They Call Him the Wanderer…No, Wait, Scratch That

(Posted by Ron Hogan)

About a month ago, I contemplated reading The Traveler, noting “a suspiction that, having spent my entire adolescence and early adulthood devouring all the science fiction I could get my hands on, I’ve seen this all before.” My fears were well grounded–I managed to get through about the first hundred pages yesterday, and it was only because I didn’t have anything else to read on the subway that I continued past this whopper on page 23: “As far as he was concerned, anyone who used random numbers to guide his life should be hunted down and terminated.” I mean, I know pulp villains are predisposed to believing wacky things, but those beliefs usally aren’t quite so ridiculous. My favorite line, though? “This is a special security room. Everything said here is confidential.” Yeah, that sounds enforceable.

Bascially, we’re looking at a cross between the Gnostic paranoia of Philip K. Dick and the transdimensional Machiavellianism of Roger Zelazny, with details from Wired articles on surveillance technology thrown in for good measure. Plus some other sources: everytime those random number-generating anarchist ronin refer to themselves as Harlequin, I catch myself expecting that the highly regimented authoritarian society against which they rebel is going to change its name from the Tabula to the Ticktockmen–but no such luck. John Joseph Adams, a/k/a “the Slush God,” gives it the benefit of the doubt as a “snack novel,” but I find myself leaning towards Tod Goldberg’s more acerbic take: “mindless entertainment that engages you while the neighbor kids piss in your pool.” Apart from the ridiculous dialogue and the fact that the premises don’t really work all that well if you think about them for more than thirty seconds, on the surface it’s polished well enough.

A lot of people have commented that it seems less like a novel than like a treatment for the eventual movie, and they’re not far off. That’s actually one of the factors that went into my (probably wrong) guess as to the true identity of “John Twelve Hawks,” the allegedly “off the grid” author behind this psychedelic potboiler. It all started when I realized that something in the “voice” of The Traveler was reminding me of a prison riot novel I read a decade ago. A little Googling told me that book was Green River Rising, and it’s by a psychiatrist turned writer named Tim Willocks. It wasn’t the fact that Willocks is a novelist and a screenwriter that sold me so much as that he hasn’t published a novel in a long while…and that the first third of the novel is largely set in London and Los Angeles, the two cities between which he seems to divide his time. I could be wrong, but I’d love to have the guy who unmasked Joe Klein run a concordance analysis between the two, just in case…

…and, in the interest of full disclosure, I should note a potential problem with my theory: Willocks just sold a novel about the Knights of Jerusalem and their defense of Malta against the Ottomans in the 16th century. Then again, that might just tie back into Twelve Hawks’ Illuminati-lite secret history of the world…and, hey, “T. Willocks” even sort of sounds like “Twelve Hawks,” right? I mean, I’m not crazy, am I?

UPDATE: Well, maybe I am, just a little. I’ve been discreetly informed that there’s no way Willocks could’ve found the time to write a wacky sci-fi trilogy around the new novel. I’ll buy that–and gladly, because I kinda had a soft spot for Green River Rising. More conclusively, Joe Regal is Twelve Hawks’ agent, but Tim Willocks isn’t on his client list…

12 thoughts on “They Call Him the Wanderer…No, Wait, Scratch That

  1. While visiting the Tim Willocks page that was linked to, I couldn’t help noticing that “He’s been taking care of heroine addicts….” The main thing that cured me and most of my friends of our heroine addiction was the third “Alien” movie.

  2. I sort of imagined that The Traveller would be as you describe it, and since I’ve already fulfilled my summer’s quota of genre-adjacent doorstoppers with Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian (avoid! Avoid like the wind!), I felt free to give it a miss. Thanks for justifying my decision.

  3. Ron,

    Any chance you’ll continue weekly SF-related posts at Beatrice.com once your stint here is done? I look forward to John Scalzi’s return, but I’ve enjoyed reading your posts. But then I liked The Historian, so what do I know?

  4. Thanks, Ben! I don’t know about being able to keep it up weekly, but I’ve certainly got plans for more SFnal items at Beatrice after I’m done here.

  5. I wish I had read all this stuff six months ago.The paperback slipped into England unannounced as far as I was concerned (I’m feeling ‘Off the grid’). An impulse buy and I feel I was taken. Without the ‘First Nations’ psuedonym I would have taken more care.

  6. I just finished “The Traveler” and enjoyed the ride as well as the read. I don’t know that it’s as important as “1984”, “Brave New World” or “Fahrenheit 451″ but the admonition to think critically and be aware of our surroundings is especially apt in our world of electronic transactions, omnipresent advertising and election polls. It’s the kind of thing I like to be reminded of. I enjoyed the paranoid atmosphere of the storyline and was reminded of “Repairman Jack” and his “you aren’t being paranoid if they really are out to get ya'” perspective. I was a bit put off by the whole “who is Twelve Hawks?” thing. I assume it’s a publicity stunt, but it detracts/distracts from the story. In spite of my comment regarding the identity of the author, I can’t resist: Is it just me or does Twelve Hawks read a lot like F. Paul Wilson?

  7. I just finished “The Traveler” and enjoyed the ride as well as the read. I don’t know that it’s as important as “1984”, “Brave New World” or “Fahrenheit 451″ but the admonition to think critically and be aware of our surroundings is especially apt in our world of electronic transactions, omnipresent advertising and election polls. It’s the kind of thing I like to be reminded of. I enjoyed the paranoid atmosphere of the storyline and was reminded of “Repairman Jack” and his “you aren’t being paranoid if they really are out to get ya'” perspective. I was a bit put off by the whole “who is Twelve Hawks?” thing. I assume it’s a publicity stunt, but it detracts/distracts from the story. In spite of my comment regarding the identity of the author, I can’t resist: Is it just me or does Twelve Hawks read a lot like F. Paul Wilson?

  8. I just finished listening to Traveller on audio.I probably wouldn’t have spent money on it but it was available at the local community library and as usual I was hard-up for something to listen to in the car,so…

    Anyway, I wouldn’t recommend it really although most of us, myself included, need to have our consciousnesses raised about the role of surveillance in our day-to-day lives and the way our private data is bought and sold,etc.

    More interesting is the speculation on the actual identity of the author.I have been reading various posts written over the last year or so by different people who care to make a guess.It’s fascinating really.

    I was wondering.Is this old news.Has John Twelve Hawks been outed? I’m always the last to know.

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