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3.4 out of 5 stars
Count to a Trillion
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49 of 57 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
Anybody who as read his books from the Golden Age trilogy to Null-A-Contiuum knows he is a writer of big ideas and this book is an embarrassment of riches. So many great ideas are contained within that they could have been parsed out a basis for a dozen of other SF books. This book follows the rich tradition of the Space Opera where it's not over until the "voluptuous green-skinned spacewomen in silvery space-bikinis" sing.

The specific story follows young Menelaus Illation Montrose from his childhood on. The Western world is in collapse and the world is divided up into various spheres of influence such as the Indosphere and the Hispanosphere. Menelaus is a brilliant polymath who dreams of "shining tomorrows" and the disappointments of actual life and not flying cars and other gee wiz technological developments. His dreams are partially shaped by a comic book series named Asymptote that has many shadows of Star Trek and it's view of the future of man along with the cornier aspects related to Captain Kirk. As someone whose childhood included the start of the Star Trek series and the race to the moon this young character had many elements I could relate to. His mother though has other plans for him that don't include such starry-eyed dreaming and seemingly escapist literature.

His path to adulthood leads through various phases of apprenticeship with nothing fully using his talents. He becomes a dueling-lawyer, that is a lawyer that handles things outside of court hi-tech dueling pistols. The description of one of the duels is one of the great ideas the story is so peppered with. These special guns with defenses reminds me of aviation warfare with electronic countermeasures, chaff, and other deceptive techniques along with special missiles. Having worked in this area in my Navy career this brining it down to the dueling level was especially pleasing. But this is only a small part of the plot of the book.

The main thrust of the book deals broadly with space flight, harvesting of a star, and the results of abundant cheap energy on the world as it is politically controlled. Menelaus steps into this future and into a subsequent future a century or so hence is filled with missteps that initially take him out of the action for part of the time. When he becomes able to participate he finds himself in a future where there is no war, but with a very cold war atmosphere where a group of spaceman-scientists have blackmailed the world both with cheap energy and the threat of destruction that can't be countered. Instead of Mutual Assured Destruction, there is just destruction for those who oppose this rule. This is a more dystopian than utopian future as the lack of wars does not denote actual peace and while technological developments have changed many things for the better, the tensions involving the source of energy are causing other pressures leading to conflict.

Being that John C. Wright has written about the "New Space Princess Movement" and our need for it, it is not surprising that the book indeed includes a beautiful and super intelligent Space Princess. A very enjoyable character who to me has shadows of the thankfulness of G.K. Chesterton. Maybe I am reading this into the story, but there seemed to be a light shadow of Chesterton in it. Of course any story with a Space Princess will set up a love triangle and in this case it is between Menelaus and his best friend and now dangerous foe Del Azarchel and Princess Rania. This of course creates most of the tensions in the latter half of the book leading to a showdown between the two.

But with there's more. The book also deals with post humanism and contact with an alien civilization which has left an artifact so dense with information that ultimately it can only be read by someone with post human intelligence. The big ideas surrounding this aspect are also very interesting and the consequences of this and possible contact with the aliens that left this drives the plot in multiple ways that are surely to develop since this is first book of the trilogy.

John C. Wright slings a lot of scientific BS in this novel, but it is slung well and is a higher order of scientific BS than of the Star Trek variety. So there is a bit of technobabble, but you also get the feeling it more science-based than just space opera plot filler. The philosophical discussions between the main characters is also interesting and makes the types of distinctions I like to see. Really the dialogue is quite enjoyable and often very funny at times. One description involving hackers and Moby Dick is one of the funniest things I have ever read and his pun on the spanish pronunciation of Jesus is one that will never let me hear the Spanish pronunciation of the name the same again.

One reviewer takes to task how the super-intelling post human version of Menelaus in that he "talks like a caricature of John Wayne in a low-budget Western." I can understand this criticism, but it seems to me also a bit of a bias as I can think of at least one Texan who I would consider very intelligent and extremely well read and who talks in a folksy Texan style.

The ending of this book though is more in the fashion of a cliffhanger from an old serial than is usual in space opera. Many things are left hanging and since I enjoyed the book so much my patience of waiting for the rest of the trilogy will be quite taxing. The book might not be for everybody, but it was certainly for me who loves both space opera and the old movie serials.
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on March 4, 2013
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
I really enjoyed Wright's "Golden Age" trilogy (The Golden Age) and "Count to a Trillion" is similar but different.

The pace is frantic and the technology superbly imagined. So much so, that I had no idea half the time what was really being discussed, especially as much of it is maths, algorithms and biological systems, but that was a large part of the charm. In terms of sci-fi this is a semi hard novel, in that it has spaceships and aliens and lashings of future tech, but they are all subservient to the characters, and do not stand alone or apart as a reason to read the book.

Our main character, Menelaus Illation Montrose, comes alive as a future Texan in a world beset by all sorts of collapses - environmental, economic, political and biological. He has dreams and aspirations which he learns to keep to himself, courtesy of a religious zealot mother with a puritan mean streak, but he's also smart as a whip and fearless to boot, so if adventure is not going to come to him, he'll go to adventure. I could all but taste his Texanism (OK, that's not a word, but you know what I mean) seeping from the pages as he doffed his hat to the ladies and drew his six-gun to the baddies.

A subtle, subversive humour pervades "Count to a Trillion", almost as if Wright knows that the whole set up is absurd and is asking you to laugh along with him. For me, and unlike the "Golden Age" trilogy, the core of "Count to a Trillion" held up to scrutiny because while the various premises were absurd, they were at least self consistent.

But I can see why "Count to a Trillion" rated more 1 star reviews than 5 star reviews. Sure, the plot is contrived, the future is sexist and the language seems a throwback to a more formal era. Wright gives us a complex mélange of technological advancements and social stagnation, and even as Montrose injects himself with a concoction to turbo charge his intellect, Wright is injecting irony and wit in equal measure. The plot truly is epic in that it celebrates the feats of a legendary or traditional hero, and in the more modern sense has a wide and deep scope. And this is not light reading, fast paced as it is. The implications of a post-Humanity Dictator; an energy crisis even when using anti-matter as a fuel; the perils of trading with Galactic neighbours immeasurably more advanced than us in every way. Wright tackles big sci-fi issues here, even as events and his own characters spiral out of control toward a seemingly inevitably horrendous conclusion. Being a futurist view, nobody can say that language, for example, won't devolve to a more formal tone and I thought some reviews that focused on how the characters speak were certainly missing the point. And the sexism, given such a fundamentalist future, is actually more likely than not - liberal, wealthy societies tend to empower their women; recovering economies not so much.

I think you can read too much into a book, and it seems that "Count to a Trillion" triggers such a response, with one reviewer stepping out to some of Wright's blog entries and deciding that he's a misogynist pig and therefore this is a misogynist novel (and homophobic? I certainly didn't see that). Fair enough, perhaps the blogs were and perhaps he is, but let's focus on what's on the page in front of us and given that one of the main characters is a hyper-intelligent, inordinately attractive femme fatale, I'm just on the wrong side of that political debate for such claims to resonate.

Obviously, "Count to a Trillion" has flaws. But it is brave and crackles with more static electricity than many other novels put together. I greatly enjoyed it but it clearly polarises readers so I can't really recommend who might like it. It is not as hard as "Revelation Space" or as technologically funky as "Great North Road", but perhaps more along the lines of a Greg Egan novel or Iain M. Banks (in terms of mind bending ideas per page it most reminded me of "The Fractal Prince" even though the writing styles are very different).

What I can say is that I've already ordered the sequel and if it's as jammed pack with craziness then I expect to greatly enjoy that as well.
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45 of 55 people found the following review helpful
on July 17, 2012
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
As the name implies Count to a Trillion hums with ambition. It chronicles the life of Menelaus Montrose who travels from his home in post apocalypse rural Texas, to become a gun fighting lawyer, mathematician explorer of cosmic artifacts, posthuman super genius, and witness to humanity's future. John C. Wright was clearly giving it his all when he set out to tell this tale, unfortunately the novel is not able to support his goals.

The initial problem is Montrose himself. Capturing the voice of the cowboy scientist was always going to be tricky because the author clearly wanted to work against trope. But with Montrose there is no nuance. The result seems to flop between two polar cliches rather than synthesize these traits. Still, the weakness of the characters would be less of an issue if it weren't for deeper problems.

Mr. Wright would never be called a disciplined author. His writing always tends to the verbose. Unfortunately, in Count to a Trillion he seems to have run completely amok. Too often this novel feel like waves of exposition alternating with torrents of technobabble. Ironically, Mr. Wright is a master of both so the result is remarkably readable. Still, phrases like "...Kolmogorov backward equation, or Erdos-Szekers Theorem about monotone subsequences..." batter the reader into exhaustion without leaving any particular impression. It is as if the author has drowned one half of his tale in the other half.

Its a shame. Mr. Wright has a unique voice in SF and is capable of much better. But on this outing his worst impulses have taken control. The book if far from terrible, but its grand ambitions are held back by the authors choice to tell so much, while showing so little.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on February 17, 2014
Format: Mass Market PaperbackVerified Purchase
I don't go out of my way to read science fiction very often. In fact, I don't read fiction that often.

But I gulped down both Count To A Trillion and The Hermetic Millennia like late night candy. John C. Wright has a broad, broad imagination, and like the greatest science fiction writers his books betray an obsession with the unanswerable questions - the kind of stuff that is hinted at in the margins of textbooks, the kind of stuff your professors leave for the last two minutes of class. It's apparent from the very first few pages. And these ideas are heavy indeed - if you've ever spent a few too many hours working differentials, you'll recognize the analytical clout that begins to surround the characters.

Which is why it's shocking to see the story itself driven with such propulsion as it is here. I've never before read conversations that last for fifty, sixty pages without losing the reader somewhere in between. And there are plenty of such conversations in Count to a Trillion; they are the story's backbone and veer wonderfully between humor, scientific spitballing, and - above all - twists that turn the story inside out relentlessly.

There are problems - Rania is a bit too lovely for life, and the attributes of the main character are perhaps a little overwrought. But this is far-future science fiction, and as far as the genre goes things could be much, much worse. You'll grow to love both of them before the end. This does not disappoint.
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22 of 28 people found the following review helpful
on December 24, 2011
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
Maybe the entire kitchen sink has been thrown into the story. The main guy is a freedom-lovin Texan who used to duel to the death other lawyers, after a worldwide Muslim holy war, after the collapse of the US government, after a worldwide engineered plague. The guy then becomes a mathematical and genetic engineering supergenius who is on the crew of the first interstellar manned spaceship. And then it gets weird.
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21 of 27 people found the following review helpful
on January 2, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition
First, do not listen to these bad reviews. One of them complains about editing errors. It is a TOR book, editing errors (galore) are to be expected.

None of Mr. Wright's works are easy reads. Be prepared to consult dictionary. But the payoff is well worth it - if you follow along. If you are looking for something the mental equivalent of "the cat is on the mat", you won't be able to follow, or you will be frustrated. Hey, I'm not always in the mood for it either. But he will stretch your galactic mind if you're willing.

This is the best new science fiction release I have read since The Golden Age, also by Mr. Wright, no small wonder.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on March 4, 2013
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Engaging characters and a plot that feels organic. This is all a good story needs. But when the dialog really sings from the page and even the blocks of exposition (often which can serve as a blight in other pieces of fiction) are fascinating enough to keep one reading....my friends, that is the difference between a good story and a great novel.

"Count To A Trillion" is a such a book.

I will admit the forays into the mile high cornfields of mathematical babble almost pulled me out of the story, but Wright really does a good job of
not alienating his reader and was able to pull me back into the narrative.

An excellent read.

Though if you are more partial to soft science in your Sci-Fi then this book might not ignite your rocket.

On another note: It is a pity some of the detractors for this book seem so focused on erecting a straw man caricature of him (claiming things
Wright neither said nor did), that they seem to have forgotten that the point of a "review" is to actually talk about the product on display. But I suppose grinding an axe for one's own hobby horse is enough of a life goal for some. Sad really.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on August 4, 2013
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
John C. Wright's Golden Age is one of my favorite hard sci fi series. I've been hoping he would make another large sci fi work and was thrilled to see this. The reviews are pretty negative, but I found Count to a Trillion to be very similar to the Golden Age. Both have the feel of wandering through a surreal landscape of fascinating ideas. The story is not done at the end of this book, in fact it appears to be only just beginning. Even so, I do not agree with the criticism that nothing happened.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on November 7, 2013
Format: Mass Market PaperbackVerified Purchase
While Wright's tone might not be for everyone, his view is expansive and his voice unique. I enjoyed this one as much as his Golden Age trilogy. Intellectually stimulating, and complex enough that one can disagree with his particular vision of the future while being thoroughly enthralled by it.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on June 16, 2014
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
This book reeks of both E.E. Smith and Larry Niven's works...the grand, sweeping plot is pure Smith (the inventor of Space Opera), the technology is very reminiscent of Larry Niven's later works. The basic plot (I won't give spoilers) is brilliant. But the execution is erratic. There's too much plot material presented TO the protagonist as backstory. The plot in this volume really needed to be broken into two separate books. Spectacular finale, though...and a cliffhanger.

Update - This book is well worth rereading. There are a lot of very subtle plot elements and questions about the characters that Wright raises. Like the Monument in the book, there is deeper material hidden within the story. Read it, let it lie fallow for a while, THEN reread it.

It's also an incredibly rich source for ideas for aspiring science-fiction writers. Wright produced enough ideas for a good half-dozen novels more-or-less as background material for this book.
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