over into other realities. Because of their knowledge they are a great threat to the Brethren. The Travelers are supported by the Harlequins, a group only trained to defend the Travelers and to save them from the Brethren. Harlequins are trained since birth by their parents and other Harlequins. They are able to use all kinds of weapons, but their favored arm is a unique Harlequin sword they carry with them all the time.
Maya, a pretty young woman, is trying to live the life of a normal citizen. Her background, on the other hand, is anything but normal. She is the daughter of a famous German Harlequin named Thorn, who had been badly injured in an ambush by the Brethren. On a mission she killed two men of the Yakuza, the Japanese mafia. As a consequence Maya had tried to hide and leave her Harlequin past behind until one day her handicapped father calls for her. When visiting him in Prague, she finds him slaughtered by his enemies.
Fulfilling her father's last wish, Maya takes a flight to the States supporting Shepherd, the last American Harlequin. She is determined to help him defend the last two Travelers alive. However, Shepherd has become a member of the Brethren. Working for the other side now, he tries to kill Maya. With the help of a young woman named Vikki she is lucky to get away. Vikki is a member of the I. T. Jones Church, a church of followers of the Traveler Isaac T. Jones, who was killed by the Brethren in 1889 with Lion of the temple (known as Zachary Goldman) a harlequin. Together they are able to find an ally, Hollis, a Capoeira trainer from Los Angeles and a former member of the Isaac T. Jones Community. The three of them are able to find the last living Travelers, Michael and Gabriel Corrigan. Before they are able to give them protection, Michael is captured by the Brethren. Instead of killing him immediately they try to convince him to help them. The Brethren recently started a new Program. They were in contact with a technologically advanced civilization dwelling in another realm. Aiming to travel through the realities, they need the help of a guide, someone who is able to travel without technology - like a Traveler.
For achieving help, they offer the Brethren high technology, weapons and plans for a quantum computer. The Brethren want to use a real Traveler that can find this other civilization and guide it to the Earth. By offering Michael power, money and everything else he wants, the Brethren convince him to work for them. With a new drug called 3B3, Michael is able to leave his realm without any usual way a Pathfinder would offer. A Pathfinder is a person that helps a Traveler to cross over. He or she is a teacher, but never a Traveler himself.
While Michael gains his first experiences with other realms, Maya tries to find a Pathfinder for Gabriel. She herself knows little of other realms and the process of crossing over. At all time they must be careful and live "off the grid”, because the Brethren use all their power to get hold of them.
Hollis stays in Los Angeles to place a false track. Within little time the Brethren show up at his house and try to kill him with a new weapon called “Splicer," some kind of genetically engineered animal designed to search and destroy. But, Hollis defeats them.
In the meantime Maya and Gabriel find a Pathfinder in the desert in Arizona: an old woman researching king snakes in an abandoned missile silo. While teaching Gabriel how to cross over, she tells him everything she knows about the Travelers and the six realms. There is the first realm of a town like hell, the second realm of a city full of "hungry ghosts", the third is inhabited by animals ignorant of all others, the fourth realm is our own reality, where the sin is desire, the fifth realm is the reality of the "half gods", where the sin is jealousy, and the sixth realm of the "gods" themselves, where the sin is pride. The "gods" and "half-gods" of the fifth and sixth realm are not meant like God as the creator of all life, but like the Tibetans describe them: human beings from parallel worlds.
The realms are separated each by four barriers: one barrier of fire, one of water, one of earth and one of air. A Traveler that is capable of passing these four barriers is then able to enter one of the five other realms. If his body on earth dies, his soul, called the light, is condemned to stay forever in the realm it visits at that time. Crossing over into other realities, a Traveler can only carry special objects, called talismans, with him. Such an object is the sword Gabriel’s father gave him. Equipped with this sword, he meets his brother in the realm of the hungry ghosts.
His brother tries to convince him to join the Brethren. Gabriel resists the temptation, but he tells his brother where he left his body. As a consequence Gabriel is imprisoned by the Brethren within hours and brought to the research centre where Michael is kept.
Maya realizes that an immediate counterstrike is necessary. After an exciting battle in the Brethren's research facility, they free Gabriel but have to realize that they can not convince Michael to leave the Brethren. Maya and her allies are able to find refuge in a house on a beach in Cape Cod - but only to recover. At this point the first book of the fourth realm has a cliffhanger ending.
Literary significance and reception
David Pitt in his review for Booklist said that John Twelve Hawks is "a gifted storyteller, makes this surreal and vaguely supernatural good-versus-evil story entirely believable." About the novel he says that the "pace is fast, the characters intriguing and memorable, the evil dark and palpable, and the genre-bending between fantasy and thriller seamless". The New York Times reviewer Janet Maslin began her review with the statement: "It takes outlandish nerve and whopping messianic double talk to inaugurate a new science fiction project on the scale of The Traveler." She then concluded "Amazingly, this novel sustains a new voice even when its roots show. And the list of obvious influences is long indeed. There are traces of Star Wars, The Matrix, Kill Bill and Minority Report. There are echoes of Stephen King, Michael Crichton, Joseph Campbell, Jeremy Bentham, various samurai stories and (could it not have been thus?) The Da Vinci Code."
Published: June 27, 2005
- "New York Times Bestseller Hardback Fiction List". July 17, 2005.
- "Warner Bros. Acquires 'Fourth Realm' Trilogy". March 23, 2012.
- "The Traveler (Book)". Booklist 101 (17): 1540. 2005-05-01. ISSN 0006-7385.
- "It Takes a Superhuman Effort to Escape Human Control". June 6, 2005.
- "Warner Bros. Acquires 'Fourth Realm' Trilogy". March 23, 2012.
- The Traveler official book site
- The Traveler, by John Twelve Hawks
- Interview with John Twelve Hawks about The Traveler
- The Fourth Realm Site Semi-fictional and semi-official forum, established by John Twelve Hawks