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The Phoenix Exultant: The Golden Age, Volume 2 Kindle Edition
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Many beings have opted for Humodification, in which their bodies (and/or minds) have been changed or augmented beyond recognition. Others exist in gestalt form, sharing their minds with a myriad of others as a single consciousness.
Our hero Phaethon's ship has been confiscated and he has been exiled from the Oecumene (as the civilisation is known) and is being ignored by all on pain of them suffering the same fate. He has been advised by one of the AIs of the civilisation to head for Ceylon, an island inhabited by exiles, which is ruled quite literally with an iron hand by a cyborg called Ironjoy.
The plot twists and turns, baffling and dazzling the reader with its red herrings, its gloriously realised technologies and the complex logical possibilities inherent in a world where one cannot trust one's own memories.
The characters of Daphne and Atkins (who is a single immortal embodiment of the armed forces) return in order to aid Phaethon in his quest to a) prove that an insidious intelligence from beyond our Solar System has invaded the Oecumene, b) reclaim his fabulous ship `The Phoenix Exultant' and c) save the Universe.
Apart from anything else, the text is laced with a sly humour, and one cannot help but wish to exist in this strange, multi-layered culture at once light years away from our own experiences and yet, in essence, very similar.
Wright's version of our future is a highly developed society where the functions of the brain has been fully understood, and a number of different life forms have been created - immortals, mass minds, artificial intelligence to name a few. Data transfer between brain and computer is possible, and most people spend a large amount of their time in a virtual reality of great sophistication. The solar system is conquered and amazing, planet-scale engineering feats have been performed.
But even in this golden age everything may not be well. Has the artificial intelligence become too powerful? Is the society too rigid? Has mankind lost its curiosity and strive for progress? These are some of the questions Phaeton is struggling to solve on his quest for the truth.
I found the first book in the series (The Golden Age) somewhat difficult to get into due to the highly technical language, but once I got past that obstacle I realized that there was an intriguing story underneath all the cyberspace stuff and strange mind alterations. The Phoenix Exultant is a bit more straightforward, even though you are not quite sure where the plot is going until the end. My only complaints are that sometimes the characters get a bit too... obviously fictional, perhaps, and that the heroism the book is portraying is old-fashioned and male oriented. However, that did not stop me from enjoying The Phoenix Exultant quite a bit, and I can recommend it to any fan of science fiction.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
The Golden Age is very complex writing, although it uses a classic device of the hero not remembering his true mission and thus his relationships to the other characters is changed as his memories return. This is similar to Roger Zelazny’s Nine Princes in Amber series.
I have read this series many times and I discover new facets of the story with each re-read. Thank you Mr. Wright for such a great sci-fi epic which extrapolates the Greek myth of Phaethon, son of Apollo. Recently an spear shaped asteroid entered our solar system and was named Phaethon in honor of this series no doubt.
I won't blab on too long. If you liked the first book, buy this one. It's a no-brainer. If you're just perusing the reviews to see if these books are worthwhile, then I would be willing to vouch for this series. It's great at pushing and pulling you back on forth, making you question your assumptions about the characters and the plot. Phaethon is easily one of my favorite sci-fi characters. He's determined, optimistic, free-thinking. He's an archetype of some of the best parts of humanity. It's nice to read a positive character in sci-fi instead of the cynical, drug-addled, or gritty characters that have been overdone in the genre.
This series, and this book, are (as far as I know) are incredibly original. I've never read anything like this. Get it. If you like sci-fi, get it. If you like mysteries, and even mythic kind of stories, get this. If you like reading books, that's also a good reason to get this.
In the first book we are introduced to the main character, Phaethon, who is given a simple but trecherous question to answer regarding his own memory. As he examines the evidence and his options, we are provided a broad overview and a series of glimpses of an intriguing world of the future, and introduced to various major and minor characters, and to the questions whose resolution obviously forms the main story arc of the trilogy. The book ends with a satisfying close despite the questions unanswered, plot points unresolved, and unsatisfying or precipitous circumstances in which we leave some of the central characters.
The Phoenix Exultant picks up naturally where things left off, and while it resolves some of the mysteries and open questions from The Golden Age, it also gives us a closer view of several of the existing characters, together with the character of life in the Golden Oecumene, beginning with a depiction of the unpleasant existence of its most dysfunctional members. This change of tone is fully in keeping with a mid-story reversal in a long novel, but possibly unexpected or undesirable for an audience that is looking for a second, stand-alone work that recapitulates their favorite aspects of The Golden Age.
Without providing enough detail to yield spoilers, I will add that it doesn't really dwell on the negative, and adds a sense of depth and consistency (via reasonable explanations and backstory) to motives and plot points that might have seemed a bit simplistic or were simply left unresolved in the first book. It also develops both the future-history and technological backgrounds enough to make the world seem larger and more plausible. If I have a complaint, it's that some of the humorous touches undercut the characterization and dramatic tension in a way that, say, contrails from a flying penguin somehow did not.
Unfortunately, as the second of three acts, it necessarily addresses itself to what are obviously the central themes and plot issues without resolving them. The first book is nearly a self-contained introductory story, but The Phoenix Exultant is clearly a transitionary piece in a larger work. I haven't yet read the third book, and since the plot of the three-book series is a gradual clarification of mysterious occurrences and unexplained motives in a "what's going on?" plot, it's still possible that an unreasonable or incomplete explanation in the third book will retroactively ruin the first two (an accusation people have leveled against X-files, Twin Peaks, and Lost, among others).