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  1. #1
    Registered User lemming's Avatar
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    August book: THE GOLDEN AGE by John C. Wright

    I hope it's okay for someone besides a moderator to start this thread... it is August 1, after all! So, um, discuss.

    I'm still reading it (a little more than halfway done) so I'll be avoiding this thread until sometime this weekend lest there be spoilers. Have to say I'm enjoying it so far though! I didn't expect so many light humorous touches or such a direct treatment of some of the philosophical problems. There are also a lot of lovely little touches like the idea of agreeing with your spouse to both forget a lover's quarrel.

    So far, the hardest part of the book for me is the constant pushing and popping (sorry for the programming reference for those who aren't computer people) between different levels of simulation. I was totally taken aback the first time Phaethon "freezes" what's going on in the simulation in order to wake up for real, bodily, and think about things, then come back. Wouldn't it work the other way? Wouldn't he be missing tons of time in the computer-simulated world while engaging in what I assume to be slower real-time thinking? But then, he was in his own mansion at the time, and presumably COULD pause that particular part of the simulated world. I do, after all, pause computer games to go to the restroom or whatever. On the other hand, you can't do that in a realtime multiplayer game! I feel like Wright really thought all of this out at some point, but I get lost anyway. There are just so many levels of reality here.

    If our perception of reality is vulnerable to manipulation by our technology, why should we not employ that technology, if it serves our convenience, utility and pleasure? Where is the wrong? says the Chimera. Hmmmm.

    I look forward to saying quite a bit more when I'm done reading!

  2. #2
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    O.K. lemming, I'll chime in with a few thoughts.

    I read The Golden Age and recently finished The Phoenix Exultant. Be warned that it's now looking like a trilogy. *ack*

    As for my thoughts on The Golden Age *NO SPOILERS*:

    A bloody excellent read. I really liked the way Wright explores identity (who am I when my reality is mutable?) and philosophical issues that may confront post-Darwin humanity.

    More subtly (o.k. I was a bit slow to pick it up; there was a huge clue in the title), were the sly references to the 'golden age' of the SF genre. Some examples in this review (SPOILERS!).

    On one level it reads like a space opera with lots of cool toys - definite sense of wonder happening here. On another, it's a deeper, layered work that draws on our common heritage of stories and myths. Participants in The Golden Age with their familiar names drawn from ancient myths have recognisably human personalities and so are at once familiar and yet alien.

    I'll be keeping an eye on this writer.

  3. #3
    Administrator Administrator Hobbit's Avatar
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    I thought by the subtitle that the title was an homage to the SF golden age - unfortunately I got no further than that with the book this month!

    Thnks for the link too, soon - I used to have the website in my list of favourites but somwhere it disappeared. Good review, too.

    Hobbit
    Mark

  4. #4
    Lemurs!!! Moderator Erfael's Avatar
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    Getting ready to start reading, back in as quick as I can finish. Erf.

  5. #5
    Registered User lemming's Avatar
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    Smile Yay! other people are talking too

    I finished it yesterday, but will refrain from too many spoilers since it sounds like some people are still reading. In my last post I forgot to say something: did anyone besides me notice that the title font is the same one used for The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman? A pretty cheeky move if it was done on purpose! I was kind of impressed that I picked up on this, given that I have a mass market paperback edition of The Golden Compass that uses different cover art & a different font. Amazon's cover shot backed up my intuition though, as did my hardcover copy of The Amber Spyglass.

    Aw, Soon Lee, your news about it turning into a trilogy is very sad! I actually had a dream last night that I read The Phoenix Exultant and it didn't conclude. *grumble* I had some other dreams just about being Phaethon, too. I guess this book really got into my head.



    *SPOILER FROM ABOUT 1/3 OF THE WAY THROUGH*



    Is it my imagination or is there one giant plot hole, though? It's tough to keep track of all the laws of the universe, but fairly early on in the book (not as far as halfway, anyway) Phaethon is told that if he hangs out for 90 days without touching his forbidden memories, that everything his old self wanted would come to pass. Well, we already know, from about page 5, that he can control his time-sense... remember he did it while flying and the night went by in an instant? So why didn't he hole up somewhere safe, with Rhadamanthus to guard him, and turn his time-sense so the 90 days went by in 90 seconds and he wouldn't have had the mental time to get impatient, go on rampages etc? If I recall correctly, he got the "90 days" number during the trial, so he wouldn't have been interrupted by a call to that.

    I'll be the first to admit I may have missed something else that would have been unavoidable, though.

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    Aahh, but can he believe the source of that particular piece of information? I think this goes to the heart of the book. It's about identity and control; who can you trust when you're not sure you can even trust yourself? Are you paranoid enough?

    It's one thing altering one's time sense while flying ffrom one place to another over the course of a night, but something quite different to allow 90 days to pass when 1)There is no surety that it will happen as you've been told and 2)What if someone uses the 90 days grace to further their plots against you. You would be denying yorself the 90 days to counter 'them' whoever 'they' might be. 90 days without any control of or input into external events. Phaethon would not abdicate any say in events of such importance to him. Maybe he is his own enemy in this regard.

  7. #7
    \m/ BEER \m/ Moderator Rob B's Avatar
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    First of I'll say I didn't pick up on the loophole.

    2nd off, I'll say I did enjoy the novel. The story itself was told very well, there were some great, as has been said, thoughts of identity of self vs. the greater society, which at times reminded me of 1984. Basically, his lost memories were very similar to double-speak and thought crime as depicted in Oceania.

    There were a few homages I really enjoyed, a couple of nods to Wolfe and Bester.

    I really enjoyed the parts of the book where Phaeton would discuss his thoughts of identity with Chimera, Radamanthus as well as Helion and Daphne.

    The whole VR slant, does open up possibilities, too.

  8. #8
    Anitaverse Refugee FicusFan's Avatar
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    I found reading this book to be a two-tiered experience. There was the story, and the plot, and the actual reading - which I will post about later. The other was the incredible themes in the book, which are what kept me thinking about it.

    The issues this book explores are central to our modern way of life, and his society invites comparison with our own, with sometimes less than positive results. When I first read the story I thought it was about a specific future. The reviews kept talking about the great past of SF, and how this was taking it into a positive future. The more I thought about what I read, the more I came to disagree with that assessment. I kept wanting to compare his future with our present, and then it seemed he was talking more about us, than some mythical golden future.

    Although the story is set in the far future, I am also transported back to the past several times by the themes in this book.

    The first is Benjamin Franklin and to paraphrase: “Those who give up their liberty for security, deserve neither”. At the core of his story is an issue central to our daily life. What price is worth paying for security, and when does security kill freedom and creativity. The story explores the tension between freedom and security. What duty a society has to balance the two, and what duty a person has to take risks if he or she is a living being contributing creatively to that society, rather than becoming a parasitic fossil. In JW’s future society he shows the consequences of expanding security to include not just war, terrorism, and crime, but also an individual’s own self-destructive tendencies. He also shows the negative consequences of freedom: death, dishonor, exile. He lays bare the dichotomy between security and freedom, chaos and creativity, public good, and private actions.

    Much like our world JW has a group of old, rich, men deciding to run society for their own good, and enrichment: calling it security for the common good.

    [Interestingly I wanted to add white to the above list describing the power brokers. The story seemed to be set in an almost 1950's social paradigm, yet because the main character's name is Phaetheon, I am not sure. In the actual myth of Phaetheon (Apollo's half-human son) he and his mother are from Ethiopia, but the closest JW comes to that is Phaetheon's black super armor. So I am not sure if it is my assumption or his world building that is lacking here.]


    Oddly enough the one security JW and his society does not seem to consider is financial. It is a crime to kill, or steal, or defraud, but it is fine if a person loses his or her money, independence and eventually life, while others who would never actively commit a crime, stand by and passively watch. His people are highly materialistic, with wealth seeming to be measured in computer time, but still how they keep score. I think he left economics out of the picture of guaranteed freedoms as a means of drawing our attention to it. His poor can be absorbed into a mass-mind I think to avoid death, even though their personalities cease.

    In comparison, real people today can and do die because they are poor. To me he is drawing attention to the lack of economic freedom in most of the world today. Communism and socialism don’t work, but the idea of pure capitalism determining life and death is really antique social Darwnism at its worst. But we have yet to develop the hybrid that rewards the industrious, but doesn’t condemn the rest to banal squalor or public parasitism at the expense of the hardworking.

    Another interesting idea JW explores in the story is the concept of identity, and what makes you, you. Does the fact that you have lost an hour of your life, make you less than your true self ? An interesting and timely idea given the advent of the digital bureaucracy, the on-line world, the beginning stages of development of cloning, and cryogenics for whole people, body parts, eggs and sperm. How do these advances in technology impact self, citizenship, familial and economic relationships, and what might the society which dealt with them rather than hid from them or banned them look like?

    He also takes spin, and PR, VR to its ultimate conclusion, not that perception is as important as reality, but that perception is reality. With his use of differing representations of the same event determined by the preference of the observer, what happens to the concepts of truth, honesty, and reality? How does a society which has no common denominator for such important concepts survive ? How does a moral person function in such a society ? How do you fairly regulate the interactions of people who not only have different ideas but different realities while occupying the same space ? How do you maintain true freedom, if you hand the job of regulating and decision making to outside agencies above most human concerns: computers, mass hysteria in the future; religion/god, corporate entities, governments and politicians in the present?

    Interestingly we have already started trying to grapple with such problems. We have embraced the idea that everything is relative, and that our cultural conditioning (filters) determine what we see, and what we think we have experienced. Attempting to deal with this has so far set us adrift in a murky swamp of moral bankruptcy (what does ‘is’ mean), and rampant political correctness. But what happens when we graduate to the next level: when it isn’t merely interpretation of events that is subject to differing views, but the actuality of the events themselves ?

    His characters actively choosing to use filters as optional barriers and tailors to reality is an interesting counterpoint to the way we blindly have filters imposed, by education and conditioning, often without our knowledge or active participation.
    Yet most people in western society at least, would consider themselves free, while his characters would consider us conditioned lab rats.

    Finally the product of this society of the future for all its use of math, science, computers and engineering seems to be the sublimely ridiculous. Their main activity seems to be fine-tuning their own lives and perceptions, and the exaltation of leisure, pointless cerebral activity (dreaming what the color of a red cloud feels like), and the creation of high concept art.

    In short these people have found nothing useful to do with themselves, and all their technology, education, and ability. I am reminded of the humans in Dan Simmon’s Ilium, the Eloi, and small children who gorge themselves on candy and ice cream, rather than going for the balanced meal – which makes dessert all the sweeter. For all their high tech gadgets and incredible range of perceptions I feel they are just a higher tech, more polished version of what we are evolving into: with our headlong rush for Fridays/vacations, so we can suck down beer, while watching some sports event on the tube, and basically masturbating alone in the dark, even if we are having sex with another person (specific activities vary, depending on culture, education, and level of success). But we all seem to be moving towards the souless pre-programmed, pre-packaged experience which replaces real meaning and deep feeling with instant fizzy titillation - designed by those who set the criteria for what is cool, and hot with the goal of selling us the perfect life and its acoutrements.

    The ending with the Hortators reminded me of nothing so much as The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne. That for all the technology and time that has passed between Puritan New England and the Golden Oecumene they are still using the same fear of shunning, and the herd mentality to control and shape human behavior, and repress the individual for the benefit of the whole, and those who herd them.

    Thats all that the book has stirred up at this point.

    I can't imagine what he will do for book 2 (and I don't mean the story).

  9. #9
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    But did you like it?

  10. #10
    \m/ BEER \m/ Moderator Rob B's Avatar
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    Wow FF, great thoughts.

    I agree there is much in tGA we can easily compare to the world we live in. The whole materialistic ideals and rich, chosen few in power rule is quite similar. I know the back of the book says the story takes place 10,000 years in the future, but it is pretty plausible. Well, excepting the travel between planets in our solar system.

    I didn't see the conflict so much as security vs. freedom, but really still being an individual in a society. Phaeoton goes to great lengths to regain his individuality, from the start of the book at the masquerade. I think to, me, the idea of the individual was the defining theme of the book. Phaeton will not relent in searching for his lost memories, and really what are we as individuals without our memories, simply a husk of skin that proles about. However, he is constantly told the dangers of finding his identity. Is it a good thing? Well for Phaeton, he obviously thinks so. It's a hard line we all walk every day, to different levels. Is it worth it to rock the boat? Will speaking up hurt us as an individual or will it help the group as a whole? At this point, it seems to me that Phaeton has some rather selfish goals in mind, he wants his memories back, and doesn't seem to care how much the boat will rock. It will likely remain to be seen whether the effects are disatrous for the society of Wright's world.

    Incidentally, that set up of Phaeoton questioning his memories strongly reminded me of Patera Silks moment of epiphany in the opening pages of The Book of the Long Sun. Good sign, too--a few pages in, echoes of Gene Wolfe can't be a bad thing.
    not just war, terrorism, and crime, but also an individual’s own self-destructive tendencies. He also shows the negative consequences of freedom: death, dishonor, exile. He lays bare the dichotomy between security and freedom, chaos and creativity, public good, and private actions.
    As I was reading this, I couldn't help thing of the many paranoid novels and short stories of PKD.

    I guess I see The Golden Age on a couple levels, as well. On the one hand, as FF points out, in and of itself, it is a very well-told story, and has all the features of a great story. On the other, I see it as Wright's homage to alot of the great novels of SF. Whether the homage is intentional (and with all of the nods to the well-informed sf reader, it's hard to argue that it isn't intentional) or not, the effect is really an enjoyable aspect of the novel.

  11. #11
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    There is an excellent interview with John C. Wright at sfsite. Looks like his extensive life experience greatly informs the book.

  12. #12
    Administrator Administrator Hobbit's Avatar
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    Fantastic, all round. Very enlightening interview, Soon - I missed that one, but shall read the book in a new light when I get chance! and Ficus, stunning review. The fantasy novel also sounds brilliant. Well done, all!

    Hobbit
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  13. #13
    Anitaverse Refugee FicusFan's Avatar
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    Originally posted by Fitz
    Wow FF, great thoughts.

    [snip]
    I didn't see the conflict so much as security vs. freedom, but really still being an individual in a society. Phaeoton goes to great lengths to regain his individuality, from the start of the book at the masquerade.

    I think to, me, the idea of the individual was the defining theme of the book. (spacing added as an edit by FF)

    Phaeton will not relent in searching for his lost memories, and really what are we as individuals without our memories, simply a husk of skin that proles about. However, he is constantly told the dangers of finding his identity. Is it a good thing? Well for Phaeton, he obviously thinks so. It's a hard line we all walk every day, to different levels. Is it worth it to rock the boat? Will speaking up hurt us as an individual or will it help the group as a whole? At this point, it seems to me that Phaeton has some rather selfish goals in mind, he wants his memories back, and doesn't seem to care how much the boat will rock. It will likely remain to be seen whether the effects are disatrous for the society of Wright's world.

    [snip]

    Thanks Fitz & Hobbit

    Fitz,

    I agree with you but still think the book was about Freedom Vs Security Hows that for having my cake and eating it too !

    I think that being an individual is part of the issue of Freedom, and the idea that you shouldn't be an individual (as demanded by the Hortators -- is it just me or is anyone else reminded of Lewd Potatoes by this name?) is the Security aspect. The powers that be are afraid, not just of Phaethon and his memories and what he will do once he regains them, but of his public defiance of their edicts. They after all only rule because the masses allow them to manipulate them. So their security covers not only the danger to society when you have radical changes, but the danger to their rule and power. The Freedom is the ability to be an individual and make your own choices, but also to fail, introduce chaos and instability and generally make a mess.

    I have to confess that I looked at the bigger picture more than the view from Phaetheon's eyes, cause he didn't really matter to me as a character. I didn't care what happened to him, or about either quest (memories, then for his ship and the stars). The only character that interested me was Rhadamthus -- what can I say I am a sucker for an armored penguin. What kept me reading was the mystery of his crime. I thought, wrongly, that it would be something obsure and minor. Silly me.

    Great point about memories making us who we are, I totally missed it.

  14. #14
    Anitaverse Refugee FicusFan's Avatar
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    Originally posted by Soon Lee
    But did you like it?
    Didn't mean to ignore you, but I am having difficulty coming up with an answer that doesn't run for pages, and pages .

    One one level dealing with the ideas and the world building it was a fabulous read.

    On the entertainment level it was a bit of a slog for me. I was not crazy about any character but Rhadamthus. I was only hooked by the mystery of what the crime was, and when it was solved 2/3 of the way through the book, I felt let down. The star ship and the quest for the stars didn't interest me much.

    I veer back and forth about his writing. At the start it seemed clunky, and awkward (names 2 sentences long). When I came to the paragraph of, what were really footnotes on the concept of "I" (when the Neptunian gives Phaethon a listing of all the references about "I" he is passing him) I wanted a blunt object and names and addresses.

    His awkwardness did clear up and he actually handled such challenging material well. Without quite a lot of skill the book would have been an unreadable mess.

    The other sticking point for me was his over the top description. In fact the description really took over the story, sort of like a bold dress wearing a mousy woman, or loud wallpaper taking over a bland room. His setting really became the story more than the characters. I am not a big fan of CP, or other books that spend a lot of time painting specific set pictures. I take the words of an author and paint my own pictures. In books that already seem to come with pictures, I seem to spend much of my time trying to mentally line up my pictures to what is described in the book. So I feel like I am matching up blueprint lines rather than creating the pictures fresh myself, and I spend time thinking about the technical details rather than enjoying the story.

    In defense of his skill I will say his dialog was good, and his ability to embed his ideas was excellent. I never felt that he was dumping a lot of personal agenda or historical research, or philosophy into the story raw. I also felt he didn't make his themes and ideas stand separate from the story, so you were not distracted by them.


    All that to say, I guess I am ambivalent about whether I liked it or not . I am glad I read it, I think it is a great accomplishment, but I just am glad its over.

    I have an ARC of the sequel The Phoenix Exultant, and I will read it, but not right away.
    Last edited by FicusFan; August 8th, 2003 at 10:39 PM.

  15. #15
    Lemurs!!! Moderator Erfael's Avatar
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    A little over halfway through now. Not finding the time to read here at the very busy end of the summer.

    I have a question. The first 60 or so pages were very slow going for me getting adjusted to the world. Now I am cruising along better. In one section, as Phaethon is realizing what sums of money they are talking about in the trial over his father's fortune, they describe how the father's fortune is so big. let's see if I get this right without the book on hand.


    Helion made the solar array. The solar array somehow saves people computer time, a few seconds here and a few there. All of the "savings" GO TO Helion? Since Helion did something so miraculous, everyone loves him.

    I haven't had a chance to go back and reread these parts, so maybe I have something wrong in there, but it doesn't make sense to me that he's saving anyone anything if all of the time is going to him. Seems that they remain even, he profits, and somehow they still think the solar array is great. I'm going to sit down and try to work through this before I pass out tonight, but maybe someone else understands what I missed very easily.



    Another question: I am not very well read in the SF greats, or much SF in general, really. I've only skimmed the above threads so as not spoil anything for myself, but I have seen mention of various nods towards previous sci-fi greats. Are these things that coudl be easily pointed out(maybe just a few), so that even if I don't appreciate the references yet, having not read the books, I can appreciate the craft that went into this one?



    Last one: How does one receive the honor of an ARC?


    Thanks all, should be finished in a day and hope the conversation is interesting. I think I'm enjoying it so far. Erf.

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