Monday, July 12, 2010

Book Review: Julian Comstock

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

With Julian Comstock, Robert Charles Wilson has created a world in which oil has dried up and civilization as it was known is no longer. The peoples of the world have devolved to an eighteenth-century way of living, complete with social norms. This new society has been built on the graves of the past, literally. The title character is the nephew of the current President, sent into exile for his own safety. But then the war finds him, and safety is no longer a possibility.

First off, there was absolutely fantastic world-building. The world which Wilson creates is vivid, raw, and very much probable. It could, in fact, be our world in a century or two. The narrator, Julian's common-born best friend, speaks of the time of Efflorescence of Oil when the Secular Ancients lived, and considers it an era of gross consumption and moral degeneration.

The story revolves around Julian's rise to power, almost comical in its accidentalness. And peppered throughout is some subtle (and not so subtle) commentary on social inequality, religious monopoly, creativity and censorship, learning, the hazards of fashion, and questioning the status quo.

I was not myself very enamored with the book, but from the accolades and awards the book has garnered, I appear to be in the minority. I did love the glimpses into this brave new world Wilson has created, and for that alone it is worth a read. If you are a fan of post-apocalyptic fiction or military fiction, this is right up your alley.

"The territory through which we passed had been overbuilt in the days over the Secular Ancients, but only a few traces of that exuberant time remained, and a whole forest had grown up since then, maple and birch and pine, its woody roots no doubt entwined with artifacts from the Efflorescence of Oil and with the bones of the artifacts' owners. What is the modern world, Julian once asked, but a vast Cemetery, reclaimed by nature? Every step we took reverberated in the skulls of our ancestors, and I felt as if there were centuries rather than soil beneath my feet."

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