Archives for posts with tag: John C. Wright

Menelaus Illation Montrose, Texas gunslinger, idealist, and posthuman genius, who author John C. Wright introduced us to in his brilliant Count To a Trillion, is back in the sequel, The Hermetic Millennia. He is in cryo-suspension, but is brought out of it at periodic times. These are always at crucial turning-points in the history and evolution of mankind. Without his genius and militaristic action as the leader of the Knights Hospitalier, humanity could easily find itself enslaved, or made into the serfs of an advanced alien race, or face the possibility of extinction.

At the point when Menelaus is awoken, humans are under the control of Psychohistorians. There are the Giants and the Iron Ghosts, who both want to mold humanity’s evolution. The Giants are posthumans, articial humans within Menelaus’ intelligence range, while the Iron Ghosts are creations of the Scholars, who made the Iron Ghosts to contain emulations of Montrose’s brain. The Giants have gargantuan genetically-modified bodies to house, as Sir Guiden puts it, “their correspondingly elephantine brains.”

The Hermeticists are called that because they were originally the crew members of the spaceship, the Hermetic, who, along with Montrose, journeyed to study an alien artifact in Count To a Trillion known as “The Monument.” There, they learned technologies and techniques unknown on Earth, through the alien hieroglphs on “The Monument.” This advanced knowledge was the product of an ancient alien civilzation billions of years older than our own, much of which–to humans–seemed indistinguishable from magic. The knowledge made over sixty of the seventy crew members eventually go mad when they attempted to implement the “Prometheus augmentation,” but the remaining members of the crew became the rulers of mankind.

Sir Guiden tells Menelaus that the ringleaders of the crew and the Hermtecists somehow “are still alive and sane.” These include the Master of the Earth, Ximen del Azarchel, the commander-in-chief of the world armed forces, Narcis D’Arago, and Menelaus’ arch nemesis, Blackie. However, they have been in hiding since the “Decivilization War,” which destroyed the major cities of the Earth. They were burned to cinders by the Giants, who directed “orbital mirrors” towards the cities. The whole world saw and heard someone who looks exactly like Montrose give the orders for the cities to be burned.

The war was fought between the Giants and the Ghosts, but it was humans who suffered the most. As Sir Guiden tells Menelaus, though it involved math equations, “It was no mere abstract argument. It was about whether humanity would be dehumanized and tyrannized.” The fate of mankind, if the Hermeticists had their way, would be to make subspecies of mankind which would then serve as the slaves and serfs of the intelligent machine-life of the Hyades Cluster. But, even to do this and ensure humanity’s survival, the evolution of mankind’s intelligence would need to be artificially speeded up. The machine-life of the Hyades Cluster was accidently summoned when humans meddled with The Monument.

Among the many other conflicts that Montrose has to deal with in The Hermetic Millennia are the efforts of Rania to bring a Diamond Star made from antimatter out of its orbit. That is the only way, Rania believes, that humainty can stand a chance fighting afainst the aliens of the Hyades Cluster. That’s because, as Menelaus tells Sir Guiden, to defeat such advanced foes it would require a lot of energy: “It takes fuel to calculate. Fuel to think.” The aliens, though, have launched an offensive of their own: a dirigible gas gaint the size of Uranus which will arrive circa A.D. 11000.

A rogue Hermeticist, known as the Judge of Ages, wants to create a free version of mankind. They would then fight against the aliens, and though tey’d be about as mismatched as the Zulus were agaisnt the British, like the Zulus, they might be able to win. The energy that humanity could mine from the Diamond Star, which they could reach much more easily if Rania’s efforts are successful, could mean the difference in a potential war against the alien machine-life.

The Hermetic Millennia is sweeping and epic in scope, and is a thinking man’s Space Opera. I enjoyed reading the first book in the series, Countdown To a Trillion, but I wondered if any sequel to it would be as good. It’s a fantastic read, and a great addition to the series. Since Menelaus is so hyper-intelligent, certain parts of the book are written in a complex manner, using terms and jargon that may be unfamiliar to many readers–but, that’s often the case with the “hard science” type of science fiction that authors like Isaac Asimov wrote about in his Foundation series. If you’re a fan of Countdown To a Trillion and hard SF, I highly recommend that you read The Hermetic Millennia by John C. Wright.


I’m proud and honored to be interviewing today the incomparable SF author, John C. Wright. He’s the author of several brilliant page-turning novels, including the Nebula Award Nominee Orphans of Chaos, and his latest book, the amazing Count To A Trillion, which starts a brand-new trilogy for him and I feel is destined to be nominated for (and possibly win) one or more of these awards: Hugo, Nebula, and Campbell. Who knows? Maybe he’ll go for the Trifecta.

And now, SF fans, let’s get on with the questions!

Douglas R. Cobb: Thanks for agreeing to do this interview with me, John! I’ve been looking forward to it for some time now, having had a chance to correspond with you a little and get to know you better.

For my first question, as I also asked Neal Asher, I wondered if you got any SF books under the Christmas tree this year, or gave any; and, if so, what were they?

John C. Wright: I am afraid I have reached the age where all my favorite science fiction authors are dead, and will be coming out with no new books forever, with the notable exceptions of Gene Wolfe and Tim Powers. I got two books by Cardinal Ratzinger this Christmas, and I gave the wife two romance novels.

I am anxious to ask you some questions about your latest novel, Count To A Trillion, but first I’ll ask you a couple of questions about Orphans of Chaos, the first installment of your Chronicles of Chaos series.

I really like your take on the traditional theme of orphans who succeed despite their upbringing and the attempts of others to see them fail. The first-person narrator, Amelia Armstrong Windrose can see in four dimensions; Victor can control the molecular arrangement of matter; Vanity can find secret passageways where none previously existed; Colin is a psychic; and Quentin is a warlock. They are also something much more, but I won’t ask you to reveal what.

Did you think up each character and write down their histories and attributes before you ever began writing the novel, or did ideas come to you as you wrote it? How long did it take you to write it and see it through to publication?

Actually, I made up the laws of nature first, then made up the scenery, then rummaged through the attic of my mind for characters from previous stories and ideas to jury-rig into place, or steal from the public domain. Their backgrounds, what is now the material in Chapter Two, was something I invented last of all and wrote last. I wrote it in about nine months, and since I had a working relationship with Tor Books, the publisher of my previous novels, I did not need to shop for a market. The story started as an idea for an Amber Diceless Roleplaying Game. Indeed, when I wrote the first page, I had not yet decided if I were writing a story for publication or background information to pass out to players to use in deciding their character concepts.

Orphans of Chaos and the entire series could be thought of as YA literature, or as adult SF. Did this cause you any trouble getting a company to publish it? How would you describe what category it falls into, if any besides SF or Urban Fantasy, perhaps?

It cannot be thought of as YA literature, since it is not sexually explicit and perverse enough, although, perhaps, in one scene it comes close. It was not written with any but an adult audience in mind. I had no trouble whatsoever getting my publisher to publish it.

It is not science fiction, since it contains elements of fantasy and magic. Nor is it urban fantasy, since that requires a leather clad teen vampire huntress to appear, or something as lyrical as the work of Charles de Lint, which my poor wordsmithing does not approach. Nor is it high fantasy, which requires elves, nor sword and sorcery, which requires barbarians.

The only genre I can think of where a group of teen heroes join forces, one of whom is a psychic, another a robot, another a fourth-dimensional girl, and another is a magician, is a superhero comic book. ORPHANS OF CHAOS is in the same genre as TEEN TITANS or YOUNG JUSTICE.

I am kidding. Almost. The story is a cheap ripoff of, er, um, I mean a loving homage to Roger Zelazny’s Amber books. If you can tell me what genrethose are, I can tell you what genre mine are.

One of Amelia’s quirks is her obsession with the famous female aviator, Amelia Earhart. How does that play into the plot of Orphans of Chaos?

The children were each told to select their own names. Being raised on the confines of an old school, and not allowed to set one toe off the grounds, Amelia was obsessed with escape, and of seeing all the wide and wonderful places she imagined must be beyond. She took her name from the celebrated aviatrix, Amelia Earhart, and from that compass rose which decorates maps, and points to infinity in each direction. Like her namesake, Amelia dreams of flight.

I won’t ask you to get into details to any great extent, John, but could you give the readers of my blog an idea about the real reason why the orphans are at the Academy they find themselves in, and why they can’t seem to remember their pasts?

They are not human beings. The orphanage is not an orphanage at all, but a prison. They are much older, very much older, than their appearance and their memories would indicate.

There’s so much more I could ask you about the series, but for now, let’s get on to questions related to your latest SF extravaganza, Count To A Trillion.

The main character of Count To A Trillion is Menelaus Montrose. The novel is set in America, but in a future period after the country’s collapse, brought about by various things like terrible economic conditions, the Japanese Winter, and the rise of the technologies and scientific advances of other countries. The government of the USA is still struggling to hang on and maintain itself, but we’ve basically fallen to the status of a Third World nation.

Menelaus is a Texan, a very gifted and highly intelligent person with an expertise in math. He’s also a fan of a cartoon series from the past called Asymptote, which is reminiscent in many ways of the original Star Trek series.

Where you (Are you) a Star Trek fan? As an aside, I had the good fortune of meeting Leonard Nimoy (Spock) once, in Illinois, when he appeared in the play One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Also, what is it about the future depicted in Asymptote that Menelaus wants so badly to help make become a reality?

I am indeed a Star Trek fan, perhaps too much so, if such a thing can be imagined. My ambition is to be as much like a Vulcan as human nature allows, and never to deviate from the path of purest and strictest logic. Such a path is odd indeed, since it leads to strange, may I say, non-Euclidean places much different from what Gene Roddenberry might have expected.

The future depicted in “Asymptote” was optimistic and transhuman: a story about overcoming limitations, including all moral limitations. In the depressed and depressing era in which Menelaus Montrose finds himself, the reminder of past glories and the promise of future glories is like wine.

I know that you are not a Darwinist, from both having read the novel and having written emails to you; but, Menelaus’s mother, who is very strict, believes in it, and that Menelaus’s fate is to become a soldier and fight in a war. Menelaus wants to prove his mother wrong.

Why do you think that some people have received the impression that you are a Darwinist, and could you tell the readers of What’s New In Book Reviews what makes Menelaus a successful lawyer (NOTE: by this, I’m not referring to his skills in arguing cases, but to something else) previous to his journey into space?

John C. Wright: The word ‘Darwinist’ is ambiguous.

Correctly speaking “Darwinism” means the biological theory that new species emerge from old by descent through modification caused by natural selective breeding, that theory is neither questioned, nor even mentioned, in the novel.

Incorrectly speaking “Darwinism” is often used by clods who have not read Darwin to means the abortive moral theory that treating one’s fellow man like breeding livestock serves the race, and that no higher principles have a claim on the conscience, that is the moral theory Montrose abhors. This theory is more correctly called Pseudo-Darwinism, Social Darwinism, Nietzscheanism, or Naziism. Montrose, as a small child, does not make this distinction. I assume readers are more discriminating.

Montrose’s mother actually says that boys are made for fighting wars and girls are made for mourning after them, and she gives an evolutionary color to the claim, saying that this was what nature selected the sexes to do. The quote comes from Andrew Johnson’s biography, whose mother said a similar harsh thing, but without the science fictional Darwinian metaphor.

I do not think any reader could possibly have received that impression that the author was a Darwinist from a book where the hero in the first chapter vows a solemn vow to oppose the philosophy.

Menelaus was not a successful lawyer previous to his journey into space. In the corrupt practices of those days, legal battles often were resolved ‘out of court’ by a pistol duel. Montrose, a mathematical prodigy, worked as an apprentice for a weaponsmith, and learned the tricks of how to program the anti-bullet bullets each pistol fired as escorts to its payload advantageously.

He was also bold and cold-nerved enough to meet in the cool of dawn with adversaries and stare down the barrel of a pistol without losing his nerve. He was ‘successful’ if it can be called that, insofar as he was not dead. The scene opens on the day he loses his nerve, perhaps due to a growing conscience or a failing fortitude.

What is it about an alien artifact called the Monument that makes Menelaus want to go to any length to reach it and see it?

The artifact is a small moon, orbiting a star 50 lightyears hence, and covered over every inch with hieroglyphs of some mathematical and symbolic logical notation. It is an attempt at first contact. The only language the Monument Builders have in common with whatever race of unknown history, prehistory, psychology, and biology as may encounter their handiwork is science, math, logic. We all occupy the same universe, after all. Hence, before even beginning the contact message, the message must establish a common language, which mean, to list all the laws of nature, including laws of nature unknown, as yet, to man, such as the relationship between mind and body, the rule of entropy and thought, the logic which underpins logic, and so on. The math is too complex for the humans to comprehend: the Monument was something created by an artificial intelligence the size of many Dyson Spheres occupying a globular cluster to communicate with another intelligence like itself. They regard biological life the way we regard sperm cells, merely as a transitional stage in the evolution of inanimate matter to self-aware matter. When the humans attempt to understand what Man Was Not Meant to Know, things go badly. At first.

Why did you decide to make most of the other scientific members of Menelaus’s spaceship be from India or of Hispanic descent?

To give a sense of the weight of history. No Spaniard at the time of the Armada, when she was the crown and glory of the world, would have imagined the modern state, where a single sneak attack by a band less numerous than the crew of a pirate ship would topple a government. No British subject of Queen Victoria, on whose empire no sun set, would have imagined the desolation of the government of Clement Atlee. I merely postulated a time in the future when the powers of the biowar-maimed Northern Hemisphere powers were weak, and South America and the Indian subcontinent were strong.

And I postulated one other thing. The nation state is a recent invention. Before that, kingships were the norm, and before that, Imperium, and before that, the City State. Each are based on a different theory of the nature of the group to which the man belongs, and what are his duties toward it. Here, I assume linguistic identity, an Hispanosphere or Indosphere, form the basic unit of social loyalty, rather than the nation state. This is not because I think it desirable or even likely, but because I think it unique. At least, I know of no other SF author who has speculated along the lines of that particular extrapolation.

Upon returning from the Monument, 150 years have passed. I won’t ask you, again, to go into much details about this aspect of the plot; but could you say who has now become the dictator of the Earth (NOTE: The description that Tor/Forge includes in review copies of Count To A Trillion calls this person a dictator)?

No one. His title is Nobilissimus, and he is the head of an advisory body, called the Advocacy, which rules a complex coalition of various member powers and organizations. However, this advisory body also happens to be the survivors of the expedition to the Diamond Star, and the monopolists controlling the world’s supply of Contraterrene which they there mined, and the Hermeticists controlling the secrets of extraterrestrial and posthuman superscience they discovered by translating, or having translated for them, of the first few acres of alien notation.

Count To A Trillion depicts an apocalyptic time in our future, but there is hope for a much better one to come. That’s another thing I liked about the novel.

Why did you chose to end it with a cliffhanger, though? It may be
self-explanatory, I guess, in that the reason most books/movies/TV series do is to make you want to continue reading/watching what happens next. Would you say that is a big part of the reason why?

I ended on a cliffhanger to whet the readers’ appetite for the sequel.

It’s been great interviewing you and hearing you discuss your novels, John! I have one more question, or combo question, for you–yes, the dreaded “future plans” one–are you working on the next book in the series yet, or have you been to busy with other things and possibly promoting Count To A Trillion? Do you have ideas what the second novel’s title will be, and could you
give an idea what will happen next?

The next two books in the series are, as of this moment, written, and the one after that is three chapters written. The next book is called THE HERMETIC MILLENNIA; the third is called THE JUDGE OF AGES, and the fourth is as yet untitled. Whether the fourth will be one larger volume or split into two remains to be seen.

The first volume ends with the desperate flight into space of the artificial posthuman being, Rania Grimaldi, whose DNA includes patterns found in the alien Monument. She goes to plead for the freedom and salvation of mankind with the masters of the master-races of the Hyades star cluster, who own the Earth. These remote beings have their seat outside the galaxy in the globular cluster at M3. Due to the disaster which surrounds her departure, Menelaus Montrose, her husband, is left behind and with him is the mission to maintain human civilization in a condition such that, should the Authority at M3 declare man free and equal to the Hyades, man would be deserving of the honor. The irony is that, in a slower-than-lightspeed polity stretching across tens of thousands of lightyears, interstellar agreements and laws must maintain their force and effect for tens of thousands of years, far longer than any institution designed by man can last.

In brief, in order for the verdict of the remote power at M3 to free mankind, mankind must achieve and maintain a star-faring civilization, which means, retain memory and continuity across all the time that a star-voyage would take, the time it takes to count to a trillion, tens of thousands of years. Menelaus Montrose is the inventor of the world’s longterm suspended animation facilities, called tombs, and he must preserve, nay, he must evolve mankind up to the level needed to make his absent wife’s dream come true, and her voyage not be in vain. He must evolve man to be free.

His enemy, Blackie Del Azarchel, who also controls the secret of mathematical analysis of the vectors of history, seeks a mutually incompatible end: he thinks mankind’s only hope for survival is to be the serfs of some higher power, the way wolves in the stone ages became hounds and dogs, and therefore the allies and pets of the superbeings called man. He must evolve mankind to be the perfect
slaves.

Both men possess superhuman intelligence and an ability to manipulate the predicted paths of history; both are in love with Rania; both are avowed to destroy the other. And both wait thousands of years for their plans to bear fruit.

The volume I am writing now takes place on a grander scale again, with hundreds of thousands of years rather than merely thousands taking place between the events of the great duel between these two towering men, whose role not just his human, nor just in galactic history, grows to ever wider and wider extent.

At each step, a deeper purpose behind the Monument secrets, and a deeper purpose behind the history of the universe, becomes clear.

Thanks once again, John, for doing this interview with me! You and your wife are both very gifted authors, and I wish you both the best! Also, to the readers of What’s New In Book Reviews, I wnat to wish you all a Happy New Year, and I highly recommend you read Count To A Trillion and the other novels of John C. Wright and L. Jagi Lamplighter.

–Douglas R. Cobb–


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–


I will note here from time to time certain authors whom I think are some of the most outstanding authors currently practicing their craft. Today, I wanted to say a few brief words about the incomparable L.Jagi Lamplighter-Wright, author of the Prospero’s Daughter trilogy, among other excellent novels. Her website can be found by clicking here. Her work is inspired by many and varied sources, from Dante’s Inferno to Milton’s Paradise Lost, to Shakespeare’s The Tempest, and the legends and myths of Ireland and other lands around the world. I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing the second and third books of her Prospero’s Daughter trilogy, Prospero In Hell and Prospero Regained, and I have found her through correspondence via email to be one of the kindest people you can ever meet, as well as being a superb author.
Her husband, John C. Wright, is also an extremely talented author, and I’ve had the pleasure to read/review his novel Orphans of Chaos,which was a Nebula Award Nominee for Best Novel. These are both authors I would highly recommend to anyone who loves the Fantasy and Science Fiction genres, and they’re both genuinely nice people, as well. I am honored to be thought of as one of their friends.

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