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The Golden Age Paperback – April 20, 2002
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The Golden Age is the most ambitious and impressive science fiction novel since China Miéville's Perdido Street Station. Amazingly, it is John C. Wright's debut novel.
In the far future, humans have become as gods: immortal, almost omnipotent, able to create new suns and resculpt body and mind. A trusting son of this future, Phaethon of Radamanthus House, discovers the rulers of the solar system have erased entire centuries from his mind. When he attempts to regain his lost memories, the whole society of the Golden Oecumene opposes him. Like his mythical namesake, Phaethon has flown too high and been cast down. He has committed the one act forbidden in his utopian universe. Now he must find out what it is--and who he is.
A novel influenced by Roger Zelazny, Jack Vance, and A.E. van Vogt, yet uniquely itself, The Golden Age presents a complex and thoroughly imagined future that will delight science fiction fans. John C. Wright has a gift for big, bold concepts and extrapolations, and his smoothly written novel pushes cyberpunk's infotech density to a new level, while abandoning cyberpunk's nihilistic noir tone for SF's original optimism. Big ideas are joined by big themes; Wright provocatively explores the nature of heroism, the nature of power, and the conflict between the rights of the individual and those of society.
Fiction as ambitious as The Golden Age is never flawless. Action fans will find this novel too talky. A change of quests late in the novel is jarring. And, while this Romance of the Far Future suitably examines the heroic virtues, its unfortunate subtext is "heroism is a guy thing." This far-future novel published in 2002 maintains a credulity-shattering mid-20th-century sexual status quo.
Not all plotlines are resolved in The Golden Age, and a sequel is forthcoming. --Cynthia Ward --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
This dazzling first novel is just half of a two-volume saga, so it's too soon to tell if it will deliver on its audacious promise. It's already clear, however, that Wright may be this fledgling century's most important new SF talent. Many millennia from now, his protagonist Phaethon disrupts the utopia of the Golden Oecumene to achieve "deeds of renown without peer." To write honestly about the far future is a similarly heroic deed. Too often, SF paints it as nothing more than the Roman Empire writ large. Wright recognizes that our society already commands many of the powers the Romans attributed to their gods; our descendants' world will be almost unimaginably magnificent and complex, and they will be able to reshape their own minds as easily as they engineer the heart of the sun. To make their dramas resonant today, the author uses echoes of mythology both classic (like his namesake, Phaethon is punished for soaring too high) and contemporary (SF fans will enjoy nods to modern masters Wells, Lovecraft and Vance). And he wisely chooses simple pulp-fiction plots to drive us through the technological complexities of Phaethon's world. The hero's quest to regain his lost memories, learn his true identity and reach the stars is undeniably compelling. As a result, having to wait for the next volume is frustrating. Wright's ornate and conceptually dense prose will not be to everyone's taste but, for those willing to be challenged, this is a rare and mind-blowing treat. (Apr. 24)Forecast: Intellectual SF fans should make this a cult favorite akin to Vernor Vinge's Marooned in Real Time or Greg Egan's Permutation City. If the novel finds a wider readership, it will be because, like William Gibson's work, it reflects and inspires current developments in virtual reality and AI.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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That said, some things in the book I liked less. My biggest gripe is that this book is (as I was aware beforehand) just a third of the story, there is no ending at all, two other books follow. The book is enjoyable, but not that gripping that one should have to endure through three of them to find out what the answers really are, and as I've found out from reading the plot summary later, the conclusion is not that earth-shattering to start with.
Second, the book feels like a play most of the time. People just talk, albeit the background changes. And lastly, I found it rather implausible, that after 10,000 years of growth in technology, people are still basically organic humans, even if enhanced and with many add-ons. With all the wonders described in the book, surely people should have found out that the organic brain is holding them back and that they can easily go beyond it.
By no means perfect, but intelligent and well-crafted.
"Immortality" is achieved by making electronic copies of memories and personality, and re-loading them into genetically-altered forms or machines. "Peace" and "harmony" are won through a lack of privacy, as everyone can spy one everyone else and machines ultimately are in charge (or at least very influential). Goo-like nano machines are everywhere.
Within this dense technological setting move a set of characters who are part Greek mythology, part Dr.Who heroes and villains. Interesting questions regarding free-will and man's relationship to society and technology are explored in mind-boggling complex and playful prose. Clever puns and allusions pop up unexpectedly; the dialog ranges in style from 19th century, to 21 century spy thrillers.
I won't speak to the actual plot yet, as The Golden Age is the first of a trilogy, and I'm about 2/3rds done with the second part. Overall, it's very unusual, thought-provoking and quite entertaining.
Mr Wright is very erudite (I learn lots of new words reading his books) and he takes full advantage with an excessively descriptive, florid even, prose style that is a lot of work to follow and which I just don't enjoy reading. I guess I'm just too dumb to appreciate it. I don't regret reading this book, doubt I'll ever follow up to the next book in the series.
I'd add only one thing. This is one of those storylines where the main character has amnesia and sets out to solve the mystery of his own identity. The story line is fun. And the book is heavy into philosophy. What actions are moral? How do we define life and what is its value? Yada, yada. If you are taking philosophy 101, or a course in ethics, you'll hit on many of the topics covered in this novel. In the end, I like sci-fi, I like philosophy, and I like a good plot. I really enjoyed this novel. But I will recommend it only to sci-fi buffs -- not my wife. Perhaps not even my brother.
Check out the excerpt from D. Cloyce Smith's review.
Ten thousand years in the future, during the Golden Age, humankind has been incorporated by the Sophotechs into a virtual utopia that allows its citizens the joys of immortality, competitive world building, neurological resurrection through downloading, and social transcendence--not to mention outlandishly silly masquerades. The Manorial elites interact entirely through a Matrix-like grid, although there are hints that others not so "fortunate" exist outside the network. The solar system's computerized administration and its nanotechnological bioforms support a world in which every "transformation took an eye-blink" (or what passes for an eye in hyperspace), and entire memories and dreamscapes and databanks are transmitted instantaneously...
There's some interesting and mind-bending stuff here, but I'm afraid the stagy clunkiness of the dialogue, the show-offish hokum of the technobabble, the purple prose of the descriptions ("She was garbed in a gown of flowing emerald green, and her golden braids were twined to hold an emerald crown in place"), and the strain of the mythological references conspire to make reading a bit of a chore. Most of the characters, too, are either cartoonish or indistinguishable; several opening chapters, for example, are spent describing six powerful yet interchangeable Peers, but their supposed individuality seems not to matter much anyway (at least in this installment). And Phaeton's Odyssean journey doesn't really begin until the final chapters, when we find out that this encyclopedic 330-page short story is little more than a scene-setting prologue for a subsequent book (or two). In the end, this is one of those books that must be judged partly on the strengths of their sequels.
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His writing is superb. His use of language facile. But...Read more
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