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2.5 out of 5 stars8
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VINE VOICEon 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.
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on 30 October 2012
As usual with JCW, the book is full of interesting ideas, mostly drawn from political theory (and especially game theory), applied to the problem of hierarchies of power and intelligence in a galaxy-wide civilization (which his protagonists are just discovering) constrained by light-speed, rather than relying on magical wormholes and the like. That last constraint is becoming popular in modern sf (see also Greg Egan, Alastair Reynolds)and does have the proper mind-boggling effect. The problem, as other reviewers have said, is that the protagonists either have no character at all or characters that arouse no sympathy, interest or belief. It becomes a chore to slog through the foul language and fouler actions of his hero, the post-apocalyptic Texan gunslinger turned mathematical genius, just to enjoy the political theory. And that theory, though engaging, is also very implausible!
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on 4 June 2013
I quite enjoyed this book, it has unusual plot themes which makes it interesting but some passages get a bit wearing and I wished he would get on with the plot. Some parts I thought he tried too hard to be plausibly technical and I speed read some of these parts. The 'enemy' were a bit vague too, not actually coming for another 8 thousand years and right at the end it was revealed that there are actually 3 levels of 'enemy' each one vaguer than the rest. I will probably get the sequel but only out of curiosity.
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on 15 December 2013
This is an old-fashioned SF novel of ideas, where the ideas and the world-building are the focus of the story, not the plot or even the characters. I think the central idea is in the title - "A man might not have the patience to count to a trillion, but the number is real whether he counts it or not". Similarly, the far future is real whether you consider it or not - and a civilization which travels between stars slower than light will be planning journeys that could take tens of thousands of years - what changes might the Earth see in even a fraction of that time, or prompted by the results of those journeys? How could a civilization arrange for bargains made over that period of time to be kept? There's a lot of mathematical name-dropping, which I find slightly suspect because of an argument for the existence of fundamentally alien logics with which I disagree, but the author does succeed in asking questions and making you think about ideas.
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on 23 December 2014
As usual, John C Wright is bursting with interesting ideas about posthumanism, the singularity and how a real interstellar society might function.

Sadly this book is much too wordy and filled with whole segments that just don't need to be there. And it's just the first in a multi-novel series.

I really want to know how it all turns out in the end, but the emotional effort of slogging through several sequels is not an appealing prospect. Perhaps I'll wait for some helpful soul to write a summary on wikipedia.

(And I write this as a John C Wright fan)
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on 1 March 2012
Sci fi is filled with superhuman protagonists who use their often previously hidden talents to drive the plot forward to overthrow the status quo. In Count to a Trillion the superhuman protagonist has the unfortunate tendency of being knocked unconscious as a consequence of their own actions and then waking up to discover that the plot has moved on despite them.

The novel plays with many of the ideas of the genre - there are duels which are overcomplicated to the point of absurdity, the protagonist runs off into the wilds at one point and hunts animals because that is what the protagonists in the kind of novel this one is spoofing do, the protagonist breaks unbreakable codes through the power of dance and then discovers that er everyone already knew what they said, and the unspeakable alien threat turns out to be something very different.

The heroine seems to be the only woman in the future world. Though even that is in doubt.

It reads like Mark Twain, R.A Lafferty and Alfred Bester sat down to pastiche the libertarian superman protagonist of classic sci fi.
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on 8 March 2013
This book holds the record in my house for the fastest trip from buying to charity shop. It starts well, with the maths genius Texas wide boy, but collapses rapidly as the author runs out of ideas about 50 pages in. From then on it's move to new location, waffle for lots of pages, over and over again. Eventually I skipped a whole block, and little had happened. When I'd managed to get close to the end, I realised that apart from the tedium, it was one of the things I hate most in a book - the "hidden part one". You gradually realise that all this surely can't be tied up in the pages that are left - and indeed it can't. Now read pages from part two. Not a chance. I'm surprised at Tor wanting to publish this stuff.
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on 31 March 2013
Count to a Trillion is an easy book to review as it is a clear 'no-hoper'. It's hero is the leadenly named Menelaus Montrose who is a genius. We know he is a genius as he can compute complex mathematical problems in his head, quiteliterally faster than a speeding bullet as we see early on in the book when he beats a technically enhanced opponent in a duel. Not surprisingly, despite being a nobody, he is picked for the crew of a starship, built to get to a newly discovered alien artifact, which pictures reveal as containing mysterious hieroglyphics, that no one can fathom... When the ship takes off, Menelaus, our genius, does something really clever by injecting himself with an untested brain-boosting drug. He survives of course but other niggly 'unsolvable' problems need solving before presumably the main course of the artifact...

I gave up at this point. It is obvious that the author is proud of his main character and assumes that others will be in awe of his repartee and insights. I suspect he thinks (or just hopes) that this will be enough to keep readers reading, as there is absolutely nothing else in this book which is apparently the first in a trilogy. Having read his preceding Golden Age trilogy this one has none of its appeal. Why a publisher would publish this new trilogy is, I think, a puzzle that would confound Menelaus Montrose himself.
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