John C Wright’s Nebula Award Nominated SF novel, Orphans of Chaos, blew me away with the imagination behind it and Wright’s ability to craft an excellent novel. Now, his just-released Hard SF novel, Count to A Trillion, I am prophesizing right now, will also be nominated, and could very possibly win the award. Yes, it’s that good, despite some controversy it’s already engendered among some members of the reviewing community.
What’s so great about it? How about: Everything.
Count to A Trillion is the first novel in a planned trilogy. It’s the tale of the Texan Menelaus Montrose in a future over two hundred years from now, after an economic collapse in America and a world-wide, man-made environmental mini Ice Age (aka: the Starvation Winter or Japanese Winter) has devasted the United States and the entire world. America has fallen to an at best Third-World status, though remnants of it’s once greatness remain. Menelaus is one of nine brothers, who are raised by a strict mother, who values knowledge above what she considers to be some of Menelaus’s frivilous interests, such as music and the animated series, Asymptote, which bears many similarites to the original Star Trek series.
Young Menelaus (I love that name, and another brother’s, Agamemnon’s, taken from Homer’s The Iliad) is a mathematical prodigy, as well as a science ficiton fan, who longs for the era in the vast future described in the Asymptote series when peace, love, and harmony will reign throughout the universe. Though his Mom raises all of her children with the aim of instilling in their hearts and minds a love of knowledge, she also believes (as does a large segment of the population then) that it’s impossible to defy Darwinian laws and roles for males in society. Males are made to fight in wars, she feels, and Menelaus’s course in life crosses with lots of battles and action, to be sure.
By the time he is twenty-two, Menelaus already has many scars from the fights he’s been in. He’s an expert with guns, which makes him an ideal candidate to be hired by a law firm. That’s because many legal cases are resolved in these times by duels, so being deadly accurate and quick with a gun is a definite plus for lawyers. Menelaus is one of the best around.
While serving as a lawyer, Menelaus is recruited by a mysterious man who believes that Montrose might be the person who can save the world. He is a crucial member aboard a spaceship headed to examine an extremely advanced alien creation known as the Monument. It is inscribed with information which might be the salvaiton of the world, if it can be decoded and interpreted properly. The problem is, it’s a very tricky language to decipher, and though segments of it have been translated, the vast majority still remains a mystery.
Menelaus wants to be the person to solve the mystery and change the future of the Earth for the better, and he has a plan to accomplish this: inject himself with a formula that is meant to enhance his intellect and the evolution of his brain. He injects himself, despite the protestations of most of the other scientific members of the crew, who worry that the formula might cost them a member of their crew (Menelaus) whom they need to rely upon later, at the Monument. It works; he becomes super-intelligent; he is able to understand the writing on the Monument; but, he also acts in a way that makes the other scientist believe he’s gone crazy.
Next thing he knows, he wakes up 150 years in the future. He’s been in suspended animation; everything’s changed. He has to face the fact that somehow one of his crewmates, “Blackie” Del Azarchel has become the world’s first dictator. How it has happened is very puzzling to him, as is the appearance of a mysterious Princess who was somehow born on o voyage among the stars even though there were no women present.
How has Wright’s novel become as controversial as it has, within mere days of when the brick & Mortar stores began selling it, on December 20th? My surmise is that a few reviewers mistakenly have taken certain beliefs of Wright’s characters to be his, such as the supremacy of Darwinian theories. I’d say, even if they also might happen to be Wright’s beliefs, what does it really matter, as in the context of the novel, they are the beliefs of the characters, and Menelaus is determined to thwart these theories, as opposed to giving in to them.
Also, there’s been mention of how strange it seems that Menelaus doesn’t suddenly talk like a Rhodes Scholar when he has his intelligence augmented. Personally, I found this to be specious reasoning. If a person grows up speaking his/her native language a certain way, intelligence or lack of it really plays no part in how he/she speaks, except perhaps in having a more advanced vocabulary. Menelaus is highly intelligent even previous to his augmenting his brain. If he suddenly began talking like a Northerner or maybe someone educated in an English boarding school, to me, this would be kind of silly. It’d be breaking his character.
Reviews are really only opinions, though reviewers try to base theirs on what they read, and by comparing/contrasting what they have read with the literature of others. I’ll be the first one to admit that about my own reviews, but I try not to bring any outside political viewpoints or my own biases into a discussion of the relative merits/flaws of a novel.
Count To A Trillion by John C. Wright is a novel that harkens back to the Golden Age of Science Fiction, and to Star Trek. Many episodes conveyed the promise of a better future despite the battles, conflict, and fighting that the Enterprise’s crew often engaged in, and this promise helped captivate the public’s imagination as much as the action did. I highly recommend Count To A Trillion to anyone who is a fan of MilSF, and science fiction in general. It’s a promising start to the series, with a cliffhanger that will make you long to read the rest of the trilogy. Check it out today!
–Douglas R. Cobb–