Published by Tor
Taking a slight step from his Hard SF sequence begun with the Hugo Award Winning Spin, Robert Charles Wilson turns his deft hand to an American Future that resembles the country during the Civil War. Julian Comstock: A Story of 22nd-Century
The main character, Adam, is a sympathetic, if very naïve, young man and son of a snake wrangler. When Julian, whose father was murdered on orders of his own brother Deklan, arrives at the lands where Adam is a lease boy, the two strike up a friendship. Adam has dreams of becoming a writer (which come true as evidenced by the chronicle of Julian’s life that is the novel) and is fascinated by Julian’s outside-the-box ideas about DNA and men on the moon. The books to which Julian refers and shows Adam are not officially approved by the Dominion, so elements of such books are denied and shunned. Soon enough Sam, Julian’s guardian and friend of Julian’s father Bryce, purchases the services of Adam.
Julian, Sam, and Adam are eventually conscripted into a war that is slightly reminiscent of the struggles between Oceania,
Along the way, Adam meets an intriguing woman named Calyxa while his army company is stationed in
The tone is very comfortable and
While not quite a post-apocalyptic tale, the novel is definitely the story of a nation (and one suspects of a world) struggling to rise through the mire of sin and decadence from its societal predecessor. The world isn’t a typically blasted landscape seen in post-apocalyptic fiction, rather
It isn’t through info dumps or anything obtrusive that the reader learns about the world at large, technology like cars and travel to the moon are viewed as nearly magical things of the past or fallacies of fantasy outright banished from collective thought.
The slightest criticism can be leveled at Adam himself, since he doesn’t have much depth of character himself. He’s more of a cipher and a lens through whom the reader can experience the story. He is definitely in the shadow of Julian and is quite subservient to his headstrong wife and even Sam and Julian’s mother. In another sense, since Adam is more or less a reporter relaying the events of Julian’s life, this is quite appropriate in terms of presenting a relatively unbiased narrator.
I don’t know that it was a coincidence that Julian’s initials’ are shared with Jesus Christ and in this, there’s an ironic twist. With the Dominion of Jesus Christ representing a true power in the world, it seems somewhat fitting that their hierarchical stronghold on the country be challenged by a saviour who bears their own saviour’s initials. Though Julian doesn’t espouse a religious pedagogy, his philosophy and wish to share knowledge (particularly of Charles Darwin who also found enemies and barriers with the church of his time) and understanding is enlightening and quite similar in form if not content to Jesus.
I’ve read a couple of novels by Robert Charles Wilson, including the aforementioned Spin which was one of the best Science Fiction novels I’ve read in the past ten years. With that in mind, and a good deal of positive buzz surrounding this novel, I opened the book with high hopes. It isn’t often that the experience matches the expectations, but in this case, Mr. Wilson’s haunting, elegant, and addictive novel was above those expectations. Julian Comstock is a powerful, engaging, and smoothly written novel that should add more awards to
Highly, highly recommended and easily one of the top 2 or 3 2009 books I’ve read this year.
© 2009 Rob H. Bedford