Thursday, February 12, 2009

REVIEW: The Golden Age by John C. Wright

I've got a bad cold and a hurt knee, so I feel pretty lousy. I thought it would be a good time to fall back on a review, given that my brain is not firing on all cylinders. Since I just finished a very entertaining science fiction series, I thought I'd discuss it here.

For an imaginative, challenging, and altogether remarkable science fiction series, I highly recommend The Golden Age by John C. Wright. The trilogy consists of The Golden Age, The Phoenix Exultant, and The Golden Transcendence.

This is far future space opera in which the scale and scope of the technologies manage to boggle the mind without resorting to technologies like faster-that-light travel, anti-gravity, or force fields. In fact, the bulk of the action takes place in the Solar System—but a Solar System in which Venus and Mars are both terraformed, Jupiter has been converted into a sort of proto-star, and the Sun itself is being ringed by a giant construct designed to prevent solar flares and sunspots from disrupting the communications networks and commerce that hold human civilization together.

I found Wright’s vision of how humanity might alter itself—in particular the alternate mental structures that people might choose for themselves and the different social systems they might construct—to be fascinating. The language is often evocative, the dialogue can be stilted one moment and then very wryly amusing the next. There are tons of brilliant ideas every couple pages.

The first novel is the hardest to grasp. It throws you right into the dizzying setting without much of a safety net. Much of the novel follows the protagonist’s quest to discover his missing memories and the secret that they conceal, all while trying to determine just who his real allies and enemies are. I’ll just say that the dream he has sacrificed so much to pursue turns out to be one that seems very worthwhile to me.

In the second novel our hero, Phaethon, knows more or less who he is and what he wants to achieve, but there are plenty of obstacles in his way and more mysteries to uncover. This novel moves at a brisker pace and was very enjoyable.

The finale in the concluding novel is big and bold and dramatic, though I felt it bogged down in a few spots near the end as the author described the philosophical and psychological limitations of the artificial intelligences doing battle. But it was still a wonderful read overall.

I read John C. Wright’s first story, “Guest Law,” many years ago and was so impressed that I spent the next couple years looking for his first novel. Then I gave up and recently stumbled across this trilogy, which was written in 2003 and 2004. A really fresh and enthusiastic vision of big, bold space operatic science fiction.


Aaron DaMommio said...

Okay, added this to my list.

Doug said...

Awesome! Like I said, the first book is tricky to get into at first, as it is hard to know what is going on. But there are just so many fascinating ideas in the trilogy.