Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
Julian Comstock: A Story of 22nd-Century America Hardcover – June 23, 2009
|New from||Used from|
The Amazon Book Review
Author interviews, book reviews, editors picks, and more. Read it now
Customers who bought this item also bought
What other items do customers buy after viewing this item?
From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Hugo-winner Wilson (Axis) perpetrates a kind of skewed steampunk novel set in a postcollapse, imperial United States returned to 19th-century technology and mores. Julian Comstock, the disgraced nephew of the tyrannical American president, grows up in a small town in what was formerly northern Canada. Adam Hazzard, Julian's working-class friend, and Sam Godwin, a bluff old retainer and secret Jew, struggle to keep Julian alive despite his uncle's hatred and Julian's proclivity for annoying the repressive Dominion Church. When Julian is drafted to fight the invading Dutch in Labrador, exaggerated tales of his heroism, written by would-be novelist Adam, catapult the young aristocrat to unwanted fame. Written with the eloquence and elegance of a Victorian novel, this thoughtful tale combines complex characters, rousing military adventure and a beautifully realized, unnerving future. (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
From School Library Journal
Adult/High School—After the disasters of the 21st century that resulted in the deaths of millions of its citizens, the United States retreats from technology and urban life. Social classes are sharply distinguished, and a centralized Protestant Church plays a powerful role in both politics and everyday life. President Deklan Comstock is periodically reelected without opposition. Despite his apparent stranglehold on power, he views his nephew, a child named Julian, as a potential future rival. In an effort to protect her son, Julian's mother sends him to be raised in a remote village in the Western states, where he becomes fast friends with a local lad, the narrator of this tale. Forced to flee their village to avoid the military draft, they make their way eastward where, after many adventures, Julian at last faces his uncle. On one level, this is a straightforward adventure story in the tradition of G.A. Henty or Oliver Optic. Throughout the narrative, however, there runs an engaging philosophical examination of the nature of society, the individual, truth, power, idealism, and change, which adds to the drama while foreshadowing Julian's eventual fate. Teens looking for a meaty adventure will enjoy this book, as will those looking for provocative science fiction, while readers aspiring to careers in politics will find much to contemplate.—Sandy Schmitz, Berkeley Public Library, CA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Browse award-winning titles. See more
Top customer reviews
There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.
And yet, while that aspect of Wilson is completely evident in Julian Comstock – this is, as the novel’s subtitle suggests, a novel of the 22nd century, set in an America that survived after oil ran out by turning back the technological clock, and at the same time, turned itself into a religious theocracy – this is also a wildly different book for him, one that feels more character-driven, more personal, and less sprawling. It’s a story more intimate than any I’ve really seen from Wilson before, and for all of its rich ideas and worldbuilding, at its core, it’s the story of two friends and their lives in this world so clearly inspired by ours, whether for good or for bad.
That different feel is evident as soon as the book’s structure reveals itself as a memoir – and more importantly, the memoir not of our main character, Adam Hazzard, but of his friend, the famous Julian Comstock. It follows our heroes from their unlikely boyhood together, through their times in war, all the way to the source of Julian’s fame – or infamy, depending on who you ask. It’s a humble-feeling book, one that feels like a tribute to a friend, and an effort to humanize an icon. But it’s also a great adventure story, and a coming of age story, as we watch these two boys become men and grapple with their place in the world.
If that sounds more conventional than you might expect from Wilson, well, that’s okay; rest assured, Wilson brings his usual gift for worldbuilding and scope to bear in his setting, as we come to understand more and more not only what 22nd-century America is, but how it came to be. We see how the oil shortages became rebranded as a “Tribulation,” and how the government and church came to unify. We see how the class system shifted, revolving around indentured servitude rather than freedom, and how ideas like science and Darwinism faded from the public conscience – but never went away. And that’s where Wilson finds much of his drama, as Julian becomes a crusader for science and rationalism in a world that doesn’t always welcome it.
All of that would be more than enough for most books, but Wilson brings even more to the book in the voice of our narrator, Adam Hazzard, a sheltered, less rebellious figure who doesn’t always fully appreciate the gap between what he thinks he knows and what’s really going on. (A tip: keep Google Translate handy for any passage of foreign language; the play between what people are saying and what Adam knows is always fun, and sometimes surprisingly illuminating.) Wilson plays with Adam’s naive perspective beautifully, letting him not always pick up on the subtextual relationships between people, or sometimes completely misread a situation – something Wilson never goes out of his way correct. It all works to make Adam a winning, endearing character, one whose sheltered worldview and warm, if naive, perspective give the book a rich flavor all its own.
Julian Comstock may not have the impact or scope of some of Wilson’s best works, but in the end, it may be his richest, warmest, and most accessible book. What he’s gotten away from in scope he’s picked up in characterization and vibrancy, making this one of the first books of his I’ve read that invested me more in the characters and their lives than it did the ideas and impact of its story. It’s a great read from one of the best science-fiction authors working today, and a nice reminder of how great it can be to find those moments when authors step out of their comfort zone to do something different.
That's the tragedy of it all. Our heroes are a motley bunch, each with their own clear voices and well-defined personalities, and all of them with their own host of dramatic conflicts - but Wilson chose by far the least interesting of them all as narrator, and Adam is so cartoonishly naive and simple that all the real dramatic meat of the story ends up being coyly alluded to through the filter of a running gag about Adam not understanding what's going on around him at the most basic level. Calyxa, Sam and even Julian himself all go through major character development, but we only ever get the barest glimpse of it, and the novel is full of Chekhov's Guns that never go off in the underwhelming third act - most notably Julian's homosexuality, which is laid out as a major taboo in the setting and alluded to constantly (and in increasingly ham-fisted ways), but is only ever used as a running gag about Adam's obliviousness. The killer thing is that all of these various character subplots actually happen, and impact the story in marvelously sophisticated ways (like Julian's increasingly dire mental state) - but we only get to see them in the distant background, through offhand references by a frustratingly dim narrator.
Thankfully this doesn't extend to the novel's A-plot, which is a well-paced and fun adventure tale about Adam's adventures in the war with the Dutch to control the global warming-opened Northwest Passage around Canada. And even with its flaws, this book is an entertaining, quick-paced and easy-to-follow look at a dystopic but ultimately optimistic future where the end of easy resources isn't the end of humanity; though the future portrayed is definitely not an easy one, it's also not doomed, as so many post-apocalyptic style cultures are. And it had me literally laughing out loud in several places, usually after deciphering some of the novel's untranslated French and Dutch.
One other thing I wanted to mention was that, reading this novel immediately after finishing Spin, it was very difficult in the beginning to ignore the overwhelming similarities between Julian and Jason, and their relationships with their respective narrators. You kind of can't unsee it. Early on, both are shown to be disinterested in women and focused totally on intellectual pursuits, with biting senses of humor. They're also vastly wealthier and more intelligent than Adam or Tyler, despite their unpretentious equal-footing friendships and deep loyalty, and have difficult home lives in sharp contrast to the relatively healthy families of their friends. They do end up being fairly different characters by about midway through the novels, but it does beg the question - with both of those characters easily being the most dramatically interesting parts of their respective novels both as characters and as vehicles for the plot, and with Wilson's obvious interest in the archetype, why didn't he let Julian be the lead?
After reading the Julian Comstock, I was reminded of Gore Vidal's novel Julian: A Novel, about the forth century Roman Emperor Julian (355 to 363 AD), sometimes called Julian the Apostate. In Wilson's book the plot revolves around Julian Comstock, was told by his childhood friend. The historical trajectories of both Emperor Julian and Wilson's Julian Comstock are so similar that it is difficult to image that the choice of name is simply co-incidence.
Julian Comstock is set in a time about 160 years in the future. Natural resources are depleted and civilization has fallen to a Victorian level of technology. This creates a few plot difficulties. How is it that so many of the artifacts of technology have disappeared, along with most of modern knowledge. This is blamed on a fundamentalist church, but at times this seems a stretch. But perhaps Wilson is making the point that if the Family Research Council or the Iranian Mullahs had total control, much of science would be lost since it contradicts religious fundamentalism.
I've been reading Wilson for so many years that I reflexively buy his books. However, it would not have been a great loss to have checked this one out of the library. I enjoyed the book, but in truth I'm not sure I'll read it again.