In my Doctor Who book The Eyeless, a giant alien structure materialises suddenly in the heart of a city. Its origins are mysterious, and in a throwaway line, a scientist from that city comes up with a list of possible explanations: an enemy attack, an alien artefact and so on. The speculation I was proudest of coming up with was that it might have been sent from the future by the descendants of the people living there.
As with all good ideas, I wasn’t the first person to come up with it. Robert Charles Wilson had written a book where he’d coined a word to describe the concept: The Chronoliths. I didn’t know that when I was writing The Eyeless, but I have read the booksince, and I’d highly recommend it. Ironically, while I was writing my book, I was reading another by the author, Spin, and I think that one’s better still.
I suppose the word should be pronounced Crow-No-Lith, but I prefer it to rhyme with ‘monolith’ (Kron-Oh-Lith). The Monolith(s) from 2001: A Space Odyssey and its sequels (as immortalised in action figure form) also speak to future achievements, and may have been the ultimate inspiration for Wilson.
There’s only one real-life chronolith that I know of (if there are others, please let me know). Markers of future achievement are actually quite common, when you start looking for them. Most high streets have empty shops with posters in the windows announcing ‘Future site of Tasty Panda Chinese restaurant’ or something like it. We now get teaser posters that promise movies which won’t be out until some distant Space Year: Star Trek II, Coming Summer 2013.
But if it’s a -lith, it’s made of stone. That’s just etymology. The only true chronolith I know of is in Riverside, Iowa, and looks like this:
(Image from Wikipedia).
In The Making of Star Trek, Gene Roddenberry claimed James Kirk was ‘born in Iowa’ (it would be Star Trek IV before that was confirmed on-screen). Someone in Riverside wrote to Roddenberry and asked if Kirk’s official birthplace could be Riverside. Roddenberry agreed that such a matter should be decided on a first-come-first-served basis and an official proclamation (signed by Roddenberry) now hangs in the town. As well as the chronolith, Riverside has a Trek museum, a large metal USS Riverside model (currently being repaired ‘after being hit by a meteorite, or perhaps a truck’ as one local puts it), the town motto ‘Where The Trek Begins’ and numerous other signs and points of interest for pilgrims. The recent JJ Abrams movie established that Kirk was born in space … but the Enterprise is built at the ‘Riverside Shipyards’ and Kirk crashes his car into the deeply ageographical Riverside Quarry.
Before anyone scoffs, it is fair to point out that the claim this is the future birthplace of James Kirk is certainly more plausible than the notion that the Turin Shroud could have got within a thousand years of Jesus. A glance at this week’s cover of Newsweek demonstrates it’s not the craziest thing in Iowa at the moment. But that’s to damn it with faint praise. What we can say with certainty is that there’s a real life chronolith, and it’s in Iowa.
The truly dedicated can buy a tube of Kirk Dirt from the Museum. ‘What is Kirk Dirt?’, you ask? Well, click the link.