bookrev: The Chronoliths by Robert Charles Wilson
5 stars: Couldn’t put it down, and it made me go look up Calabi-Yau
I’ve been working hard to read a lot of the ARC’s I received at Book Expo America and have read and reviewed three. But on a recent trip, I finished one and had only my trusty backup emergency paperback in my bag. It was The Chronoliths by Robert Charles Wilson, recommended to me by my friend Christopher (who also turned me on to Illium).
Christopher is 2 for 2; I could not put this book down. And he made me use the Internet to connect the dots of my long ago Physics degree and go back and refresh my old brain on manifolds and their relationship to quantum mechanics (yeah, I know…geek boy).
The Chronoliths tells of massive monuments that spring up instantaneously, the first one in Thailand, observed by our main character Scott. All of them have inscriptions of a battle won some twenty years in the future by a warlord named Kuin. Another springs up in the middle of Bangkok, causing devastation. The monuments are named Chronoliths, and begin showing up all over Asia, apparently foretelling the path of conquest of this future warlord.
The science is, of course, how can these monoliths be sent twenty years back in time, and how to stop them. Because as they appear with alarming regularity, mankind begins to believe that there is no way to stop them and society sees itself as doomed. A former college professor of Scott’s, Sue Chopra, believes she can first predict and then stop the Chronolith’s from forming, with some string theory / M-theory constructs:
I did not then and I do not now understand the physics of the Chronoliths, except in the pop-science sense. I know the technology involves the manipulation of Calabi-Yau spaces, which are the smallest constituent parts of both matter and energy, and that it uses a technique called slow fermionic decohesion to do this at practical energy levels. As to what really happens down there in the tangled origami of spacetime, I remain as ignorant as a newborn infant.
The pacing is this book is perfectly written. The science is integrated in with the story so that you barely notice it, done so by having the point of view for the novel from a man who is not a physicist or mathematician, so information gets dumbed down for him. But the science is written in a way that it made me follow the links back through the Internet to get an update on these theories. As was discussed during a session at Apollocon today (see John’s notes at SF Signal), it’s called science fiction for a reason; don’t use them as science text books, but they make you think, remember and research the current theories and learnings.
Also, as a counterpoint to string theory, see Peter Woit’s blog.