Review John C. Wright: The Golden Age

The Golden AgeJohn C. Wright
The Golden Age
The Phoenix Exultant (The Golden Age volume 2)
[rate 3] and [rate 2] A great start, sadly disapointing end

These were another impulse loan from the library. Basically I am working my way through the sci-fi/fantasy shelves and these were next. I found book one, The Golden Age mind-blowing. Original and full of new ideas. His take on the digital future is one that, whilst not brand-spanking new (rather similar in tone to Appleseed by John Clute, though not quite so brain-strainingly odd) is still different and fresh. It defines a futuristic civilization almost parochial in its outlook, being one of the few X-Century novels where the Einstein’s light-speed barrier has not been circumvented, leaving humanity constantly looking inward, trapped within their own minds as much as the solar system.

Throughout The Golden Age you follow the fate of Phaethon (still not worked out how to pronounce it) as he realises the reality his living in is false, the result of a culture-wide amnesia, springing from some unspeakable deed he had done in the past. You struggle, as he does, to make sense of events, and to fit his fractured reality into what really happened. But, as you progress further in, you come to realise that perhaps what ‘really’ happened will never be known. You are forced to confront the nature of subjective and objective reality. It really does feel like a body-blow when you discover, along with Phaethon that everything he believes about his life is false.

The end of The Golden Age left me wanting more, so I straight away started on The Phoenix Exultant, which was possibly a mistake. It just doesn’t fulfill the promise of the first book. Perhaps because I know there’s another whole book to go after this one, or whether the central premise of not trusting your own perceptions is now well established, but this has nothing new for me in it. Instead of rooting for Phaethon, you want to bash him about the head with a baseball bat for being so stupid. The one (yes one) female character is about much use as a chocolate teapot. And she’s supposed to be the strong version of one of the characters (characters can exist in multiple versions and bodies at the same time). The rest of the society is patriarchal and misogynistic to a fault. The threat of an external civilization seems shoe-horned in to give the author a reason to write book three. All in all, a huge disappointment. It is blatantly obvious that Phaethon is going to overcome the odds and be reinstated as the hero he feels himself to be, so why drag it out so long?

I haven’t been able to find book three (The Golden Transcendence) at the library and I am not going to even spend 70p on requesting it from another library.