Caleb Carr's Killing Time: A novel of the future

Random House, 2000

By O. Ray Pardo

I just finished a good book (not great literature, but thought provoking in terms of what the author thought his near future would be like).

Borrowing a plot-line from Jules Verne, Carr places Dr. Gideon Wolfe as the narrator whose skills are needed by a band of fellow scientists who are trying to get the world to wake up to the fact that most of their "reality" is based on disinformation, false information, or myth. Seeing the future form of the Internet as in the hands of "them" -- a few oligarchs who rule the world from their corporations -- the band tries to get everyone's attention by creating even bigger fabrications, e.g., that Washington's death was orchestrated by a cabal of early American business leaders.

Led by a wheel-chair bound megalomaniac and his beautiful, brilliant (nymphomaniac?) sister, the band uses a Nautilus like vehicle that can fly as well as cruise swiftly at all depths of the ocean, all the while cloaked in super stealth technology and impervious to the meager 21st weaponry of the US, its allies and enemies due to the powers of electro-magnetism powered by an apparently inexhaustible superconductor facilitated source.

Opening with Dr. Wolfe being drawn into the murder of one of his clients, he is soon caught up and catapulted into a bizarre world that fits all his known data points, but where he discovers some of the key data has been cleverly created. He is literally picked up by Malcolm and Larissa Tressalian's ship while he is on the run from mysterious pursuers.

The first task of the team is -- eerily -- to minimize the damage to the people of Afghanistan from a impending attack from the US due to the fact that they are seen to be harboring the terrorists who have killed a US President.

Malcolm Tressalian lives by the motto MUNDUS VULT DECIPI ("the world wants to be deceived") and yet feels that he can "cure" the problem by creating such an incredible lie that the veil will fall from people's eyes when they seen how they can be deceived. In his megalomania Malcolm creates the germ of a lie that gets away from him and into the hands of a lone Israeli super terrorist who is trying to atone for the lost love of his family, who were lost in the Holocaust.

The book is interesting in its exploration of a pending information disaster (p. 58, 61ff) that lies in our possible future -- where the Internet can contain unedited information and cleverly corroborated information side by side with the daily news. The speed of information dissemination has made almost meaningless the laborious time-consuming academic process of information checking and debunking. He introduces interesting concepts

  1. The dead as fanatical leader (p 172-3).
  2. The concept of "acceptable" information (p. 63), disinformation antibiotic that may possible "kill the patient" (p. 64), and technoparanoia (p. 64)
  3. a person "pathologically prepared to be consumed by fabricated information . . . [and] to commit murder on an unprecedented scale because of it." In sobering prescience, the author (as narrator) wonders " how many more . . . were in the world?" (p. 224).

Several times in the book, the author (through his characters) forecasts a bleak future for man. Once his character reminds the audience of Camus' indictment: "One sentence will suffice for modern man: He fornicated and read the papers." He suggests that in the information age, this would be changed to "He masturbated and logged on to the Internet." (Or vice versa, another character quips.) (p. 176)

Written in 1999, initially as an assignment for Time magazine on the "near future", Killing Time is a truly frightening examination of the dark possibilities we face -- as underscored by September 11 and the allied reaction. The science (as well as the plot line) is "gee-whiz" only in the device of the Jules Verne-type vehicle used by the protagonists. This book is well worth reading with the books of William Gibson and Neil Stephenson for its exploration of the darkside of the information age.

Copyright © by O. Ray Pardo, February 22, 2002

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