The Golden Age


John C Wright


Science Fiction


Date Reviewed:

August 20, 2004

This book is a nonstop torrent of ideas. There is an amazing amount of thought and imagination in The Golden Age; is this really his first novel? Or is this a ghost writer name for a famous author? (Sort of like Adam Lee, author of The Dark Shore, turns out to be A.A. Attanasio, author of the Radix and Lost Legends of Earth, two terrific books). The Golden Age reminded me of Jack Vance, one of my favorite authors, with a writing style updated for the new century. (This is not to imply that Vance's works are dated, I think his novels still hold up strongly today. Try reading a Vance novel, and then try reading a Heinlein novel from the 1960s, and see which one holds believability.) Vance liked to imagine different societies and bizarre customs, which he described with fancy names and lists of strange but plausible behavior. John Wright must also be a Vance fan, because in an obvious homage, he has a minor character named Emphyrio - Emphyrio is off course the title of one of Vance's more famous novels. My only fear is that this level of complexity, inventiveness and entertainment (I am sort of in Vance writing style myself, throwing out a list of words to make a description) can't be sustained in the second book. At the end of the Golden Age, we are told that the story concludes in The Phoenix Exultant. So this was originally planned to be one big novel published in two books. But I see from the Amazon site that there is actually a third book - the Golden Transcendence. Does this mean Wright pads the book, and the story grows bloated? Or is the tale so complex that it required an additional volume to tell completely? It certainly seems as if Wright has a wealth of material that could easily fill several volumes

The Golden Age is set 10,000 years in the future, when mankind easily controls the solar system. (I think this makes humans a Type 2 civilization). Humans are immortal. Humans have many powers and skills. Phaeton is one of these immortals, he is the son of Helion, who is about to be promoted to one of the Peers. Phaeton is enjoying a masque, when an old man (not recognizing who Phaeton is - or does he?) gives some clues that lead Phaeton to believe he has willing lost some of his memories. What crime did Phaeton commit that he willing edited it out of his memory? What follows is a quest through amazing landscapes and societies as Phaeton attempts to learn the truth (the AI are so powerful that no one is ever quite sure what IS reality.) Wright gives us a wonderful tour of a future of a advanced civilization. It was a marvelous tour. Best of all, Wright is able to hint that his descriptions are only a hint of a richly detailed society, that there is far more going on around Phaeton than is actually described. This gives the impression that the exotic society is plausible. But despite all the wonders, the story is easy to follow, it doesn't get bogged down in extraneous characters or subplots. There are not really that many characters, but each is so exotic that each is a treat to meet. There is some intrigue, and a little bit of action, but mostly this is a tour/narrative. Great stuff. I think it would be hard to create such an advanced society, to make it sound so magically powerful, and yet comprehensible and logical. Keep writing, Mr Wright! I hope the next two volumes of this series don't fall flat. Highly recommended for fans of space opera. (I love space opera: A Fire Upon the Deep, Book of the New Sun, Dune - these are some of my favorite books.)