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The Chronoliths

By: Robert Charles Wilson
Narrated by: Oliver Wyman
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Publisher's Summary

Scott Warden is a man haunted by the past - and soon to be haunted by the future. In early 21st-century Thailand, Scott is an expatriate slacker. Then, one day, he inadvertently witnesses an impossible event: the violent appearance of a 200-foot stone pillar in the forested interior. Its arrival collapses trees for a quarter mile around its base, freezing ice out of the air and emitting a burst of ionizing radiation. It appears to be composed of an exotic form of matter. And the inscription chiseled into it commemorates a military victory - 16 years in the future.

Shortly afterwards, another, larger pillar arrives in the center of Bangkok - obliterating the city and killing thousands. Over the next several years, human society is transformed by these mysterious arrivals from, seemingly, our own near future. Who is the warlord "Kuin" whose victories they note?

Scott wants only to rebuild his life. But some strange loop of causality keeps drawing him in, to the central mystery and a final battle with the future.

©2002 Robert Charles Wilson (P)2009 Audible, Inc.

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What listeners say about The Chronoliths

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Overall
  • 4 out of 5 stars
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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

A haunting, beautiful work...

I was taken by Robert Charles Wilson's work first with "Bios" (hint, Audible, hint, hint...) and then with the wonderfully weird and epic "Darwinia." I think "The Chronoliths" is my favorite. This is a compelling, often melancholy novel peopled by sympathetic characters who come alive in their vulnerability, ambivalence and, in the end, profound commitment to helping each other cope with a world made despairing and dysfunctional by forces beyond understanding. The reading is flawless and perfect for this novel, well-paced with good character differentiation and a keen sense of irony, wit and melancholy. My sincerest compliments to Mr. Wyman. While my library of Audible SF readings is ridiculously large, almost begging clinical intervention, this is one that I will be happy to experience more than once. A fine work of character-centered science fiction. God, I wish I could write like RCW!

14 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars

good writing kept me going

Some writers just know how to put words and thoughts together well enough that you have to listen. This book is depressing and exciting. I am not a fan of books with bleak outlooks, but RW is such a good writer that he can keep your interest with his thoughts, even though you may not like the subject matter. The science in this is exciting, but seems to be a very small part of the book until toward the end. It is written as a narrative, which is not my favorite style. Often in the book he mentions how awful something is and then follows that with, but not as awful as it would become. I believe these type of teasers to be a cheap way out for the writer, and it is especially cheap if the ending does not live up to the billing. Through 75% of it, the book had my full attention, but toward the end my mind started to wonder and I was a little disappointed in the ending, though it keep true to the mood of the whole book.

It may sound like I am hard on the book, but I did give it 4 stars which I do not do lightly. I think it is worth the money, it just might not be your favorite. If you have not read RW, then you should start with Spin.

13 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars

Big Idea SF, family drama story

This is a fine mix of Big Idea SF with human drama on a much smaller scale. The Big Idea is a conqueror from the future named "Kuin" who is somehow able to send massive monuments to his victories back in time, where they stand invulnerable and ominous over the lands he is destined to conquer. The first ones are in Thailand, but over the next few years they appear all over Asia. Some materialize in relatively unpopulated areas, but some appear in the middle of cities, flattening them with shockwaves. Scientists determine (using hand-wavey physics) that these "chronoliths" are indeed from the future, which means Kuin really is going to conquer all of Asia in about twenty years. This sets off global turmoil. Some prepare to fight; others begin urging accommodation or outright capitulation. By the time Kuin's chronoliths are appearing outside of Asia, there are entire "Kuinist" militias and organizations, and of course innumerable warlords in the now-devastated Asian warring states claiming to be Kuin.

This is the backdrop of the story, which is really about Scott Warden and his family. Scott is a kind of mediocre husband and father slacking off in Thailand when the first chronolith appears there. Being one of the first witnesses to the first appearance of the chronoliths inescapably binds him to the events that follow over the next few decades. As he is told by Sulasmith Chopra, the scientist who studies the chronoliths and believes that Kuin can be stopped, "there are no coincidences." Scott goes through a divorce, his ex-wife marries a Kuin accommodationist, his daughter, as a teenager, hooks up with a young Kuinist ideologue who turns out to be a psychopath, which brings Scott together with the psychopath's mother. His drug-dealing friend from his time in Thailand reappears, as do all the other characters we meet over the course of the book.

It's Scott's interactions with his family and friends that are the heart and soul of this book. The characters are not all vivid or interesting, but they are distinct and they each have a purpose in the story, and Scott narrates a compelling story as he weathers a long, brutal economic downturn that turns even the U.S. into an impoverished country, works for Sulasmith Chopra trying to understand who Kuin is and what the chronoliths represent, travels to Mexico to save his daughter from Kuinists who have gone on a "haj" to see the manifestation of the first chronolith in North America, and finally, goes to meet his destiny in a climactic confrontation in Wyoming.

"Kuin" is basically a MacGuffin; ultimately, it doesn't really matter who he is or if he even exists. It's what he represents that drives all the world events. With the rules of time travel Wilson establishes in this book, cause and effect are looped together, so we are finally able to understand why all the small human dramas Scott was involved in add up to something of greater significance at the end. Wilson's take on time travel is intelligent and subtle, and by keeping Kuin a mysterious off-screen presence whose very existence remains in doubt, he makes the whole thing plausible without having to deal with paradoxes, parallel universes, and the like. Wilson has thought through all the implications, and if the end of the story seems like a bit of an anti-climax, it's also one that makes perfect sense.

Wilson's writing is straightforward but occasionally he waxes almost poetic. He's one of those writers who likes to show off his vocabulary, yet even the tech and time travel physics infodumps were brief and clear.

Although this wasn't the most wonderful book in recent memory or a true masterpiece, it's definitely a hidden gem of high quality, and I came very close to giving it 5 stars. Given the eloquent but clear writing, it's a science fiction novel that a non-sci-fi fan might well enjoy, since the time travel and near-future history is only background for the characters and the plot which drive the story. I give it 4.5 stars; it's very good, I just didn't quite find it unique or mindblowing or the characters memorable enough to make it awesome.

12 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    2 out of 5 stars

Not Wilson's Best

In The Chronoliths, the world is rocked by the sudden arrival of massive obelisks, or "chronoliths," which appear to be a future conqueror's monuments to battles that have not yet occurred. As the chronoliths continue to appear, the world descends into economic and social chaos. Robert Charles Wilson is a brilliant writer and this is standard fare for him: a character story involving normal people caught up in major, world-altering preternatural events.

While The Chronoliths has an interesting premise, it is flat and intensely boring at times. Much of the action occurs elsewhere when the viewpoint character is not present and we are simply told about things that happened. Wilson fails to use the chronoliths' potential. They are fascinating objects but they are reduced to a setting, a mere backdrop by which our hero, Scott Warden, looks retrospectively on his life. To make matters worse, Warden is unlikable and apathetic. We often get the sense that he isn't involved in the story but rather that he just happens to be standing there when the story occurs.

Wilson almost always surprises the reader with something completely unexpected at the end. Unfortunately, there are few surprises here. The chronoliths turn out to be disappointing and less interesting than expected.

The narrator is decent and he has a good voice. Unfortunately, he chose to read Scott's part in a slow, monotone voice that made the character sound constantly stoned. The lack of intonation made the boring bits worse and I often found my mind wandering.

If you're a Wilson fan you may enjoy this one, but it is hardly Wilson's greatest achievement. If you haven't read Spin or Blind Lake, I suggest going there first. Overall, The Chronoliths was anti-climactic. Whereas most Wilson novels leave the reader feeling awed, I finished it thinking, "Is that it?"

11 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars

Entertaining

The Chronoliths is a story about people, and one mans journey through world changing events more than it is about the objects themselves. RCW's stories have always been more about the characters than the sci-fi, and Chronoliths is no different. Don't expect hard sci-fi, don't expect obvious villains and good guys, instead look forward to an entertaining tale about causality, destiny and time.
I enjoyed the narration, Wyman speaks clearly, although the voice he uses for female characters sometimes sounds a little timid and weak.

4 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars

Good story, awkward narration

Excellent classic SF.
Marred by the narrator's persistent mispronunciation of certain words. E.g., the Aneid pronounced as A-NIDE. About a dozen others like this, too.



3 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    3 out of 5 stars

Less interesting than other Wilson titles

By chance, I read this right before reading H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds, and although the two books are separated by more than a century, they clearly share the same basic genetic code. Immense objects appear from out of nowhere, gouging tracks of devastation into the landscape. The objects are beyond human technology and quickly begin to wreak havoc on the Current World Order. The protagonist, our Everyman (who is a white male in both books), accidentally finds himself caught up in the Thick of Things and is there for every Significant Plot Development.

I realize I am sounding cynical and I don’t mean to. In fact, I quite enjoyed The Chronoliths. It is only due to a happy circumstance of timing that I am able to make this comparison between it and that masterpiece of Victorian speculative literature . . . revealing that perhaps not that much has changed in the intervening century. As far as science fiction goes, that may not be such a bad thing. But, unlike other Wilson novels, I thought this one had less interesting ideas in it, and ended with a bit of a whimper.

[I listened to this as an audio book. The narrator, Oliver Wyman, did a fantastic job. As he did on the Z.A. Recht Morningstar Virus books, here he changes voices for every character, helping the listener keep everyone straight. I particularly liked the way he voiced the women, especially Sulasmith Chopra, the scientist who is obsessed with discovering the time-warping secret behind the man responsible for sending the Chronoliths into the past.]

2 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    3 out of 5 stars

Good writing, but not too invested in story.

Was The Chronoliths worth the listening time?

Good story idea and interesting concepts are toyed with. The only downsides are (1) the main character, Scott, is carefree and emotionless about everything which led me to not care for him, and (2) there is a lot of human minutiae which, while well written, does not add much to the story. I wish RCW had replaced this stuff with more information about the senders of the chronoliths. Still, I liked this book and I continue to think of RCW as one of the most talented SF writers.

1 person found this helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars

Ultimately unsatisfying story

What was most disappointing about Robert Charles Wilson’s story?

Too much of the story remained unresolved at the end. Scott ended up a passenger, a witness to the events of his time, but all through the story, there was the promise that his role in somehow bringing about events, or his potential role in resolving the conflict at the core of the story, would be revealed. In the end, there was no reveal, and no satisfactory reason revealed for why we should care about him.

In like manner, the story of the Chronoliths was left unresolved. There was very strong hint that Scott's mentor Su had some role in "defeating" the final Chronolith (although we're never certain that it was the final one - the whole thing sort of petered out), but it's left ambiguous. I don't mind a little ambiguity, but not when it involves the organizing theme and central actor in the story. It seems as if Mr. Wilson just got tired of the whole thing and decided to wrap things up by making everyone older.

Would you be willing to try another one of Oliver Wyman’s performances?

Probably not. His inflections often did not match the descriptors in the text for the way characters spoke; I felt that he completely missed on Hitch Paley's style of talking during the latter part of the book. It also seemed that all of Mr. Wyman's female characters, with the exception of Su, spoke with the same voice.

Any additional comments?

I stayed with the book because the central conceit - giant monuments from the future, portending global conflict and conquest - promised some very interesting science fictional treatment of time, causation, necessity. But none of the promise was delivered on; we were left with no particular insight into either the science, the political / military possibilities, the paradoxical possibilities, or the characters themselves.

1 person found this helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    3 out of 5 stars

Not what I had hoped

Would you try another book from Robert Charles Wilson and/or Oliver Wyman?

Probably not. I previously listened to Spin and Axis, and those were ok. This one was not.

Would you recommend The Chronoliths to your friends? Why or why not?

No. It was very slow. Too much telling, and not enough showing. I kept hoping there had been an abridged version available.

What didn’t you like about Oliver Wyman’s performance?

Too low key, but I was especially bothered by the way Sue Chopra was voiced. This is a woman who came to this country when she was 3 years old, and yet she has this vague foreign accent. How does that happen? I didn't hear anything in her history that would justify an accent. I believe she should have been voiced without an accent.

Could you see The Chronoliths being made into a movie or a TV series? Who should the stars be?

No, there is not enough action to hold anyone's attention.

Any additional comments?

I really wanted to like it. I like anything having remotely to do with time travel, and this seemed to fall into that category. However, it was very tedious. I'm sure this is just the ticket for a lot of people. Just not for me.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Michael
  • 07-26-12

A totally engrossing Sci-Fi Classic

The Chronoliths is a temporal paradox story. The central question of who or what is "Kuin" pulls you in like a black hole. The first person narrative of protagonist Scott Wardon makes the character incredibly authentic. And if you have downloaded Gateway or Man Plus, both by Frederik Pohl, thae you are guaranteed to enjoy The Chronoliths, too.

The story never strays from the mysterious appearances, creating a strong plot that does not overshadow the characters, yet provides plenty of opportunity for drama.

Oliver Wyman gives a marvellous performance--both of male and female characters--without rushing the story. And his rather staid yet sarcastic intonations serve to contrast the dour humour against Wardon's ever worsening predicament; you can't help but sympathise and like Wardon, who reveals himself to be all too human, though witty, which makes him an appealing character with whom to spend time.

A definite download.

1 person found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Pete
  • 03-15-19

Great story, albeit shorter than I expected.

I was looking for a good time travel novel and this hit the spot but not in the way I imagined. The story is more about human connections and our tangled experience through life, wrapped under the blanket of a sci-fi novel.

I will admit I was slightly disappointed with the ending, expecting more closure than it gave.

Though the author takes some liberties with the scientific parts of the concept of time travel, he has done this in a fantastic manner.

The narration was okay. I am still uncertain why the narrator chose to give the main protagonist such an exhausted, emotionless voice. The other characters were voiced well. There were a couple of mistakes, in particular I think the narrator forgot to switch voices once or twice.