starshipcat (starshipcat) wrote,

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Space Opera Reinvented

Count to a Trillion (Count to the Eschaton Sequence #1)Count to a Trillion by John C. Wright

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I haven't felt like this about a book since I was a sophomore in high school reading Dune. It was just one cool idea after another, to the point there were several times I felt like yelling "stop, my brain's full!" And as a writer, I keep thinking that that I've been thinking far too small in my stories of deep space and deep time.

This novel (the first of six) begins about two centuries in the future. The US has collapsed into a loose collection of feuding states, and our protagonist grows up in a town not far from Houston, built on the ruins of an Interstate overpass to deter bandits. He's a mathematical genius, so his widowed mother gives him his own library cloth (a sort of tablet computer printed on fabric) -- but he uses it to collect all kinds of A/V goodies, of which she disapproves. It's fascinating to see a society that has fallen from its past glories, but is still far in advance of our present.

The next scene jumps some years. Young Montrose is now a man, and he's aboard a spacecraft, on the way to an interstellar ship for some grand mission. But he's about to thrust a needle into his own brain, injecting it with some kind of nanocytes in a desperate attempt to increase his formidable intelligence enough to understand some kind of alien message.

Then we have some confused images before he awakens in a mysterious place, half palace and half fortress. The rest of the novel is him and the reader trying to figure out what the heck happened during the gaps.

This novel is a story of big ideas, a thorough thinking out of some of the implications of the ideas in the classic sf movie 2001 in the light of four decades of scientific discovery. What would it mean to have a galactic civilization in a universe where the speed of light is a hard limit of the universe, with no get-arounds like warp drive or hyperspace? How can one have governance or even trade when travel times are measured in centuries, even millennia? And what happens when humans use the sort of principles that enabled twelve men to get to the Moon in a Lunar Module with walls as thin as tinfoil to build a starship, inadvertently setting off a tripwire that was supposed to indicate a much higher level of technology, perhaps even a transition from organic to machine civilization?

It hearkens back to some of the sf classics of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, but with an intensely human protagonist whose needs and desires humanize all these vast ideas of galaxy-spanning civilizations both vast and slow. Even so, it's still a hefty read, and has to be taken in small bites to keep from getting overwhelmed.

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