The Phoenix Exultant continues the story right where The Golden Age left off, and follows Phaeton on a quest to regain his possessions and to expose his mysterious enemy. 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.
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In this, the second volume of `The Golden Age' Wright continues his tour-de-force widescreen baroque epic of a future civilisation where being human is as vague a concept as one could possibly imagine. Immortality is available to all, since back-up copies of one's mind and memories can be stored in case of fatal accident, although even the concept of a personality defined by one's memories becomes a grey area in Wright's world since memories can be edited (in some cases without one even knowing) which makes the definition of reality itself somewhat hazy. 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.
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