Julian Comstock: A Story of 22nd-Century America

Julian Comstock: A Story of 22nd-Century America

by Robert Charles Wilson

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Overview

From Robert Charles Wilson, the Hugo Award-winning author of Spin, comes Julian Comstock, an exuberant adventure in a post-climate-change America.

In the reign of President Deklan Comstock, a reborn United States is struggling back to prosperity. Over a century after the Efflorescence of Oil, after the Fall of the Cities, after the False Tribulation, after the days of the Pious Presidents, the sixty stars and thirteen stripes wave from the plains of Athabaska to the national capital in New York. In Colorado Springs, the Dominion sees to the nation's spiritual needs. In Labrador, the Army wages war on the Dutch. America, unified, is rising once again.

Then out of Labrador come tales of the war hero "Captain Commongold." The masses follow his adventures in the popular press. The Army adores him. The President is...troubled. Especially when the dashing Captain turns out to be his nephew Julian, son of the President's late brother Bryce—a popular general who challenged the President's power, and paid the ultimate price.

As Julian ascends to the pinnacle of power, his admiration for the works of the Secular Ancients sets him at fatal odds with the Dominion. Treachery and intrigue will dog him as he closes in on the accomplishment of his lifelong ambition: to make a film about the life of Charles Darwin.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250163950
Publisher: Tom Doherty Associates
Publication date: 05/25/2010
Pages: 416
Sales rank: 1,084,242
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 8.00(h) x 1.55(d)

About the Author

ROBERT CHARLES WILSON was born in California and lives in Toronto. His novel Spin won the Hugo Award in 2006. He won the Philip K. Dick Award for his debut novel A Hidden Place; Canada's Aurora Award for Darwinia; and the John W. Campbell Award for The Chronoliths.

Read an Excerpt

Julian Comstock

A Story of 22nd-Century America


By Robert Charles Wilson, Teresa Nielsen Hayden

Tom Doherty Associates

Copyright © 2009 Robert Charles Wilson
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-5654-3


CHAPTER 1

In October of 2172 — the year the Election show came to town — Julian Comstock and I, along with his mentor Sam Godwin, rode to the Tip east of Williams Ford, where I came to possess a book, and Julian tutored me in one of his heresies.

There was a certain resolute promptness to the seasons in Athabaska in those days. Summers were long and hot, December brought snow and sudden freezes, and most years the River Pine ran freely by the first of March. Spring and fall were mere custodial functions, by comparison. Today might be the best we would get of autumn — the air brisk but not cold, the long sunlight unhindered by any cloud. It was a day we ought to have spent under Sam Godwin's tutelage, reading chapters from The Dominion History of the Union or Otis's War and How to Conduct It. But Sam wasn't a heartless overseer, and the gentle weather suggested the possibility of an outing. So we went to the stables where my father worked, and drew horses, and rode out of the Estate with lunches of black bread and salt ham in our back-satchels.

At first we headed south along the Wire Road, away from the hills and the town. Julian and I rode ahead while Sam paced his mount behind us, his Pittsburgh rifle in the saddle holster at his side. There was no perceptible threat or danger, but Sam Godwin believed in preparedness — if he had a gospel, it was BE PREPARED; also, SHOOT FIRST; and probably, DAMN THE CONSEQUENCES. Sam, who was nearly fifty winters old, wore a dense brown beard stippled with white hairs, and was dressed in what remained presentable of his Army of the Californias uniform. Sam was nearly a father to Julian, Julian's own true father having performed a gallows dance some years before, and lately Sam had been more vigilant than ever, for reasons he hadn't discussed, at least with me.

Julian was my age (seventeen), and we were approximately the same height, but there the resemblance ended. Julian had been born an Aristo, or Eupatridian, as they say back east, while my family was of the leasing class. His face was smooth and pale; mine was dark and lunar, scarred by the same Pox that took my sister Flaxie to her grave in '63. His yellow hair was long and almost femininely clean; mine was black and wiry, cut to stubble by my mother with her sewing scissors, and I washed it once a week — more often in summer, when the creek behind the cottage warmed to a pleasant temperature. His clothes were linen and silk, brass-buttoned, cut to fit; my shirt and pants were coarse hempen cloth, sewn to a good approximation but clearly not the work of a New York tailor.

And yet we were friends, and had been friends for three years, ever since we met by chance in the hills west of the Duncan and Crowley Estate. We had gone there to hunt, Julian with his rifle and me with a simple muzzle-loader, and we crossed paths in the forest and got to talking. We both loved books, especially the boys' books written by an author named Charles Curtis Easton. I had been carrying a copy of Easton's Against the Brazilians, illicitly borrowed from the Estate library — Julian recognized the title but vowed not to rat on me for possessing it, since he loved the book as much as I did and longed to discuss it with a fellow enthusiast — in short, he did me an unbegged favor; and we became fast friends despite our differences.

In those early days I hadn't known how fond he was of Philosophy and such petty crimes as that. But I suppose it wouldn't have mattered to me, if I had.

Today Julian turned east from the Wire Road and took us down a lane bordered by split-rail fences on which dense blackberry gnarls had grown up, between fields of wheat and gourds just lately harvested. Before long we passed the rude shacks of the Estate's indentured laborers, whose near-naked children gawked at us from the dusty laneside, and I deduced that we were headed for the Tip, because where else on this road was there to go? — unless we continued on for many hours more, all the way to the ruins of the old oil towns, left over from the days of the False Tribulation.

The Tip was located a distance from Williams Ford in order to prevent poaching and disorder. There was a strict pecking order to the Tip. It worked this way: professional scavengers hired by the Estate brought their pickings from ruined places to the Tip, which was a pine-fenced enclosure (a sort of stockade) in an open patch of grassland. There the newly-arrived goods were roughly sorted, and riders were dispatched to the Estate to make the high-born aware of the latest discoveries. Then various Aristos (or their trusted servants) rode out to claim the prime gleanings. The next day the leasing class would be allowed to sort through what was left; and after that, if anything remained, indentured laborers could rummage through it, if they calculated it was worthwhile to make the journey.

Every prosperous town had a Tip, though in the East it was sometimes called a Till, a Dump, or an Eebay.

Today we were lucky. A dozen wagonloads of scrounge had just arrived, and riders hadn't yet been sent to notify the Estate. The gate of the enclosure was manned by an armed Reservist, who looked at us suspiciously until Sam announced the name of Julian Comstock. Then the guard briskly stepped aside, and we went inside the fence.

A chubby Tipman, eager to show off his bounty, hurried toward us as we dismounted and moored our horses. "Happy coincidence!" he cried. "Gentlemen!" Addressing mostly Sam by this remark, with a cautious smile for Julian and a disdainful sidelong glance at me. "Anything in particular you're looking for?"

"Books," said Julian, before Sam or I could answer.

"Books! Well — ordinarily, I set aside books for the Dominion Conservator ..."

"This boy is a Comstock," Sam said. "I don't suppose you mean to balk him."

The Tipman promptly reddened. "No, not at all — in fact we came across something in our digging — a sort of library in miniature — I'll show you, if you like."

That was intriguing, especially to Julian, who beamed as if he had been invited to a Christmas party; and we followed the stout Tipman to a freshly-arrived canvasback wagon, from which a shirtless laborer was tossing bundles into a stack beside a tent.

The twine-wrapped bales contained books — ancient books, wholly free of the Dominion Stamp of Approval. They must have been more than a century old, for although they were faded it was obvious that they had once been colorful and expensively printed, not made of stiff brown paper like the Charles Curtis Easton books of modern times. They had not even rotted much. Their smell, under the cleansing Athabaska sunlight, was inoffensive.

"Sam!" Julian whispered ecstatically. He had already drawn his knife, and he began slicing through the twine.

"Calm down," said Sam, who wasn't an enthusiast like Julian.

"Oh, but — Sam! We should have brought a cart!"

"We can't carry away armloads, Julian, nor would we ever be allowed to. The Dominion scholars will have all this, and most of it will be locked up in their Archive in New York City, if it isn't burned. Though I expect you can get away with a volume or two if you're discreet about it."

The Tipman said, "These are from Lundsford." Lundsford was the name of a ruined town twenty miles or so to the southeast. The Tipman leaned toward Sam Godwin and said: "We thought Lundsford had been mined out a decade ago. But even a dry well may freshen. One of my workers spotted a low place off the main excavation — a sort of sink-hole: the recent rain had cut it through. Once a basement or warehouse of some kind. Oh, sir, we found good china there, and glasswork, and many more books than this ... most hopelessly mildewed, but some had been wrapped in a kind of oilcoth, and were lodged under a fallen ceiling ... there had been a fire, but they survived it ..."

"Good work, Tipman," Sam Godwin said with palpable disinterest.

"Thank you, sir! Perhaps you could remember me to the men of the Estate?" And he gave his name (which I have forgotten).

Julian knelt amidst the compacted clay and rubble of the Tip, lifting up each book in turn and examining it with wide eyes. I joined him in his exploration, though I had never much liked the Tip. It had always seemed to me a haunted place. And of course it was haunted — it existed in order to be haunted — that is, to house the revenants of the past, ghosts of the False Tribulation startled out of their century-long slumber. Here was evidence of the best and worst of the people who had inhabited the Years of Vice and Profligacy. Their fine things were very fine, their glassware especially, and it was a straitened Aristo indeed who did not sit down to an antique table-setting rescued from some ruin or other. Sometimes you might find useful knives or other tools at the Tip. Coins were common. The coins were never gold or silver, and were too plentiful to be worth much, individually, but they could be worked into buttons and such adornments. One of the high-born back at the Estate owned a saddle studded with copper pennies all from the year 2032 — I had often been enlisted to polish it, and disliked it for that reason.

Here too was the trash and inexplicable detritus of the old times: "plastic," gone brittle with sunlight or soft with the juices of the earth; bits of metal blooming with rust; electronic devices blackened by time and imbued with the sad inutility of a tensionless spring; engine parts, corroded; copper wire rotten with verdigris; aluminum cans and steel barrels eaten through by the poisonous fluids they had once contained — and so on, almost ad infinitum.

Here as well were the in-between things, the curiosities, as intriguing and as useless as seashells. ("Put down that rusty trumpet, Adam, you'll cut your lip and poison your blood!" — my mother, when we had visited the Tip many years before I met Julian. There had been no music in the trumpet anyway — its bell was bent and corroded through.)

More than that, though, there hovered above the Tip (any Tip) the uneasy knowledge that all these things, fine or corrupt, had outlived their makers — had proved more imperishable, in the long run, than flesh or spirit; for the souls of the Secular Ancients are almost certainly not first in line for Resurrection.

And yet, these books ... they tempted eye and mind alike. Some were decorated with beautiful women in various degrees of undress. I had already sacrificed my claim to spotless virtue with certain young women at the Estate, whom I had recklessly kissed; at the age of seventeen I considered myself a jade, or something like one; but these images were so frank and impudent they made me blush and look away.

Julian ignored them, as he had always been invulnerable to the charms of women. He preferred the more densely-written material. He had already set aside a spotted and discolored Textbook of Biology. He found another volume almost as large, and handed it to me, saying, "Here, Adam, try this — you might find it enlightening."

I inspected it skeptically. The book was called A History of Mankind in Space.

"The moon again," I said.

"Read it for yourself."

"Tissue of lies, I'm sure."

"With photographs."

"Photographs prove nothing. Those people could do anything with photographs."

"Well, read it anyway," said Julian.

In truth the idea excited me. We had had this argument many times, especially on autumn nights when the moon hung low and ponderous on the horizon. People have walked there, Julian would say, pointing at that celestial body. The first time he made the claim I laughed at him; the second time I said, "Yes, certainly: I once climbed there myself, on a greased rainbow —" But he had been serious.

Oh, I had heard these stories. Who hadn't? Men on the moon. What surprised me was that someone as well-educated as Julian would believe them.

"Just take the book," he insisted.

"What: to keep?"

"Certainly to keep."

"Believe I will," I muttered, and I stuck the object in my back-satchel and felt both proud and guilty. What would my father say, if he knew I was reading literature without a Dominion Stamp? What would my mother make of it? (Of course I wouldn't tell them.)

At this point I backed off and found a grassy patch a little away from the rubble, where I could sit and eat lunch while Julian went on sorting through the old texts. Sam Godwin came and joined me, brushing a spot on a charred timber so he could sit without soiling his uniform, such as it was.

"He loves those musty old books," I said, making conversation.

Sam was often taciturn — the very picture of an old veteran — but today he nodded and spoke familiarly. "He's learned to love them, and I helped to teach him. His father wanted him to know more of the world than the Dominion histories of it. But I wonder if that was wise, in the long run. He loves his books too dearly, I think, or gives them too much credence. It might be they'll kill him one of these days."

"How, Sam? By the apostasy of them?"

"He debates with the Dominion clergy. Just last week I found him arguing with Ben Kreel about God, and history, and such abstractions. Which is precisely what he must not do, if he means to survive the next few years."

"Why? What threatens him?"

"The jealousy of the powerful," said Sam.

But he would say no more on the subject, only stroked his graying beard, and glanced occasionally and uneasily to the east.


Eventually Julian had to drag himself from his nest of books with only a pair of prizes: the Introduction to Biology and another volume called Geology of North America. Time to go, Sam insisted; better to be back at the Estate by supper, so we wouldn't be missed; soon enough the official pickers would arrive to cull what we had left.

But I have said that Julian tutored me in one of his apostasies. This is how it happened. As we headed home we stopped at the height of a hill overlooking the town of Williams Ford and the River Pine as it cut through the low places on its way from the mountains of the West. From here we had a fine view of the steeple of the Dominion Hall, and the revolving water-wheels of the grist mill and the lumber mill, all blue in the long light and hazy with coal-smoke, and far to the south a railway bridge spanning the gorge of the Pine like a suspended thread. Go inside, the weather seemed to proclaim; it's fair but it won't be fair for long; bolt the window, stoke the fire, boil the apples; winter's due. We rested our horses on that windy hilltop as the afternoon softened toward evening, and Julian found a blackberry bramble where the berries were still plump and dark, and we plucked some of these and ate them.

That was the world I had been born into. It was an autumn like every autumn I could remember, drowsy in its familiarity. But I couldn't help thinking of the Tip and its ghosts. Maybe those people, the people who had lived through the Efflorescence of Oil and the False Tribulation, had felt about their homes and neighborhoods just as I felt about Williams Ford. They were ghosts to me, but they must have seemed real enough to themselves — must have been real; had not realized they were ghosts; and did that mean I was also a ghost, a revenant to haunt some future generation?

Julian saw my expression and asked what was troubling me. I told him my thoughts.

"Now you're thinking like a Philosopher," he said, grinning.

"No wonder they're such a miserable brigade, then."

"Unfair, Adam — you've never seen a Philosopher in your life." Julian believed in Philosophers, and claimed to have met one or two.

"Well, I imagine they're miserable, if they go around thinking of themselves as ghosts and such."

"It's the condition of all things," Julian said. "This blackberry, for example." He plucked one and held it in the pale palm of his hand. "Has it always looked like this?"

"Obviously not," I said, impatiently.

"Once it was a tiny green bud of a thing, and before that it was part of the substance of the bramble, which before that was a seed inside a blackberry —"

"And round and round for all eternity."


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Julian Comstock by Robert Charles Wilson, Teresa Nielsen Hayden. Copyright © 2009 Robert Charles Wilson. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Julian Comstock: A Story of 22nd-Century America 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 35 reviews.
harstan More than 1 year ago
It is 2172 and America is a radically different place since the oil was depleted. Transportation and communication are gone; people indenture their lives and that of their children to the Aristos who own vast Estates in return for food, clothing and shelter. The term for a president is thirty years as civilization has reverted back to no better than the early nineteenth century. In fact the goal of the present is a new "Manifest destiny" to encompass the entire continent.------- President Deklan Comstock had his brother hung for the crime of becoming too popular; Julian Bryce's son now lives in the backwater town of Williams Ford. Julian the president's nephew, his mentor Sam and their friend Adam escape the local enlistment only to be impressed into the army. Julian becomes a hero known as young Captain Commongold throughout the Republic. Deklan is irate as history seems to repeat itself with his nephew replacing his bold and charismatic brother. To prevent further mishap to his presidency, Deklan sends Julian and friends to the front with few supplies and the worst troops; he figures if the enemy fails to kill the usurper, his subordinates will when they rebel.--------------- Extrapolating current day economic, extremism and environmental trends, Robert Charles Wilson paints a bleak future for the sixty stars and thirteen stripes as the Bush legacy. One disaster after another has devastated America until the president becomes a tyrant and the country is divided between the less than 1% ultra wealthy Dominion And Aristos and the impoverished rest. The Christian Churches, the property owners, and the president determine what can be read by the masses and what is dumbed down taught in schools. Julian is an interesting person who is seen through the eyes of the narrator (Adam) as a champion who never wanted to be a hero, but was destined to be one. Though fascinating as he is, it is Mr. Wilson's America that grimly owns this futuristic thriller.---------------- Harriet Klausner
jasonpettus on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
(Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography [cclapcenter.com]. I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted illegally.)It's Hugo time! And as regular readers know, as with years past, I am trying to read as many of the nominees as possible for this most prestigious of science-fiction awards, before the award itself is actually given out this September at Worldcon in Melbourne, Australia. As of today I've now read three of the six -- Cherie Priest's Boneshaker, China Mieville's The City & The City, and now Robert Charles Wilson's astounding Julian Comstock: A Story of 22nd-Century America -- and in fact, along with Paolo Bacigalupi's The Windup Girl, these four are considered by most to be in a dead heat for odds-on favorite, making this a great year indeed for SF, in an industry that's seen some less-than-stellar years lately. (For what it's worth, I also have Catherynne M. Valente's Palimpsest on reserve at the library, although I'm not sure if I'm going to bother with the sixth nominee, Robert J. Sawyer's Wake, after reading his 2007 Rollback and being profoundly disappointed with it.)To be specific, it's Comstock that seems to be generating the most passionate write-ups online out of all these nominees; and now that I've read it myself, I can see why, becuase of its sense of audience-pleasing uniqueness that seems absent in the other books I've read -- it is in fact a clever combination of a witty steampunk actioner and a dour Bushism post-apocalyptic tale, an almost perfect manuscript whose only minor weakness is that there's been an awful lot of other books by now that have taken the same concept for their own premise. And this of course is something else that regular readers know, that I've read so many post-9/11 books now regarding a conservative American government bringing about the end of civilization, I've been thinking of doing a book-length compendium of them all, entitled The CCLaP Guide to Bushist Literature; I've reviewed over a dozen titles now in the last three years that would fit in such a guide, the latest before today's being James Howard Kunstler's World Made by Hand.But while I found Kunstler's book to be rather silly despite having the same theme -- this idea that the nation would revert after an apocalyptic event into a bunch of corpone-speaking, Amish-dressing farmers just because -- Wilson gets away with it by coming up with a compelling reason for such a thing happening; how the combination of losing most of the resources that made the Information Age work (oil, electricity, silicon) with a group of reactionary Luddites taking over the country post-apocalypse and turning it from a democracy into a Christian Republic (imagine Sarah Palin as President and with the court system replaced by Protestant deacons) has produced a world 150 years from now where not only does no technology exist newer than the early Industrial Age, but where even knowledge of post-Industrial technology is forbidden, a world where for an entire century the army has been collecting up every moldy 20th-century textbook still in existence and burning them, except for one archival copy inside a crumbling Library of Congress now under lock and key by the all-powerful Dominion of Christian Churches, one of a handful of organizations with their own large militias (including the army on the west coast, a separate national army on the east coast, and the aristocracy of "gentlemen farmers" who now run the government's executive branch) who through an uneasy truce are all managing to keep American society up and running again on a reasonably stable level. (For one ingenious example of what I'm talking about, see the running theme of how most Americans no longer believe that man actually went to the moon, but that it's simply one more godless lie that brought about the downfall of the a
weakley on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
One of the best reads of the year! While set in the 22nd century I would place this in the category of "future Victorian steampunk". By that I mean it's set in a world that has regressed in technology because of a global oil crisis. People are making do under a totalitarian religion based regime. The narrative dialogue is a marvelous mix of Arthur Conan Doyle and Robert Heinlein. I can't say enough about how enjoyable the play of language and topic was. The characters are well done and yet they are kept in the style and spirit of the Victorian tale of daring do. My only regret is that this isn't a series
bezoar44 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Julian Comstock presents a post-post-Apocalyptic future in which America, expanded to include most of Canada, is locked in a multi-decade war with a European federation dominated by the Germans. America has kept its name, but the new government is essentially a monarchy, a senate, and a religious authority that persecutes scientists, sectarians, and free-thinkers. The story takes inspiration from the life of Julian the Apostate, the last pagan Roman Emperor (and a philosopher who was deeply skeptical of Christianity). But the tone and sensibility of the story are distinctly Victorian. The naive and earnest narrator, who as a boy hopes someday to write adventure novels, narrates the story of his aristocratic friend Julian's youth and career. I found the book wickedly funny throughout; much of the humor springs from the gap between the narrator's understanding of his world -- both his present and his past (our present) -- and what is clearly going on around him. The book can also be read in an entirely different light -- perhaps less funny but more profound -- if you assume the narrator is unreliable and has changed or obscured certain details to make himself more sympathetic and to protect his moral reputation within the world of the story. There is an ongoing subplot - more of an sporadic conversation -- about the nature of writing that suggests Wilson intends to preserve this interpretation as a legitimate way to read this tale.
pmwolohan on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
21 Words or Less: A captivating (though fictional) biography of an influential man in a future America that looks and feels more like the past.Rating: 4.5/5 starsThe Good: Extremely high ¿readability¿ factor with prose that jumps right off the page, a setting that is interesting, original, and frighteningly plausible, plot is unpredictable but also well structured, very complex three-dimensional charactersThe Bad: Some of the ¿themes¿ come across as heavy-handed, occasional pacing problemsFor years, scientists have warned of the End of Oil, the point at which our oil based civilization will no longer be able to function. In Julian Comstock: A Story of 22nd-Century America, Robert Charles Wilson takes the world to the End of Oil and beyond; depicting a 22nd century America that has emerged from the False Tribulation transformed. Julian Comstock¿s America has adopted Christianity as its official religion and the Church¿s Dominion is one of the most powerful entities in American politics along side the military and the now inheritable presidency. Not to mention that the lack of oil and religious censorship has regressed America into an agricultural nation at a technological level on par with that of the Civil War. Robert Charles Wilson has concocted one heck of a setting and he slowly reveals it¿s intricacies over the first third or so of the book. He also manages to communicate all of this to the reader without resorting to ¿infodumping¿ (or at least without infodumping awkwardly enough feel unnatural). It¿s not only well constructed and delivered, it also feels original in a way that so many contemporary book fail to convey.When I sat down to write this review, I knew I would have trouble writing it. Robert Charles Wilson has concocted a fictional biography by a fictional author and succeeded wildly at it. Reading it felt like reading a biography in the respect that you couldn¿t really take issue with the plot. For example, if you were reading a biography of Thomas Jefferson, you couldn¿t really judge the ¿plot.¿ Whatever happened simply happened. This book portrays the life of Julian Comstock and the influential moments along the way as told by a close friend who accompanied him through most of the journey. I think the best complement I can give this book is that it feels authentic. Wilson does this by framing the story as a biography written by Julian¿s lifelong friend, Adam Hazzard, who had the good fortune to know the titular character when they were kids and the misfortune of getting swept up into a world of war, political intrigue, and love in Julian¿s wake. Adam¿s narration is extremely easy to read and his character¿s optimism makes the story lively and upbeat even when dealing with the darkness of war or the maddening eccentricities that Julian develops. In fact, I felt that Adam¿s story was as interesting, if not more so than Julian¿s. While Julian is destined to do great things, he is also flawed in very intricate but frustrating ways. It¿s much easier to root for Adam with his straightforward motivations of love, friendship, and creativity.That¿s not to say that Wilson¿s narrative choices are perfect. A few times character development is handicapped by the limitations of Adam¿s perspective. At certain points in the story, Adam is distanced (sometimes physically, sometimes not) from Julian and as a result there are passages of time during which Julian¿s story is largely neglected due to a lack of information. While Wilson refrains from using awkward storytelling techniques to supply the missing information, this uneven pacing can be frustrating because these periods are also some of the important in terms of understanding the evolution of Julian¿s character. In much the same way, I felt like the portions of the book that were the weakest were the points at which the narrator delved into descriptions that felt thematically heavy. While it might have felt weighted simply because the characters within the story were att
TomVeal on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Robert Charles Wilson has written a fine novel combining the politics of the later Roman Empire with the technology of the mid-19th Century. Ostensibly, it's set 160-some years in the future. In actuality, that mis-en-scène is an artificial construct fashioned to fit the story. Thinking hard about how the world could have gotten from here to there, and trying to rationalize the internal contradictions, is a useless exercise. Taken at face value, the constructs are interesting and fit together well. The politics reflect a plausible semi-authoritarian regime. The religious hierarchy looks like a desiccated Establishment more concerned with self-perpetuation than dogma, just what such a regime might generate. The economic system, a reversion to a form of feudalism, completes the picture.The central character, Julian Comstock, is obviously intended to remind us of Julian the Apostate, the short-reigned Emperor (361-363) who tried to restore paganism to the Christian Roman Empire. The novel's Julian (called "the Agnostic" or "the Atheist") is, like his namesake, a member of the imperial family relegated to obscurity after the murder of his father by the incumbent ruler. The trajectory is identical: from gilded imprisonment to military command to coup d'état to attempted renovation of the System to failure and death. The details of the future Julian's career are not, however, at all like the Emperor's, and, except for intellectual vagaries and a tendency to worship the past, their personalities are not very similar. Mr. Wilson has not blindly followed Isaac Asimov's advice to "brush up on your history/ And borrow day by day./ Take an Empire that was Roman/ And you'll find that it's at home in/ All the starry Milky Way". This future history proceeds from is own premises, not by copying its model.In the fashion of many historical novels, the viewpoint character is a low-ranking companion of the Great Man. He is conventional and rather naive, never quite understanding - and to the extent he understands not wholly approving - Julian's projects. Quite helpfully, he writes his narrative for a foreign audience, so that explanations of 22nd Century North American customs and institutions can be inserted without awkwardness. I was somewhat reminded of Alfred Duggan. Adam Hazzard bears at least a passing resemblance to the narrator of Lord Geoffrey's Fancy.The first few chapters of the book appeared in 2006 as a Hugo-nominated novella. The plot moves in different directions from what that opening led me to anticipate. That Julian would ascend politically and come into conflict with the Dominion of Jesus Christ on Earth was foreshadowed. It appeared, though, that the detritus of the wealthy past would play a larger role and that Julian's heterodoxy would take a more practical turn than it in fact does. I was misled, too, by an SF convention that Kingsley Amis identified long ago in New Maps of Hell: We expect a hero born into a dystopia to overthrow it, not to kick ineffectually against the pricks.If one puts aside the artifices of the setting and doesn't mind the defiance of SF convention, Julian Comstock is an excellent novel, with interesting characters, a believable yet unpredictable plot, touches of humor and a denouement that seems inevitable after one reads it. I'm not surprised that it gained a Hugo Award nomination, albeit a purist might quibble that it properly belongs in an historical fiction category.
Shrike58 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Some of Robert Charles Wilson's novels I have really enjoy, some have really annoyed me. This one seems just flat and uninvolving. Perhaps all it comes down to is that the narrator didn't capture my imagination and I'm not sure that the transposition of the legend of Julian the Apostate to a future, post-holocaust, America really works (though it should). That the ending was reminiscent of Theodore Judson's "The Martian General's Daughter" (another novel that didn't move me) didn't help. That I don't rate this novel more highly is a comment on how I expect more from Wilson.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A great spin on post oil society
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