Liviu's Reviews > Count to a Trillion

Count to a Trillion by John C. Wright
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Dec 03, 11

bookshelves: 2011_release_read, genre-sf, read_2011
Read from August 22 to November 29, 2011

FBC Mini Review:

I still believe that the best sf debut of the 00 decade in the US has been the Golden Age Trilogy of John C. Wright and because of that I have always had a soft spot for the author despite that his follow-up novels veered towards urban fantasy (War of the Dreaming) and then YA fantasy (Chronicles of Chaos of which the first volume was somewhat interesting but I never got the urge to read more).

These first lines that open The Golden Age show sf at its best and most wondrous:

"It was a time of masquerade. It was the eve of the High Transcendence, an event so solemn and significant that it could be held but once each thousand years, and folk of every name and iteration, phe-notype, composition, consciousness and neuroform, from every school and era, had come to celebrate its coming, to welcome the transfiguration, and to prepare.

Splendor, feast, and ceremony filled the many months before the great event itself. Energy shapes living in the north polar magnetosphere of the sun, and Cold Dukes from the Kuiper belts beyond Neptune, had gathered to Old Earth, or sent their representations through the mentality; and celebrants had come from every world and moon in the solar system, from every station, sail, habitat and crystal-magnetic latticework."

Mr. Wright's detour in "classical" sf - Null A Continuum, sequel to one of the best golden age series of AE Van Vogt that has made me a lifelong sf fan - was a disaster as the author tried to imitate the dated prose of the 40's, but I shrugged and enjoyed some his more recent short length offerings that were superb, most notably The Far End of History, Judgement Eve or Murder in Metachronopolis.

So when his new space opera series that starts with Count to a Trillion has been announced, I was very excited and I asked for a review copy as soon as I could. To my surprise the novel turned out to be a major disappointment and for the same reason I strongly disliked Null A Continuum, though this one at least has updated sfnal content, so it is readable.

Here is the blurb which is reasonably accurate:

"Hundreds of years in the future, after the collapse of the Western world, young Menelaus Illation Montrose grows up in what was once Texas as a gunslinging duelist for hire. But Montrose is also a mathematical genius—and a romantic who dreams of a future in which humanity rises from the ashes to take its place among the stars.

The chance to help usher in that future comes when Montrose is recruited for a manned interstellar mission to investigate an artifact of alien origin. Known as the Monument, the artifact is inscribed with data so complex, only a posthuman mind can decipher it. So Montrose does the unthinkable: he injects himself with a dangerous biochemical drug designed to boost his already formidable intellect to superhuman intelligence.

It drives him mad.Nearly two centuries later, his sanity restored, Montrose is awakened from cryo-suspension with no memory of his posthuman actions, to find Earth transformed in strange and disturbing ways, and learns that the Monument still carries a secret he must decode—one that will define humanity’s true future in the universe."

The author tries to marry the pulp sf conventions - throw in concept after concept in a madcap non-stop action with no depth both in world building and characters, no particular bother to understand or explore human relationships beyond the surface - with modern high grade sf and it simply does not work since the book is way too self-serious for its style and way too silly in style for its content so to speak.

The novel abounds with moments where despite its supposed world encompassing milieu, it reads like something set on a bare stage with one or two participants that have delusions of grandeur. There is very little sense of the external world outside Menelaus and his friend/arch-nemesis and the declamations of both hero and villain simply sound ridiculous.

Not to speak of the math gibberish that annoyed me here and there but again I wouldn't mind such in a "fasten your seat belt and join the ride fun novel" that does not take itself too seriously, but I mind in sf that tries to get at Reynolds or Egan levels in content.

The ending is quite dramatic and a cliffhanger offering some hope that the series will improve, so I may just check the next installment to see if that is the case, but it will be far from the priority of this one.

Also on the plus side there were a lot of interesting concepts in the book and there were moments where I glimpsed the awesomeness of the Golden Age series - especially when the existential threat to life and all, casts its shadow, so who knows maybe the next book will return to a more suitable style that the author has shown he can command in his recent stories for example. I still believe that despite protestations to the contrary in some circles, there is no real yearning for sf to return to its "age of sf is 12" roots...
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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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message 1: by Andreas (new) - added it

Andreas Thanks for the honest review. After the "Chronicles of Chaos" (which I didn't like at all) and the terrible "Null A Continuum" I had some hopes with Wright's latest book. Unfortunately it looks like we will never see something like the "Golden Age" trilogy again from him. What a pity.


message 2: by Liviu (last edited Dec 05, 2011 05:19AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Liviu As mentioned some of his recent ss are very good to brilliant (the New space Opera 2 that is related to the golden Age trilogy) so I still have hope and Mr. Wright can definitely write; why he chose this style that is so dated, i have no idea, but also as mentioned there are people who believe that all sf has to do to sell gazillions of books is to revert to this kind of style and I saw this proven false again and again with books written that way failing badly


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