Watchby Dennis Danvers
In 1921 Russia, a mysterious visitor from the far future comes to Peter Alexeivich Kropotkin's deathbed and offers the world-renowned activist/philosopher a new life. The being who calls himself Anchee Mahur has the power to tamper with history. Kropotkin the one-time prince who renounced wealth and privilege to embrace the cause of anarchy, the dying humanist who long suffered the torments of prison and official scorn can be reborn, if he so chooses. And he does.
Suddenly the year is 1999, the dawning of a new century, and Peter Kropotkin is in an airplane en route to Richmond, Virginia. Alone in a Southern city that still clings passionately to its Confederate past with no money, shelter, or plans of any kind, and in a body four decades younger than it was at his "death" Kropotkin must now build a second life from scratch. Love may be possible here, with the beautiful, caring social worker Rachel Pederson, perhaps. But first he must come to terms with undreamed-of technologies and strange urban cultures in a future where little of substance has changed.
Because the injustices Kropotkin dedicated his first life to combating have become more insidiously woven into the fabric of everyday existence. Meanwhile the hand of his inscrutable "benefactor" Anchee is everywhere manipulating realities for some shadowy, unspoken purpose; covertly driving ordinary events toward explosive confrontations; exploiting people and their foibles while treating all life and time as Experimental Art. And there is the unexpected tragedy of the "accidentals," unwitting time-travelers from other eras who have been carried forward in Kropotkin's wake, and for whom theanarchist-out-of-time now feels responsible.
Slowly, the darker edges of a miracle are coming into focus. For Kropotkin, there is no escape in the future from the past, and a stiff price to be paid for second chances.
There is more than one reality here and more than one story behind a great man's pursuit of a catastrophic prearranged destiny. But it will take uncommon strength and courage and will to remain sane and uncorrupted in a not-so-brave new world that suddenly threatens to devour Peter Kropotkin whole.
In a masterful novel of truly audacious conception, Dennis Danvers once again proves himself an author of rare conscience and daring, as well as one of the most skilled literary artists working today in the realm of speculation. Alternately poignant, funny, provocative, enraging, and inspiring, The Watch is an extraordinary feat of the imagination; a story that unabashedly celebrates commitment, love, and the indomitable spirit of humanity.
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Chapter OneI Am Reborn
I was suddenly struck by an extraordinary spectacle; on the dark vault of the sky I saw an immense meteor with a long tail and dazzling green light which lit up the sky and the earth. It fell slowly and disappeared on the horizon. I had never seen anything like it in my life. We stood as if fixed to the spot. It seemed to us that there was a mysterious relationship between the falling star and the dying revolutionary.
—Boris Lebedev, Kropotkin's son-in-law, in his account of Kropotkin's death February 8, 1921
[In prison] I asked, of course, to have paper, pen, and ink, but was absolutely refused.... I suffered very much from this forced inactivity, and began to compose in my imagination a series of novels for popular reading.... I made up the plot, the descriptions, the dialogues, and tried to commit the whole to memory from the beginning to the end.
—Peter Kropotkin, Memoirs of a Revolutionist
Since my death, I've thought a good deal of my childhood in Russia, when I was "Prince" Peter Kropotkin, a title I renounced at twelve. These recollections serve to remind me that I have always been—from my earliest memories to this moment (some hours into my new life)—very much the same. It's remarkable when I think on it: seventy-eight years, and the same earnest fellow all along. It makes me wonder if I'll change this time round, or whether I'll keep working for my heart's desire—that the world should change instead.
My mother died when I was not yet four. I must confess, being so young, I did not really knowher. I have of her a mere handful of memories—each one too grand and charged with emotions to be entirely trusted even if I could manage to disentangle reality from legend. But there was nothing illusory about the effect of my mother's memory on those servants entrusted with raising my brother and me. Even if they had not repeated it on every occasion, I would have known from the care and concern lavished on her sons that they thought my mother a fine woman indeed. Their kindness to me can never be exaggerated, nor their wisdom rivaled by later, more sophisticated teachers. As for inherited traits, I attribute to my mother whatever characteristics I possess of a worthwhile nature.
My father incarnated the man I did not wish to be. With such a father's shadow over me, I could never subscribe to any form of genetic determinism. As for his living presence—the parent's guiding and shaping hand—he little influenced my elder brother Sasha and me, for he largely ignored us.
He was a gentleman soldier, an officer naturally, like most of the lesser nobles of his generation who could imagine no greater contribution to the world than fine uniforms and close-order drills, a ballet without music or joy. He was as stingy as my mother was open-hearted; as dull as she was lively; as vindictive as she was loving. He was rich, however, master of twelve hundred serfs, human beings he presumed to own, tending to land he presumed to own. There was no end to his ownership and presumption.
I remember one night at dinner—I was eight or so—he told Sasha and me that he had been awarded a medal for gallantry because Frol, his man, had rushed into a burning house at great risk to himself and rescued a doomed child. My father's commander, witnessing these events, gave my father the Cross of St. Anne straightaway.
"But Father," my brother and I objected, "it was Frol who saved the child!" Through my childish mind flitted the fantasy of a just ceremony—complete with military band and a goodly number of horses—Frol on a platform bearing up bravely beneath the burden of an armload of valorous trinkets.
But Father soon chased that illusion from my brain. "What of that?" he replied. "Was he not my man? It is all the same." He believed it, you see—that a man such as himself could possess a man like Frol, when the truth is my father did not possess the tenth part of Frol's virtues.
As always, Frol was present that evening, standing in his usual place like a pillar, and just as likely to move from his post at our father's elbow. Every evening, with near-invisible signals and gestures, Frol directed the throng of fifty or so men and women who labored to serve us dinner, who would see us into bed and tuck us in like tiny infants. It was a form of suicide, such wealth—the complete abdication of all responsibility for one's own life.
My father paused in his tale to make some complaint about the meat, and I attempted to catch Frol's eyes, but he avoided my gaze and looked darkly out the window into the night. I looked at my father and thought, without quite knowing what I meant, Someday Frol will toss you out that window into the snow. Someday it will be your house ablaze with no one to rescue you.
I hated my father. I have never publicly confessed that fact before. In an effort of fairness I can allow that my father was far from the worst of the serf owners—that even though he forced dozens of young women to marry young so that they might breed him new "souls," he never personally raped a woman to my knowledge;—that even though, on a whim or for some imagined slight, he was in the habit of condemning young men to a quarter-century stint in the army (a death and torture sentence rolled into one), he never murdered a man outright. Even on the battlefield.
There were worse men than my father, certainly.
I can further...The Watch
A Novel. Copyright © by Dennis Danvers. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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In 1921 Russia, anarchist philosopher Peter Kropotkin is near death when a stranger Anchee Mahur offers him an opportunity to live life anew in a healthy body. Without a look back at his past or any Faustian consequences, Peter accepts the offer to live albeit in 1999 Richmond, Virginia. Peter finds a job, falls in love with Rachel Pederson, who helps immigrants adapt to the United States, and meets fellow time travelers. Peter soon sets the tone for community service by distributing food to the needy. Along with his out of time cronies, Peter concludes that Anchee is fostering his personal concept of how the future should look and that the out of time souls are the tools to create this brave new world. Peter questions what he and his peers are doing as he wonders if he should follow Anchee's vision that parallels his own desires for humanity or stop his mentor so that free will determines the future even if it is something he despises. THE WATCH is an insightful science fiction that looks closely at the question of free will vs. determinism, but from a fresh perspective. The story line contains a deep message about choices and whether any means justifies the end. The cast is believable especially the displaced Peter who struggles with an enigma between his dreams and his actions to attain what he deems is best for society. Dennis Danvers provides a powerful novel that political and social science fiction fans will savor except those fanatics who insist they have the only answer. Harriet Klausner