Saturday, January 26, 2008

Book Review: The Golden Age Trilogy, by John C. Wright

The Golden Age Trilogy (consisting of The Golden Age, The Phoenix Exultant, and The Golden Transcendence) is certainly one of the better series I've dipped into lately, and certainly the best since I discovered Charles Stross over the summer. In fact, these three books read like the love-child of Stross's Glasshouse and Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead (with maybe a tinge of Vinge's Rainbows End). Which, knowing my literary tastes, meant I loved every minute of it!

The story, set in a universe where man has achieved effective immortality through mind-recording and -copying technology, revolves around Phaethon, a man whose drive to achieve "deeds of renown without peer" has shaken the Golden Oecumene to its core. He has been cast down as his namesake before him, his memory tampered with and much of his past closed to him - including everything related to the dream that brought such punishment upon him. Now he needs to figure out what dream could be so dangerous as to be taken from him, and a way to achieve that dream in spite of his opposition.

Without giving away too much of the story, the ability to redact one's memories (legally) or others' (illegally) coupled with the ubiquity of telepresenting oneself (through presumably corruptible computer systems), mean that when one seeks truth, there are well-nigh infinite layers that must be peeled back to get to reality. The reader is kept in a high state of suspense until the very end, never knowing if we've finally reached reality, or if it's half-truths all the way down.

This is, as the subtitle of the first book suggests, a Romance of the Far Future. He drops the typical nihilistic cyberpunk tone for a vision of bold dreams and an exploration of Big Ideas. Phaethon, along with his virtues and his flaws, is larger than life in a way that only a truly Romantic character can be. Books like these are the reason I read sci-fi.

The reader should be warned that there is a decent bit of philosophizing involved later in the story that, while integral to the tale (not shoehorned in), may be off-putting to some readers. But don't worry, there's nothing approaching a 60-page Galt radio speech.

An excellent read - that absolutely ruined my productivity for the last few days.


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