Volume 24, Number 1, Fall, 2005

The Traveler

By John Twelve Hawks

Doubleday, 2005, $24.95
ISBN: 038551428X
Reviewed by Wally Conger

This is turning out to be the Year of the Libertarian Novel.

First, columnist Vin Suprynowicz crossed Batman with samurai freedom-fighters to produce his powerful The Black Arrow. A short time later, Claire Wolfe and Aaron Zelman launched the terrific RebelFire 1.0: Out of the Gray Zone, the first in a projected series of “young adult” novels about freedom and self-reliance.

Now here comes The Traveler, by first-time novelist John Twelve Hawks. While it’s not as explicitly libertarian as The Black Arrow, nor as well written as Out of the Gray Zone, it’s still an exhilarating addition to the growing catalog of freedom fiction.

In quick summary, The Traveler takes place in a post-9/11 future (maybe 15 minutes from now) where there is “the appearance of freedom with the reality of control.” Every person’s actions are tracked by the Vast Machine, a complex web of computerized information systems accessed constantly by government, large corporations, and even “benign” nonprofits like the Evergreen Foundation, a front for forces interested only in world domination. Most people surrender to (or choose to ignore) this 24/7 monitoring of their lives in exchange for false security from terrorism and street crime. But some prefer to live “off the Grid,” away from the prying electronic eyes of the Vast Machine.

Upon this backdrop, author Twelve Hawks presents the riveting story of a centuries-long battle between those who want to control history (the Tabula, or Brethren) and those who value the human spirit and seek freedom (the Travelers and their warrior-guardians, the Harlequins). As one character in the novel reveals, “The facts you know are mostly an illusion. The real struggle of history is going on beneath the surface.”

All of the computer surveillance technology portrayed in The Traveler actually exists and is based on the author’s research. Libertarians won’t be surprised by many of the novel’s revelations about the end of privacy, but most other readers will be startled by them.

The Traveler may seem at times a hodgepodge of science fiction, spiritual prophecy, and conspiracy thriller, laced with smatterings of The Matrix, popular videogames, and Kill Bill. But it never loses its footing. It’s a solid, fast-paced corker of a novel. And its heart is certainly in the right place. The bad guys are as dark, bureaucratic, and authoritarian as they come. And the good guys...well, all they want is a world where they can be left alone to live, love, and create. (Several scenes in the book even take place in an “off the Grid” community called New Harmony. Shades of Galt’s Gulch!)

Unlike the recent Suprynowicz and Wolfe/Zelman novels—both published by small publishing houses with tiny marketing budgets that rely heavily on the kindness of online reviewers and libertarian bloggers—The Traveler comes from a publishing giant and has an aggressive marketing campaign behind it. I first read about the book and its author a few weeks ago in a splashy USA Today article, and then visited a handful of official websites publicizing it. (One of the novel’s characters even writes her own blog.) Doubleday’s PR department is busily promoting the author as an “off the Grid” celebrity who’s unwilling to do the traditional book tours; “John Twelve Hawks” is a pseudonym, and the writer only talks to his editors by satellite phone or through the Internet. I also hear that a major movie studio has optioned the book.

All of this hype may deter you from buying and reading The Traveler, or from eventually pursuing the two sequels already planned. Don’t let that happen. With its compelling warnings about the Security State, its “secret history” point of view, and its hardcore advocacy of liberty, this novel deserves to be a bestseller. (It has reached #13 so far on the New York Times bestseller list.) Buy a copy for yourself, and then buy copies for your friends.

This is the closest we’ve been in a long time to seeing a libertarian-leaning novel break into the mainstream in a big way. And nowadays, we need all the effective media tools we can muster.

Wally Conger is a marketing consultant and writer who reluctantly lives “on the Grid” along California’s central coast. His blog of unfinished essays and spontaneous eruptions on politics and culture can be found at wconger.blogspot.com.

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