Cindy's Reviews > Julian Comstock: A Story of 22nd-Century America

Julian Comstock by Robert Charles Wilson
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's review
Nov 23, 2009

it was amazing
bookshelves: dystopic-or-apocalyptic, fiction, made-me-laugh, spec-fic, 2009-best-reads, favorites
Read in November, 2009

   1 part Tom Sawyer
+ 1 part Handmaid's Tale
+ 1 part Thucydides

Stir contents vigorously. Serve with eggs on hard tack with maggoty butter.

Sounds implausible, doesn't it?

The narrator, Adam Hazzard, tells the story of the rise of Julian Comstock, nephew and unwanted heir to the current President Deklan Comstock in 2172.

The world has survived an almost-apocalypse with the End of Oil and the Plague of Infertility. By the start of the story, new mega-countries have been formed, the population is growing again, and America is at war with Mitteleuropa over Labrador and has effectively replaced the Supreme Court with the Dominion of Jesus Christ on Earth. (I should mention that America has 60 states and covers most all of North America. The Presidency is effectively a hereditary emperorship prone to coups.) It's all a bit Republic of Gilead, don't you think?

This new world isn't all bad - as a matter of fact, it's very much like America in the 19th century. Horse, carriage and trains are the main modes of transport, women generally wear long skirts, and people are expected to maintain their lot in life. Wars are fought mostly with rifles and calvary in trench warfare, but "new" weapons are starting to tip the scales. Movies are very rare and still don't have sound.

Adam Hazzard gives the story an "aw, shucks" naive tone. Many of Adam and Julians' hi-jinks will have you amused and laughing like you did at Tom Sawyer. Adam and Julian are boyhood friends from Athabasaka (northern Alberta) who love to shoot and fish together. Despite Adam's lower caste (lease-holder, one step above indentured servant), Julian (a high-born Aristocrat) tries to share with Adam the knowledge of the Secular Ancients that he's gleaned from non-Dominion approved antique books. This knowledge is in effect heresy, because it claims that space travel existed and evolution was accepted science.

Once Adam and Julian get conscripted into the Laurentian Army to fight in Labrador, the stories of training and warfare take over. Normally this is where my eyes would gloss over; I'm definitely not a fan of war stories or strategies on the battlefield. However, Wilson seems to move deftly from battlefield to human stories, and kept me interested throughout.

I can't really tell you too much beyond this without spoiling the story. Adam develops a love of writing and telling stories from his childhood and his path to becoming a writer is an amusing subplot. Even more amusing are his attempts at romance with the "fairer sex." It's rare that I laugh out loud while I read, but I was chuckling over and over again at Adam's naïveté, or supposed innocent observations. However, all the characters Adam describes end up being deliciously flawed and curiously interesting.

Likewise, the near-dystopic society Wilson creates is fascinating: it's in the future, but it's backwards! Certainly it will have you contemplating society's future after Peak Oil, although hopefully in a fictional way.

Julian Comstock A Story of 22nd-Century America is a seriously fun romp. It's speculative fiction at its best!
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Reading Progress

11/25/2009 page 83
20.1% "Can a dystopia be amusing?"
11/27/2009 page 251
60.77% "Funny & interesting - I like how Wilson gives you background hints as you go." 2 comments
12/14/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-6 of 6) (6 new)

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message 1: by bsc (new) - rated it 5 stars

bsc Great review, Cindy. Glad you liked it.

Cindy Ben - it was your change to 5-stars that got me to read it! We really do seem to have similar tastes.

Anne - I've heard some people claim this book is similar to Julian A Novel by Gore Vidal. I've never read the latter, though.
So, I've read 3 RCW books in the last 2 months - Spin, Axis, and Julian Comstock. Which of his should I read next?

message 3: by bsc (new) - rated it 5 stars

bsc I vote for The Chronoliths. I own it but haven't read it yet. Hoping his older stuff is on par with his newer stuff.

Cindy Yes, Chronoliths! I've got a few books to read first though.

By the way, I read on Wilson's blog that he's in the middle of writing Vortex, the 3rd in the Spin trilogy.

Nick Wilson continues to evolve. His first published novel, A Secret Place, is weak compared to his later works.

Cindy Yes, I agree with that, Nick. A close friend read Mysterium last year and told me it was obvious it was a much younger RCW writing it.

Since this conversation I've read Chronoliths and Darwinia - both of which I really enjoyed, but they aren't to the level of Spin or Julian Comstock. I own Vortex, but shamefully haven't managed to read it yet.

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