REVIEW: The Golden Transcendence by John C. Wright
REVIEW SUMMARY: A thinking person’s space opera.
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: The exiled Phaethon must prevent Xenophon from destroying humanity during the cosmic mind-meld known as Transcendence.
PROS: Sense of wonder; engrossing.
CONS: Logical reasoning got a bit thick at times; could have used some more action.
BOTTOM LINE: A great ending to a consistently well-done trilogy
After being cast out of Utopia for his dream of exploring space and reclaiming control of his spaceship, Phaethon must track down Xenophon, an agent of the Silent Oecumene whose wish is to destroy mankind. Xenophon wants to use Phaethon’s unique ship to destroy mankind during the impending Transcendence, a millennial tradition when all human minds temporarily merge into a collective “Cosmic Overmind” in order to achieve complete understanding. Can Phaethon save the Golden Oecumene in time?
I really enjoyed the previous two books and thought they maintained a consistently high level of quality. Fortunately, The Golden Transcendence continues that trend and, in some ways, improves upon it. Either I was familiar with the author’s writing style and abundant use of jargon or he just got better. Either way, I found this book to be even more enjoyable than the previous two books. How often does that happen in a trilogy?
So what exactly did I like about it? First off, the plot was interesting. Amidst memory altering technology in a far flung transhumanist future, Phaethon must overcome many obstacles and subterfuges (which he usually does through long bouts of fascinating contemplation) to arrive at the true reality. This is like a thinking person’s space opera. Instead of a multi-threaded story with one slam-bang action scene after another, there are lots of interesting, sequential passages of logical reasoning. This is fine as long as the passages remain captivating. And in this book, they do. Also, just when you think you know what the true reality is, along comes another plot twist. That particular plot device was stretching its limits a bit as was one where Phaethon attempted to employ a Trekian “Computer! Calculate to the last digit, the value of Pi!” But the story did not suffer much for it, if at all. I still kept devouring the pages.
[Start flagrantly unrelated side note]
The logical reasoning presented in this book, while sound as near as my illogical mind can tell, does get a bit thick at times. There was one passage (Chapter 9, section 7) where Phaethon reasons that morality is objective. I thought my head was going to explode! It actually reminded me of a scene in Woody Allen’s Love & Death where Allen argues with Diane Keaton about morality. Just for fun, I found their chat:
Boris(Allen): Sonia, what if there is no God?
Sonia (Keaton): Boris Demetrivich, are you joking?
Boris: What if we’re just a bunch of absurd people who are running around with no rhyme or reason?
Sonia: But if there is no God, well, then life has no meaning, why go on living, why not just commit suicide?
Boris: Well, let’s not get hysterical, I could be wrong. I’d hate to blow my brains out and then read in the papers they’d found something.
Sonia: Boris, let me show you how absurd your position is. Alright, let’s say that there is no God and each man is free to do exactly as he chooses. Well, well, what prevents you from murdering somebody?
Boris: Well, murder’s immoral.
Sonia: Immorality is subjective.
Boris: Yes, but subjectivity is objective.
Sonia: Not in any rational scheme of perception.
Boris: Perception is irrational and implies imminence.
Sonia: The judgment of any system or a priori relation of phenomena exists in any rational or metaphysical or at least epistemological contradiction to an abstract and empirical concept such as being, or to be, or to occur, in the thing itself or of the thing itself.
Boris: Yeah, I’ve said that many times.
[End flagrantly unrelated side note]
The sense of wonder that was so prevalent before continues throughout the book. The concepts that are presented are just mind-boggling. And in Stephen Baxter style, things are extremely scaled. The dimensions of Phaethon’s ship are measured in miles. And the events of the transcendence, occurring through multiple chapters, take place nearly instantaneously from the point of view of those involved.
There are lots of other cool science-fictiony things, too. For example, the people of the distant Silent Oecumene (who are only represented by their agent, Xenophon a.k.a. The Nothing Sophotech) are placed in suspended animation via launching body-filled caskets near black holes. The time dilation effects caused time to pass slowly for those inside. Thus the problems of cryogenics were bypassed. Cool!
Then there are the many themes that are explored. Usually, a book will take on one or two. But once again, Wright deftly balances several including privacy, security, freedom, reality, morality, independence and destiny. And he does so in a light-handed way that is a natural extension to the dialog and plot. So the reader is left to ponder the theme as opposed to having it forced upon him.
As in the previous novels, there is a fair helping of mythology. Fortunately, the mythological symbolism stays non-intrusive. One sf reference of note: The Silent Oecumene, at one point in their long history, used robots that seemed to obey Asimov’s Three laws of Robotics.
The characters are well-done and behave consistently (if you think they aren’t – then get ready for a plot twist). The pacing was generally good. There was a bit of a slow-down for me near the end of the book after the actual transcendence. But the last chapter redeemed itself. All loose ends of the story are neatly tied up.
Overall, this is a great ending to a consistently well-done trilogy.
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