The Fall of the Republic
Synopsis: It is the late 1990s and everything is falling apart. The US is under military law and everything is rationed. The only thing keeping a complete collapse from happening immediately are the Trainables, people who have been treated through a process which does not work on all people to be better and faster learners than the regular people, in effect smarter. Certainly, able to process information much faster.
One of the Trainables is Jerry Pierce. Although only 18, he runs his region with a combination of guile and unhesitating violence, while having a strong fealty to his underlings. He discovers one of his people, a hooker, has been murdered. He deduces who it had to have been and murders the man responsible. This brings him to the attention of Wigner, a 22-year-old Trainable who believes that society is due to collapse soon and that the Trainable must band together to save who they can. Pierce is recruited by Wigner.
While they are preparing their power grab, an unexpected development occurs. A researcher named Ishizawa has accidentally discovered a way to open a portal to what appears to be 1787, although on closer examination it is not our 1787: changes there will have no effect here. Further research shows other “chrono planes” as they are called, back in time hundreds of thousands of years. Here is an unexpected outlet for the current population straining Earth, the equivalent of many habitable worlds.
During an attempt to probe a future chronoplane, Ishizawa and many of his researchers are killed when the future chronoplane, Ulru, turns out to be lifeless and airless, wracked with radiation. At some point in the future, all life was scorched from Earth. Other future chronoplanes are also lifeless, killed on the same date.
While greatly disturbed at the apparent coming extermination of humanity, the people running I‑screen research still want to send probes into the future chronoplanes. They believe information about those chronoplanes’ pasts, Pierce’s future, may have survived. Getting that information would give Wigner a significant advantage over his political enemies. Wigner’s boss agrees, although they are already working at cross purposes, Wigner’s boss being unTrainable.
Pierce is sent into Ulru. The experience is horrible, especially in an underground tunnel. He manages to return but is seriously traumatised and requires psychiatric treatment. He does bring back a lot of information about the late 20th century and early 21st, of which Wigner only gives a small portion of to his boss. Wigner proceeds to exploit his superior information, although eventually the fact of his preknowledge changes history enough that much of it is rendered false. This is not entirely a bad thing: in the other chronoplanes, Wigner and Pierce don’t long survive the 20th century and neither does most of humanity. The civilization which died in Ulru is the successor to ours, with a Trainable elite managing the unTrainable masses.
A development which did not happen in the future chronoplanes is the International Federation movements, a movement to eliminate national sovereignty and establish a world government. Wigner is in favour of this and helps the IFers.
One bit of information which Wigner knows will remain true is a period of chaos caused by a white supremacist group spreading a computer virus which shuts down most of the computers. Wigner has the virus redesigned to have exploitable loopholes and gets a now recovered Pierce to pass it to the supremacists through contacts Pierce had in his old district.
Just before the coup occurs, Wigner’s former boss decides to have him arrested and interrogated. Pierce must rescue him but since the route runs through the same tunnel he had his Ulru trauma in, has to be helped by Jasmin, a double agent working for both Wigner’s boss and Wigner’s faction. They get through, rescue Wigner, kill the ex-boss and with some difficulties manage to foil the coup, destroying the supremacist group in the process.
Unfortunately, enough survive that they figure out where the bad virus came from and kill Pierce’s people, including an ex-lover. Pierce insists on returning to his district and murdering the people responsible. He then has a serious breakdown which is eventually treated through a series of selective memory blocks.
[This is fairly creepy if you read the books set later in time: Pierce’s memory eventually gets so full of holes that he suffers neurological side effects, a problem which most of the Trainables are getting. Wigner likes to keep his people working, at least in the short run, because that keeps him in power].
The IF takes control, with Wigner taking a high-ranking position. The crisis which destroyed our civilization is averted although the one which wiped out all life is not. The IF prepares to move a large population back to the less occupied chronoplanes and the future looks much brighter than a year or so before. Unless one lives in one of the chronoplanes: even with the best of intentions, they are probably deeply screwed as 6 billion people relocate.
This was an ok book. Not Kilian’s best SF novel [And with one science howler, although that might be Pierce’s, not Kilian’s], I think that it was constrained by the previously written books set later than it in the Chronoplane Wars [I have no idea why the series is tagged that as there are no Wars to speak of]. The setting is strongly influenced by the predictions of the 1960s and 1970s, but I would have thought that by 1987, the flaws in those models was obvious. It would be interesting to speculate where the differences between Pierce’s world and ours first occurred.
There are two other Chronoplane books I know of: The Empire of Time and Rogue Emperor, both page-turners. I own most of his fiction books and a good number of his nonfiction books, the latest of which is, IMS, Writing for the Web. I think my favourite was Gryphon, one of the earlier books to feature nanotechnology, which he did in a fairly coherent way, unlike a lot of the ‘it’s nanotech: it can do ‑anything-’ crowd.
There are two inventions which Kilian uses in the Chronoplane books which have no real-world analog: the I‑Screens and the Training. I‑screens are just a standard SF device, but the Training is interesting, as it enhances certain human abilities but only in some people. Bet there’s a lot of research in Pierce’s future on that. In Ulru, there was selective breeding: it’s odd they didn’t just end-run the problem and insert the necessary genes in fetuses. I’d say these folks lagged in biotech but there’s reference to DNA typing. Perhaps the collapse killed too many biology types and the Trainables were not able to recover the techniques. A book only about Training might be interesting.
He has voice-activated computers as the high-end model. Boy, I hope not. One of the advantages of a keyboard is that it is silent. There’s sort of an internet. No web. I think Mr. Kilian was on the ‘net by then, although memory fails me on this point.
As I said, a perfectly good book, worth reading. Not our future and not our present, a good thing considering how awful the run up to the IF is.