Review: Killing Time by Caleb Carr

· Hardcover: 288 pages
· Publisher: Random House; 1st edition (November 7, 2000)
· Language: English
· ISBN-10: 0679463321
· ISBN-13: 978-0679463320
· Genre: sci-fi/thriller

· Target group: adults (preferably geeks)


This book, a first-person narrative, takes place in the year 2023, in a world heavily polluted and racked by violent warfare all over the globe, an era that has seen almost all: plague, a global economic crash, and the 2018 assassination of the US President Emily Forrester. The protagonist, Dr. Gideon Wolfe, is a psychiatrist, expert criminologist and an expert in history. He learns quite accidentally that the assassination of Ms. Forrester five years ago was digitally altered to trick the public. The widely viewed web page containing the killing is very popular but has split an already divided nation further.

 Gideon meets a group of scientists and military experts who were the professional manipulators behind much of the official public misinformation floating on the Net. They are led by the Tressalian siblings, Malcolm and Larissa. They have one important goal: to prove to the world that the Information Age has enabled both governments and corporations to dupe the average citizens into believing anything that they see in the mass media. This explosive discovery will lead Gideon Wolfe on an electrifying journey from a criminal underworld of New York to the jungles of Africa and on a quest to find the truth in an age when all information can be manipulated. Initially, Wolfe eagerly joins the group in their cause. He soon begins to have second thoughts, however; are the motives of the group as pure as they seem to be? Or do they, themselves, seek to manipulate the populace to their own ends?

What I liked:

The novel’s premise – “information is not knowledge” – is indeed timely and intriguing, especially when you take into account the present E.Coli controversy in Europe. Killing Time is mainly about the ease with which large numbers of people can be deceived and manipulated. It’s a rather fearsome but fascinating take on the Information Age.

At times, Killing Time is more similar to Jules Verne than to more modern dystopian futuristic novels. Gideon and his associates travel almost around the world in a huge vehicle that can convert from hovering craft to ultrasonic flyer to submarine at a moment’s notice. Carr’s choice of having most of the novel told as a reminiscence adds to the archaic tone which I found strangely endearing. The description of the future world and the players surfing the Internet is intelligently rendered and provided a lot of entertainment, at least for me.

Some of the characters are lively, especially the brilliant but slightly mad Malcolm or the morally troubled Dr. Wolfe, who is not sure that he agrees with Malcolm’s theories, no matter how brilliant they are.

What I didn’t like:

In this novel, Mr. Carr tells us virtually everything through Gideon, the narrator, not allowing to see the events and motivations of the characters. After a while I found it a bit boring, especially that other characters had big potential. Potential never fulfilled I must add – few of these develop beyond superficial character tags, most of them remaining merely sketched and laughably 2-dimensional. We know precious little about them or their motivations and it is a pity.

I was especially disappointed with the character of Larissa, the only woman in the group full of male scientists. She is beautiful, deadly and…very shallow although we are repeatedly told otherwise. You almost wonder why such an intelligent guy like Wolfe falls in love with her ( and he is not the only one of course). Given another hundred pages or so Carr might have fleshed out her character and the whole plot enough to create a definitely better heroine and a more readable novel.

The book’s major weakness is the melodrama that seeps into the plot, which, at times, seems too contrived to be believable. The romantic development might be a showcase here: Wolfe ends up in bed with Larissa in record time even though we’re not given the slightest reason why she is attracted to him (ok, she heard of him and saw his photo on the cover of his book and fancied him instantly; great reason for a mature, responsible, intelligent woman, no?).

Finally it seems that the only solution for the world destroyed by technology is…technology. While such an ambivalence might have its merits maybe it would be better to focus on the human factor a bit more?

Final verdict:

Say what you want – despite some obvious flaws Killing Time gets the reader thinking and this is its ultimate value. After reading it you will ponder twice before believing completely in any broadcast story, appearing in the media or on the Internet. I do not regret reading it but I must admit I enjoyed The Alienist loads better.

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9 Responses to Review: Killing Time by Caleb Carr

  1. Tracy says:

    I think I'd prefer this one to The Alienist, flaws and all. It's going on the library list.

  2. Thrillers are a hit or miss for me. I don't think this one is for me, but great review 🙂

  3. Blodeuedd says:

    Eh, you know why, pass. It sounds so heavy in some way, I can't really put my finger on it

  4. anachronist says:

    Tracy I think you might like it as a light summer read (contrary to my chicklit project).Melissa I know about hits or misses – that's why it is always good to read a review first! I enjoyed this one because it was a tad more intellectual than your ordinary thriller.Blodeuedd, yes I know why and I am not surprised!

  5. Carissa says:

    Great review!The premise of this one sounds really interesting, although I'm a little disappointed to hear that the character development was lacking.Thanks for sharing this with us!On The Blog: Early Review of Half-Blood (Covenant #1)

  6. Funny enough, I don't believe about half of the broadcasts that come through the television/newspaper. This came about from having the husband that I do. He's a third world country, born and bread, immigrant who was raised during a communistic era. Sufficeth to say, the communists told him and all the other people of their country a whole lot of crap that never actually happened. All of it was told to keep the people under control. Some of the things the government said were quite laughable, but Hubby doesn't believe much of what any government says nowadays. It's definitely rubbed off on me. It's interesting to hear his version of history versus my version of history. His is first hand from his grandfather, mine from a school book. I wonder which one is the better option?Anyhow, this book sounds intriguing, but I'm not up for brilliant females who, in truth, are stupid idiots. Sometimes, I think men should learn more about us before they try to write us. ;-)Great review as always anachronist. I'm very tempted to read it…despite it's flawed structure. I may never get to it though as thrillers usually fall to the end of my TBR. JenIn the Closet With a Bibliophile

  7. anachronist says:

    Carissa thanks for a visit and a comment! Your blog is beautiful!Jen, I can relate to your husband's experience. My parents have been brainwashed by communists too and they hardly believe in weather forecast, let alone any other piece of news published anywhere. The truth is we are being manipulated by the media no matter whether we live in a Third World country or in Europe or the USA, perhaps for different reasons but still…

  8. Hm… I love it when philosophy is woven into a story, but I hate it when the only major female character or at least one of importance is shallow. Hm… I may pass on this one.

  9. anachronist says:

    I can understand, really. It was such a pity Larissa was presented in such a superficial way.

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