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History in the Making
Though his background is in military history, with his bestselling thrillers The Alienist and The Angel of Darkness, Caleb Carr proved he could walk the historical-fiction walk on the streets of old New York. In Killing Time, a high-stakes technothriller that will leave your head spinning, Carr turns a new corner, conjuring up a haunting vision of the future that is as much a meditation on modern technology as it is an ominous glimpse of technology's consequences.
The year is 2023. Since the E. coli breakout of 2021, hamburgers have become a luxury, the oceans have become lifeless masses of brown sludge, and the air in New York has grown so polluted the mayor advises citizens to stay indoors for anything less than an emergency. But that's not all: A staphylococcus epidemic decimated 40 million people worldwide in 2006, and a devastating stock market crash leveled global economies in 2007. More importantly, the information age has not made good on its promise of a "free exchange of knowledge." Instead, societies have fallen victim to a "love affair with information technology," and their citizens have been virtually brainwashed by information under control of the nations' leaders. The structure of society itself has undergone an immeasurable shift, and only those countries whose poverty has kept them unwired have been spared.
But even a world in chaos can be turned upside down. Dr. Gideon Wolfe, a successful criminal profiler and professor of psychology at John Jay University in New York, is visited by the widow of John Price, the famed special-effects wizard who was murdered only days earlier. Mrs. Price gives Wolfe a computer disc with now-famous footage of President Emily Forrester's assassination, proving the footage had been tampered with and the Afghani accused of killing the president was nothing more than a digital image concealing the true culprit's identity.
A few short hours after Wolfe brings the evidence to his old friend Max Jenkins, a private detective, Jenkins is murdered. Wolfe is then swept onboard the amphibious ship of a small group of resistance fighters led by Larissa and Malcolm Tressalian, who soon catapult him into a new understanding of the world. The Tressalians reveal to him their responsibility for a number of historical "discoveries" that in recent years have discredited everything from the New Testament to human evolution to Winston Churchill. What began as mischievous tampering now threatens to yield disastrous global effects.
Reminiscent of George Orwell's 1984, with a tip of the hat to The Matrix, Killing Time combines traditional elements of the mystery and thriller with Carr's unique historical and psychological insight. Although at times Carr lapses into preaching about the dangers of runaway technology, this novel is ultimately a reflection on the vulnerability of history under the control of those in power. And although we can't predict the future for Caleb Carr, we can certainly commend him for offering us this terrifying glimpse of history in the making.
Elise Vogel is a freelance writer living in New York City.