Golden Age Trilogy by John C Wright

February 11, 2006 at 12:00 am | Posted in 4 stars, Book Reviews, Science Fiction | Leave a comment
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This is a trilogy made up of three books that are all one continuous story. It happens to be the best far future story I’ve read. That makes it the big fish in a rather small pond…Clarke’s City and the Stars, Egan’s Diaspora, and Bear’s Eon books come to mind as other examples of this subgenre. Like those who came before him, John C. Wright examines what form humanity might take thousands of years from now, what they might do for fun, and what they would care deeply about. This is dangerous, because if humans are too different it is easy to alienate the reader (this happened to me with Diaspora). On the other hand, when humans are too close to being the same it threatens the sense of disbelief. Wright walks this line with care and all things considered does a pretty good job at it.

The books that are easiest to compare this to are Banks’ Culture books, because Wright, like Banks, posits a human society that is managed by superintelligent AI. Where Wright differs from Banks in that his society is not post-scarcity (and, in fact, the main character gives a detailed and fairly convincing explanation for why there will always be scarcity) and so there is a comprehensible economic order. It’s unfair to infer the author’s beliefs from a book, but let’s be honest, it’s clear that Wright is as much of a libertarian as Banks is a socialist. This makes it interesting to compare the two societies, since they aren’t as different as one might expect.

If you are getting bored by this talk of scarcity and libertarianism, you may want to give these books a pass. Although you can technically classify this as a space opera, it is a novel of ideas both technological and philosophical. That’s not to say Wright ignores characters and plot…there is a very complicated plot and the character and dialogue is decent with occasional flashes of brilliance. However, there is very little “action”. Many confrontations are resolved through argument.

The biggest downside to the books is there is a lot of lingo thrown around. Some it, as far as I can tell, is intended to be decorative. In particular, there is a lot of magic physics being thrown around (although FTL is still impossible) and described at length. I tended to just skim those descriptions. Occasionally the terminology becomes important, mainly when it relates to how humans or AIs think, but for the most part, you can just let it wash over you. The other aspect that might be considered a downside is that in a book like this that is full of philosophical arguments there are going to be a lot of people who feel their opinion wasn’t properly represented. Wright caught a lot of flack from some reviewers over this, but even though I disagree with some of what the main character thinks and even with some of the author’s assumptions in building the world, I can still recommend the books wholeheartedly because they don’t try to hoodwink the reader into thinking something but genuinely argue. There’s just as many controversial assumptions in a typical Iain Banks or Ken MacLeod or Charlie Stross book but somehow they get a pass. To me, a book that provokes thought and argument afterward is a good book. If you agree, definitely give Golden Age a try.

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