[Caleb Carr, 2002, Random House]
Reviewed by Charles Williams
In the year 2023 wars rage, epidemics are common, poverty reigns in the Analog Archipelago, and the world in general is increasingly dirty and unattractive. A few corporations control virtually all commerce and information flow, and are therefore able to distract the world's population with trivia and entertainment.
A multi-racial band of scientists and schemers intends to set things right. Its strategy is to promote a series of hoaxes which, when revealed as fraudulent, will reduce faith in historical fact and the corporate-sponsored information flow. The People will then begin to think for themselves and eventually acquire wisdom.
American Exceptionalism, the justification for importation of American-style democracy and social morality, is undermined when it is revealed Washington was murdered by rivals who feared his opposition to mercantile forces which had effectively hijacked the popular revolt for freedom. Princip was a British agent ordered by Churchill to assassinate Archduke Ferdinand so Britain's empire could endure and expand. The President is murdered by an Afgahn, or so it seems on film.
The frauds are effective because each has an element of plausibility. Churchill did sacrifice many lives to achieve his political ambitions. Islam and terrorism have become synonymous in the popular mind. And Sally Hennings may have had something to say about the nobility of the Founding Fathers. (Including a reference to the Hennings-Jefferson matter tends to unwittingly support the novel's motto, Mundus Vult Decipi, The World Wants to be Deceived. Even Mr. Carr is unwilling to entertain the facts, established by genetic testing, concerning Jefferson's innocence. After all, Jefferson's guilt was in every magazine, newspaper, and television report. Therefore the story must be true.)
But the revisionists go too far when they muck about with the sacred Holocaust, the foundation of modern Jewish Exceptionalism. Footage is created showing an approving Stalin reviewing Nazi camps in 1939. This falls into the hands of an Israeli-'American' film producer, who turns it over to the Mossad's most effective killer. A race begins to prevent revenge, perhaps involving nuclear weapons, being brought upon Russia for events alleged to have occured 84 years earlier.
The band comes to despair of being able to solve the world's problems. The hoaxes are too effective, too hard to disprove. They do nothing to mitigate the belief in the corporate info flow. The U.S. bombs Afghanistan. Moscow is destroyed. The narrator escapes to Africa. At first he is enchanted by African wisdom embodied in such sayings as,
'Information is not the same as wisdom.' But the spectacle of female genital mutilation, the destruction of all animals large enough to eat, and continual war lead him to the surprising conclusion Africa is no paradise.
Yet an astounding thing happens, time travel is invented. The past is altered to make Africa blossom into utopia. The animals reappear. Disease is eliminated. The coastal cities are as built-up and prosperous as Hong Kong, but much more tasteful.
This novel was started as a serial in Time magazine. It is as bloodless and safe as all other products in the AOL/Time Warner universe. Though written clearly, with an easily followed plot, it is not recommended. The cyber and steamer punk elements are inferior to the work of William Gibson and Neal Stephenson. The use of time travel as a plot solution is the stuff of Asimov and Silverberg, that is, the stuff of hacks. Not even an allusion to Kennewick Man or renaming Marseille's airport Le Pen International can redeem matters.
A more complex and compelling vision of the near future is Randolph D. Calverhall's Serpent's Walk, available from Amazon.com and National Vanguard Books. The reader is spared accounts of time travel, and, as a bonus, is presented with a possible, and entirely plausible, solution to the looming dystopia.