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Very clever but soulless
on 19 April 2012
John C. Wright's new novel is a space opera set in the 2240s, featuring a dystopian future Earth and an antimatter star 50 light years away. The automated starship which visited found a strange, partially-decipherable monolith and potential free-energy for the entire planet for hundreds of years if the AM could be mined.
The hero of the tale is Menelaus Illation Montrose, a gun-slinging attorney in the backwater which is future Texas, after the global biowar. Montrose is a math genius who takes an experimental IQ-enhancing nanoware potion as he joins the first manned expedition, an act which scrambles his mind for the duration of the mission. Most of the tale is set after the starship returns with its antimatter cargo: devastating consequences follow.
This is a strange book to read, bringing to mind all those criticisms that SF is all head and no heart. Wright is widely read and intelligent and deploys legions of physics buzz words (Lie Groups, Grassman algebra, Hilbert spaces) to convey super-intelligence. The plot is complex and time-shifts around.
The problem, as usual, is with characterisation. The personalities of the main characters and their motivations don't really invite empathy or identification - sometimes even comprehension. All the characters are constructs, well-made and complex to be sure, but not real enough to engage and involve. In the end this is a clever intellectual exercise but still cold and people-by-numbers.