The Golden Age
by John C. Wright
A book review by Mark L. Olson
Tor, 2002, $24.95, 336 pp
The Golden Age is a first novel and the first third of a trilogy. If the remaining volumes (The Phoenix Exultant, the second, is due out in early 2003) lives up to the first's promise, we'll have a minor classic.
I find it difficult to describe this book: the best short description I can give is The Dying Earth crossed with cyberpunk. The story takes place a long time from now in a world of god-like machines and god-like men, a golden age where people have unimaginable wealth and live in a mixed, almost superimposed, world of reality and cyber-dreams.
Phaethon is a young man wandering through a world-wide festival, an entire year of festival which will culminate in humans and machines merging in a moment of transcendence which will set the whole civilization's agenda for the next thousand years. It's a time of mystery and opportunity.
Phaethon, however, is disturbed. He has met some very strange beings (strange even for his world) and learned that there is something very strange about himself. Eventually, he discovers that he has voluntarily removed several hundred years' of his memories to expiate a crime that he apparently committed; in fact, that every human on Earth and most of the machines have also removed their memories of his crime.
What was his crime? Should he attempt to recover his lost memories? Who are his friends and who his enemies? Why?
The book comes closer than anything I have been able to read and enjoy to providing a picture of life after the Singularity. It a very strange and very beautiful and very dangerous world. And Wright has done a fine job of telling a most interesting story set in this most strange world. There's a lotta "most"s in that sentence, but they're appropriate.
The one problem I had with The Golden Age is that the tone seemed to shift through the books from the almost intolerable dreaminess of the beginning to a somewhat more ordinary narrative later on. Or, perhaps, I just got a bit more used to the world.
In any event, I highly recommend this book.
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