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May 2003
© 2003 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu
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The Phoenix Exultant: Vol Two of the Golden Age by John C. Wright
Tor Hardcover: ISBN 0765304325 PubDate: May 2003
Review by Ernest Lilley

320 pages List price 24.95
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My only regret about John Wright's Golden Age trilogy is that it's not the single massive tome he intended…but three perfectly good sized volumes. On the other hand, maybe it's good to space out your fun, and there's certainly something to be said for anticipation.

In the first book, The Golden Age, our mythic far future hero, Phaethon, had to decide whether to open the box that held his memory and accept shunning by the future society in which he was on the very upper crust, or to go on knowing that there was a big gap in his, and actually everyone's, memory.

What filled that gap was the starship Phoenix, which the ruling AI's and humans wanted to keep from flying between the stars and destabilizing this "Golden Age". They wanted it so badly that they subjected then entire race to selective amnesia to keep them from even thinking about it.

Of course, Phaethon opens Pandora's box and finds himself disenfranchised in paradise, or as the alternate title of the second book suggests: Dispossessed in Utopia.

This is the middle book in the trilogy, and it follows the classic pattern of loss setting the stage for redemption. Phaeton may be outside society and bereft of the casual super science that everyone else enjoys, but when you compare his poverty to our wealth, he's still got a wealth of technology and knowledge that make the wealthiest of us paupers by comparison, so how bad off is he?

Creature comforts aside, he's bereft of his heart's desire, and his efforts to regain the his starship have a "take no prisoners" air of dertmination.

Fleeing to the isle of the unwanted, he tries to organize society's outcasts into a wedge to drive open the door to his old life, only to find out that they're outcasts for a reason. Pursued by the loving clone/simulacrum of his wife (the real one put herself on ice rather than deal with his problems) Phaethon doggedly makes things hard for himself by refusing her affections and keeps trying to find a way to get back his starship. This is as epic a saga as you're likely to get, and it's chock full of high concept and cool super-science, worthy of the best of Golden Age SF, but realized here with an attention to detail and plausibility that set it in a class of its own. You'll find echoes of the masters of SF throughout the book, and Wright cheerfully lists his influences, while urging readers to peruse the originals. "They are giants." he offers in a Locus interview published after his first book .

If you've read the first book in this story, The Golden Age (SFRevu June 2002 / $6.99) you don't want to miss The Phoenix Exultant, and if you haven't had the pleasure of reading the first book, you're in luck - it's in paperback now so you can catch up even if you don't command the kind of wealth that it takes to build your own starship.

sfr3d.gif (19860 bytes)© 2003 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu
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