Executive Times






2005 Book Reviews


The Traveler by John Twelve Hawks


Rating: (Recommended)




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I was prepared to dislike The Traveler, written by an unidentified author using the pseudonym, John Twelve Hawks. The author claims to want to live outside the grid, hiding his identity even from his agent and editor. I expected either too much fantasy or political posturing, or too little connection to human nature and values. Instead, I found The Traveler to be a well written exploration of good and evil, free will and determinism, and the struggle for control over society. I enjoyed that aspect of the book so much that I could overlook alternate dimensions and other fantasy elements. Here’s an excerpt, all of Chapter 31, pp. 230-239:


Michael was being kept in a win­dowless suite of four rooms. Occasionally he heard muffled noises and the sound of water going through pipes, so he assumed that there were other people in the building. There was a bathroom, a bedroom, a living room, and an outer guardroom where two silent men wearing navy blue blazers blocked him from leaving. He wasn’t sure if he was in America or a foreign country None of the rooms had a clock and he never knew if it was daytime or night.

The only person who talked to him was Lawrence Takawa, a young Japanese American man who always wore a white shirt and a black necktie. Lawrence was sitting beside Michael’s bed when he woke up from his drugged sleep. A doctor came in a few min­utes later and gave Michael a quick physical examination. He whis­pered something to Lawrence and then never returned.

From that first day, Michael started asking questions. Where am I? Why are you keeping me here? Lawrence smiled pleasantly and always gave the same set of answers. This is a safe place. We’re your new friends. Right now, we’re looking for Gabriel so he can be safe, too.

Michael knew he was a prisoner and they were the enemy But Lawrence and the two guards spent most of their time making sure he was comfortable. The living room had an expensive television and a rack of DVDs. Cooks were on duty twenty-four hours a day in the building, and they would prepare whatever he wanted to eat. When Michael first got out of bed, Lawrence led him to a walk-in closet and showed him thousands of dollars’ worth of clothes, shoes, and accessories. The dress shirts were made of silk or Egyp­tian cotton and had his initials discreetly monogrammed on the pocket. The sweaters were woven from the softest cashmere. There were dress shoes, athletic shoes, and slippers—everything in his size.

He asked for exercise equipment. A treadmill and a set of free weights appeared in the living room. If he wanted to read a certain book or magazine, he gave his request to Lawrence and it appeared a few hours later. The food was excellent and he could order from a list of French and domestic wines. Lawrence Takawa assured him that eventually there would be women, too. He had everything he wanted except the freedom to leave. Lawrence said the short-term objective was to make him fit and healthy after his ordeal. Michael was going to meet a very powerful man and this person would tell him what he wanted to know.

Late one afternoon, after Michael took a shower, he left the bathroom and discovered that someone had picked out his clothes and placed them on the bed. Shoes and socks. Gray wool pleated pants and a black knit shirt that fit perfectly. He went into the next room in the suite and found Lawrence drinking a glass of wine while he listened to a jazz CD.

“How are you, Michael? Sleep well?”


“Any dreams?”

Michael had dreamed that he was flying over an ocean, but there was no reason to describe what had happened. He didn’t want them to know what was going on in his mind. “No dreams. Or, at least, I don’t remember them.”

“This is what you’ve been waiting for. In a few minutes, you’re going to meet Kennard Nash. Do you know who he is?”

Michael recalled a face from a news program on television. “Didn’t he used to be in the government?”

“He was a brigadier general. Since leaving the army, he’s worked for two American presidents. Everyone respects him. Right now, he’s executive director of the Evergreen Foundation.”

“For all generations,” Michael said, quoting the slogan the foundation used when it sponsored programs on television. Their logo was very distinct. There was a film clip of two children, a boy and a girl, bending over a pine seedling, and then everything morphed into a stylized symbol of a tree.

“It’s about six o’clock in the evening. You’re in the administra­tive building of the foundation’s national research center. The building is in Westchester Country—about a forty-five-minute drive from New York City

“So why did you bring me here?”

Lawrence put down his wineglass and smiled. It was impossi­ble to know what he was thinking. “We’re going upstairs to see General Nash. He’ll be glad to answer all your questions.”

The two security men were waiting for them in the guardroom. Without saying a word, they escorted Michael and Lawrence out of the room and down a hallway to a row of elevators. There was a window a few feet away from where they were standing, and Michael realized it was night. When the elevator came, Lawrence motioned him inside. He waved his right hand across a sensor and punched the floor button.

“Listen carefully to General Nash, Michael. He’s a very knowl­edgeable man.” Lawrence stepped back into the hallway and Michael traveled alone to the top floor.

The elevator opened directly onto a private office. It was a large room that had been decorated to resemble the library of a British men’s club. Oak shelves holding sets of leather-bound books lined the walls, and there were easy chairs and little green reading lamps. The only unusual detail was that three surveillance cameras were mounted on the ceiling. The cameras moved slowly back and forth, monitoring the entire room. They’re watching me, Michael thought. Someone is always watching.

He stepped around the furniture and lamps, trying not to touch anything. In one corner of the room, pinpoint spotlights illumi­nated an architectural model set on a wooden pedestal. There were two parts to the miniature building: a central tower surrounded by a ring-shaped building. The outer structure was divided into small identical rooms, each with one barred window on the outside wall and another window set in the top half of the entrance door.

It looked as if the tower was a solid monolith, but when Michael moved to the other side of the pedestal, he saw a cross section of the building. It was a maze of doorways and staircases. Strips of balsa wood covered the windows like Venetian blinds.

Michael heard a door squeak open and saw Kennard Nash en­ter the room. Bald head. Wide shoulders. When Nash smiled, Michael remembered the various times he had seen the general on television talk shows.

“Good evening, Michael. I’m Kennard Nash.”

General Nash walked quickly across the room and shook Michael’s hand. One of the surveillance cameras turned slightly as if to take in the scene.

“I see you’ve found the Panopticon.” Nash approached the ar­chitectural model.

“What is it? A hospital?”

“I suppose it could be a hospital or even an office building, but it’s a prison designed by the eighteenth-century philosopher Jeremy Bentham. Although he sent his plans to everyone in the British government, it was never actually constructed. The model is based on Bentham’s drawings.”

Nash stepped closer to the model and studied it carefully. “Each room is a cell with thick enough walls so there can’t be com­munication between the prisoners. Light comes from the outside so the prisoner is always backlit and visible.”

“And the guards are in the tower?”

Bentham called it an inspection lodge.”

“Looks like a maze.”

“That’s the cleverness of the Panopticon. It’s designed so that you can never see the face of your guard or hear him moving about. Think of the implications, Michael. There can be twenty guards in the tower or one guard or no guards at all. It doesn’t make a differ­ence. The prisoner must assume that he’s being watched all the time. After a while, that realization becomes part of the prisoner’s consciousness. When the system is working perfectly the guards can leave the tower for lunch—or a three-day weekend. It doesn’t make a difference. The prisoners have accepted their condition.”

General Nash walked over to a bookcase. He opened a false wall of books, revealing a bar stocked with glasses, an ice bucket, and bottles of liquor. “It’s six thirty. I usually have a glass of scotch around this time. We’ve got bourbon, whiskey, vodka, and wine. Or I can order you something more elaborate.”

“I’ll have malt whiskey with a little bit of water.”

“Excellent. Good choice.” Nash began pulling corks out of bot­tles. “I’m part of a group called the Brethren. We’ve been around for quite a long time, but for hundreds of years we were just reacting to events, trying to reduce the chaos. The Panopticon was a revela­tion to our members. It changed our way of thinking.

“Even the most casual student of history realizes that human beings are greedy, impulsive, and cruel. But Bentham’s prison showed us that social control was possible with the right sort of technology. There was no need to have a policeman standing on every corner. All you need is a Virtual Panopticon that monitors your population. You aren’t required to literally watch them all the time, but the masses have to accept that possibility and the in­evitability of punishment. You need the structure, the system, the implicit threat that becomes a fact of life. When people discard their notions of privacy, they permit a peaceful society”

The general carried two glasses over to a couch and some chairs clustered around a low wood table. He placed Michael’s drink on the table and the men sat opposite each other.

“So here’s to the Panopticon.” Nash raised his glass to the model on the pedestal. “It was a failed invention, but a great insight.”

Michael sipped some of the whiskey. It didn’t taste like it was drugged, but he couldn’t be sure. “You lecture about philosophy if you want,” he said, “but I don’t really care. All I know is that I’m a prisoner.”

“Actually, you know a good deal more than that. Your family lived under an assumed name for several years until a group of armed men attacked your home in South Dakota. We did that, Michael. Those men were our employees and they were following our old strategy”

“You killed my father.”

“Did we?” Kennard Nash raised his eyebrows. “Our staff searched what was left of the house, but we never found his body”

The casual tone of Nash’s voice was infuriating. You bastard, Michael thought. How can you sit there and smile? A wave of anger surged through his body and he thought about flinging himself across the table and grabbing Nash by the throat. Finally there would be payback for the destruction of his family

General Nash didn’t seem to realize that he was on the verge of being attacked. When his cell phone rang, he put down his drink and pulled the phone out of his suit-coat pocket. “I asked not to be disturbed,” he told the caller. “Yes. Is that so? How very interesting. Well, why don’t I just ask him?”

Nash lowered the phone and frowned at Michael. He resem­bled a bank official who had just found a small problem in a loan application. “Lawrence Takawa is on the phone. He says that you’re either going to attack me or try to escape.”

Michael stopped breathing for a few seconds while his hands gripped the edge of his chair. “I—I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said.

‘Please, Michael, don’t waste your time being deceitful. Right now you’re being monitored by an infrared scanner. Lawrence says that you show an increased heart rate, elevated skin galvanic re­sponse, and heat signals around the eyes. All this data is a clear in­dication of a fight-or-flight reaction. Which leads me back to my original question: Are you going to attack me or run away?”

“Just tell me why you wanted to kill my father.”

Nash studied Michael’s face, and then decided to continue the conversation. “Don’t worry,” he said to Takawa. “I think we’re mak­ing progress here.” The general switched off the cell phone and dropped it back into his pocket.

“Was my father a criminal?” Michael asked. “Did he steal some­thing?”

“Remember the Panopticon? The model works perfectly if all humanity lives inside the building. It doesn’t work if one individual can open a door and stand outside the system.”

“And my father could do that?”

“Yes. He’s what we call a ‘Traveler.’ Your father was able to pro­ject his neural energy out of his body and travel to other realities. Our world is the Fourth Realm. There are fixed barriers one must pass through to enter the other realms. We don’t know if your fa­ther explored all of them.” Nash stared directly at Michael. “The ability to leave this world appears to have a genetic origin. Perhaps you could do it, Michael. You and Gabriel might have the power.”

“And you’re the Tabula?”

“That name is used by our enemies. As I told you, we call our­selves the Brethren. The Evergreen Foundation is our public insti­tution.”

Michael stared down at his drink while he tried to figure out a strategy He was still alive because they wanted something. Perhaps you could do it, Michael. Yes. That was it. His father had disap­peared and they needed a Traveler.

“All I know about your foundation is the commercials I’ve seen on public television.”

Nash stood up and walked over to the window. “The Brethren are true idealists. We want what is best for everyone: peace and prosperity for all. The only way to achieve this goal is to establish social and political stability.”

“So you put everyone in a giant prison?”

“Don’t you understand, Michael? These days people are fright­ened of the world around them, and that fear is easily encouraged and maintained. People want to be in our Virtual Panopticon. We’ll watch over them like good shepherds. They’ll be monitored, con­trolled, protected from the unknown.

“Besides, they rarely recognize the prison. There’s always some distraction. A war in the Middle East. A scandal involving celebri­ties. The World Cup or the Super Bowl. Drugs, both illegal and pre­scribed. Advertisements. A novelty song. A change of fashion. Fear may induce people to enter our Panopticon, but we keep them amused while they’re inside.”

“Meanwhile you’re killing Travelers.”

“As I said, that’s an outdated strategy. In the past, we responded like a healthy body rejecting different viruses. All the basic laws have been written down, in a multitude of languages. The rules are clear. Mankind just has to learn how to obey. But whenever a soci­ety was close to some degree of stability, a Traveler came along with new ideas and a desire to change everything. While the wealthy and the wise were trying to build a vast cathedral, the Travelers kept un­dermining the foundation—causing trouble.”

“So what’s changed?” Michael asked. “Why haven’t you killed me?”

“Our scientists started working on something called a quantum computer and received unexpected results. I’m not going to give you the details this evening, Michael. All you need to know is that a Traveler can help us achieve an incredible breakthrough in technol­ogy. If the Crossover Project works, history will be changed forever.”

“And you want me to become a Traveler?”

“Yes. Exactly”

Michael got up from the couch and approached General Nash. By now he had recovered from his reaction to the infrared scanner. Perhaps these people could read his heart rate and skin tempera­ture, but that wasn’t going to change anything.

“A few minutes ago you said that your organization attacked my family’s house.”

“I had nothing to do with that, Michael. It was a regrettable in­cident.”

“Even if I agreed to forget about the past and help you, that doesn’t mean that it’s possible. I don’t know how to ‘travel’ any­where. My father didn’t teach us anything but sword fighting with bamboo sticks.”

“Yes, I’m aware of that. Have you seen our research center?” Nash motioned with his hand and Michael looked out the window. Security lights illuminated the guarded compound. Nash’s office was on the top floor of a modern office building connected to three other buildings by covered walkways. In the middle of the quadran­gle was a fifth building that looked like a white cube. The marble walls of the cube were thin enough so that the interior light made the building glow from within.

“If you have the potential to be a Traveler, then we have the staff and technology necessary to help you achieve this power. In the past, Travelers have been instructed by heretical priests, dis­senting ministers, and rabbis trapped in the ghetto. The whole process was dominated by religious faith and mysticism. Some­times it didn’t work. As you can see, there’s nothing disorganized about our operation.”

“Okay It’s clear that you’ve got some big buildings and a lot of money. That still doesn’t mean I’m a Traveler.”

“If you succeed, you’ll help us change history. Even if you fail, we’ll set you up in a comfortable environment. You’ll never have to work again.”

“And what if I refuse to cooperate?”

“I don’t think that’s going to happen. Don’t forget, I know all about you, Michael. Our staff has been investigating you for several weeks. Unlike your brother, you’re the ambitious one.”

“Leave Gabriel out of this,” Michael said sharply. “I don’t want anybody looking for him.”

“We don’t need Gabriel. We have you. And now I’m offering you a great opportunity. You’re the future, Michael. You’re going to be the Traveler who will truly bring peace to the world.”

“People will still keep fighting.”

“Remember what I told you? It’s all just fear and distraction. Fear will get people into our Virtual Panopticon and then we’ll keep them happy People will be free to take antidepressant drugs, go into debt, and stare at their television sets. Society might seem dis­organized, but it will be very stable. Every few years we’ll pick a dif­ferent mannequin to give speeches from the White House Rose Garden.”

“But who’s really in control?”

“The Brethren, of course. And you’ll be part of our family guid­ing us forward.”

Nash put his hand on Michael’s shoulder. It was a friendly ges­ture as if he were a kind uncle or a new stepfather. Guide us for­ward, Michael thought. Part of our family. He stared out the window at the white building.

General Nash turned away from him and walked over to the bar. “Let me pour you another drink. We’ll order dinner—sirloin or sushi, whatever you wish. And then we’ll talk. Most people go through life never knowing the truth about the major events of their time. They’re watching a farce performed at the edge of the stage while the real drama is going on behind the curtain.

“Tonight I’ll raise the curtain and we’ll walk backstage and see how the props work and what’s behind the set and how the actors behave in the dressing room. Half the things you’ve been taught in school are just convenient fictions. History is a puppet show for childish minds.”


Billed as the first novel in a trilogy titled The Fourth Realm, The Traveler provided me with reasons enough to want to read the next installments.


Steve Hopkins, September 25, 2005



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The recommendation rating for this book appeared

 in the October 2005 issue of Executive Times


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