|Submitted by Karen Burnham |
(Nov 30, 2003)
"The Golden Age" is an excellent far future work. It takes place roughly 10,000 years in the future, when humans are effectively immortal. Their bodies are kept alive by medicine and machine, while their minds walk in a virtual reality. Their memories are saved in computer space, and can be erased and edited. Phaethon, the protagonist, realizes that he has lost about 250 years worth of memories, out of his 3100 years. It turns out that he volunteered to erase the memories. The story involves him trying to figure out what he forgot, and why. He is involved in legal disputes related to his father, his wife, his previous business associates and others. Everyone who talks to him, both human and computer, has an agenda, and he is trying to sort them all out. It is a fascinating tapestry of motives.
The only weakness that stands out is some of the inconsistencies of the main character. He varies from timid and whining to proud and arrogant. Some of that is explained by the concept of computer mediated consciousness, where you can ask to have your personality changed on a short or long term basis. Some of it, however, feels like the character is changing to suit the needs of the author.
The universe that Wright has built is rich and well imagined. He considers many different kinds of person: computer and human, primitive or enhanced, individual or massed together. He imagines a settled and exploited solar system, and massive works of planetary and stellar engineering. The future he imagines is worth the price of admission alone.
This is primarily a serious dramatic work, but it is leavened by moments of wonderful comic relief, primarily provided by Phaethon's house computer, Rhadamantus. Rhadamanthus is an AI person, roughly 100 times as smart as a normal human. He often manifests himself in the form of a penguin. His is one of the wisest voices in the story.
"Golden Age" is the first book of a duology (and possibly a trilogy!), so the ending leaves you wanting more. The second book should be released by the end of 2003, so keep an eye out for it. It should be called "The Phoenix Exultant." It will almost certainly be worth your while.