Friday, August 6, 2010

Julian Comstock: A Story of 22nd-Century America, by Robert Charles Wilson

Just finished reading this Hugo 2010 nominated novel. The first chapter, written as a standalone story, is available at Free SF Online as Julian: A Christmas Story.

The story is set in a world after oil somehow goes away (the age is referred to as "The Efflorescence of Oil"). It is not a dystopia--in fact, given the current outlook, one could regard it as something of a best-case scenario. America and its institutions have survived in recognizable form, and even prospered. The world somehow failed gracefully back to 19th century technology through the catastrophe (the "False Tribulation").

Julian Comstock's story is one of an American aristocracy that arises from the catastrophe. He is of noble blood, and comes to fight the tightly linked power structures of Church and State.

The action itself is a well-told coming of age story with strong tragic roots. It's good stuff, and I really enjoyed reading it. I can't say it breaks any new ground. From my own perspective it's almost too optimistic--if we do have a general failure of resources in the future, whether it's water or oil (water being far more likely), breakdown is far more likely than unwinding. But the setting is rich and fully realized, and the narrator of the story, Julian's best friend, has a fine comic-ironic voice.

The story is firmly grounded in the belief that truth and sense will eventually overcome ignorance and brutality. A very hopeful message in these times. I give it three stars. Read it and you will be entertained, with a lift besides.

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