Friday, June 21, 2013

Count to a trillion

John C Wright
Tor, 2011 (a review copy was gently provided to me by Tor)
Size: Average (my paperback copy has 439 pages)
Theme: Alien civilizations invasion
Narrative: third-person 
Main character: Menelaus Montrose
Recommended minimum age: Teenager
Would purchase as a gift to any sci-fi reader: LIKELY

Humanity has achieved the capability to become a spacefaring race, and an all-male crew is prepared to take the voyage aboard the Hermetic ion-driven spaceship to a nearby system, where they will attempt to study an alien artifact named “the Monument”. While there, they will collect anti-matter that would both fuel their return to Earth and have enough left over to supply the planet’s dwindling energy supplies for centuries. However, one of the scientists, Menelaus Montrose, does not believe they will be able to decipher the Monument’s inscriptions. As the voyage begins, he plans to experiment on himself in order to boost his intelligence to superhuman levels.  Almost 200 years later he awakes again on Earth, altered and with no memory of the relatively successful trip gone by. But the Monument was more than humanity bargained for, and suddenly there are more problems coming in the future than the current delicate and dangerous power struggles within the planet.

Before I read this novel I had heard it was a space opera, my favorite sci-fi genre. It really is not a space opera; despite the space theme, everything happens on Earth and with no alien contact (aside from the information from the Monument). The book has some action sequences, although it is mostly a mental exercise on future scenarios for humanity when confronted with the perspective of interaction with aliens. The narrative is very descriptive; so if you like to create detailed mental pictures about physical environments (such as the decoration of a room, paintings on walls, clothing, etc), you will enjoy the considerably long descriptions. One aspect that did not appeal to me was the verbosity, as if the author is trying to emphasize his eloquence. I quickly became convinced there was much unnecessary use of thesaurus throughout the text, instead of going for clarity, simplicity and parsimony.

Overall, it was a fun read, and I plan to go through the sequel, which will hopefully explore further the contact with alien species.

*** Spoiler Alert ***
(Warning: the following text contains information that may hamper/ruin how much you enjoy the book):

The Monument is actually found to be a beacon device, a space goad, so that when a race achieves space travelling capabilities, the artifact’s makers are warned and can mount a profitable invasion to enslave that race. Menelaus vows to find a way to prevent the human race from becoming slaves. In the end of the book, they plan to travel to meet the supposedly masters of the Monument’s makers, and argue for humanity’s valor. The book ends in a combat between him and his old crew mate, Del Azarchel.

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