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REVIEW: The Phoenix Exultant by John C. Wright

REVIEW SUMMARY: A sequel that is as superb as its predecessor


BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Phaethon, exiled from Utopia, seeks to reclaim control of his space exploration ship, The Phoenix Exultant.

PROS: High-quality and high quantity sense-of-wonder; fantastically created world; fascinating technological ideas; interesting plot.
CONS: Like its predecessor, slightly weighted down by too much jargon.
BOTTOM LINE: If you liked The Golden Age you will like The Phoenix Exultant.

Another winner from new author John C. Wright. The Phoenix Exultant continues the story that began in the excellent novel The Golden Age.

Phaethon has been cast out from the far future Utopian society that he hoped to save from stagnation. His ideas of extra-solar space exploration have left him an Exile, cut off from the technology from which he has grown accustomed in his three-thousand years of life (get with the program?immortality is the norm in this Seventh Era of Man!). Phaethon must rely on ?primitive? methods to reclaim his lost and tampered memories, discover the identity of his hidden enemy, deal with the exact-memory replica of his wife, and generally survive in a world which is foreign. His goal is to regain control of his interstellar spaceship, The Phoenix Exultant.

Based on the previous book, I had high expectations for this story and Wright delivers. In fact, this book mimics its predecessor in all the right ways and makes up for some of the previous faults to boot.

Like The Golden Age, The Phoenix Exultant works simultaneously on various levels, further proof that the author can craft a well-told story. The futuristic and sense-of-wonder-filled science and inventions assault the reader at a quick and relentless pace. This, for me, is the main appeal of this story. This is what science fiction was invented for.

The plot is engrossing as Phaethon searches for solutions to his current situation and looks for ways to reclaim his ship. It is interesting to watch Phaethon?s eye-opening experience as he lives life among the Exiles. As an example, left without the technology that allows people to instantly share thoughts, Phaeton must learn such outdated feelings as mistrust. When he gains control of their leader?s outpost, Phaethon?s Utopian morality takes hold with mixed, but interesting, results. The story details the well-imagined world of the Exiles whom are apparently available in two varieties. There are the ?Ashores?, temporary exiles who live on land and there are the ?Afloats?, permanent exiles who live on floating domiciles. Several chapters are used to depict the captivating microcosm-society of the Afloats.

The narrative picks up immediately following the closing events of The Golden Age. The style of writing is maintained, so I was able to wade through some of the story?s jargon quicksand a bit better than before. The pacing was reasonable despite the lack of many action sequences, except for one 14-page stall while Phaethon analyzed whether or not to use a memory verification device that he suspected of being tampered with. Nevertheless, these minimal distractions are hardly noteworthy; this is a book that is equally superb to its predecessor.

The Phoenix Exultant is the second in a three-part series. I fear saying that as many publishers and/or authors inevitably drive a good idea into the ground by extending it way past the limits of uniqueness. That would be a shame in the case of this excellent sequence of books.

About John DeNardo (13012 Articles)
John DeNardo is the Managing Editor at SF Signal and a columnist at Kirkus Reviews. He also likes bagels. So there.

6 Comments on REVIEW: The Phoenix Exultant by John C. Wright

  1. Would you stop with the reading of books next on my list please?

  2. Heh! Now you know how I feel. (HEL-lo!)

    <sinister look>

    Suuuure…I’ll be glad to oblige…Just tell me what’s next on your list and I’ll be sure to not dig it out of storage…

    </sinister look>

  3. The Dracula Tapes…

  4. Touch

  5. I also give this one a 4. The sheer amount of cool tech in mind boggling. Wright has obviously done a lot of thinking about what a transhumanist society might look like, and it shows.

    The only thing that bothered me a bit was the buildup and resolution of whether Phaethon’s memories were tampered with or not. In other words, is there an external threat to the Oecumene or not. The wheels within wheels feel to it just sort of bothered me. But that’s a minor point. Otherwise, an excellent book.

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