Technically, this is going to be a review of the whole Golden Age trilogy by John C. Wright: The Golden Age, The Phoenix Exultant, and The Golden Transcendence. Like many trilogies, this is a single story broken up into three parts for publication purposes so I waited until I had read the last book before posting about it. To put the conclusion at the beginning of the essay: if you like Dr. Who, and you like mystery stories, you are probably going to love this trilogy. So go read it!
Here’s a bit of what Amazon has to say under “book description” for The Golden Age:
The Golden Age is Grand Space Opera, a large-scale SF adventure novel in the tradition of A. E. Van vogt and Roger Zelazny, with perhaps a bit of Cordwainer Smith enriching the style. It is an astounding story of super science, a thrilling wonder story that recaptures the excitements of SF’s golden age writers. [I hope they intended that pun!]
The Golden Age takes place 10,000 years in the future in our solar system, an interplanetary utopian society filled with immortal humans. Within the frame of a traditional tale-the one rebel who is unhappy in utopia-Wright spins an elaborate plot web filled with suspense and passion.
I’m not going to summarize the plot or worldbuilding (you can find that kind of review on Amazon) but I will warn you – if you buy the first book, expect to buy the second immediately upon finishing it! I had received The Golden Age as a Christmas gift, and my usual policy is to buy nothing for myself in the three weeks that lie between Christmas and my birthday. I broke the rule for The Phoenix Exultant. (And then got scolded by family for doing so.) So that should tell you something about how irresistible I found the story!
One of the reasons I really loved this trilogy is that it’s unlike other science fiction tales, such as the Honor Harrington space-opera type (although it does include solar-system-wide social and political structures) or the war-in-space type (although there might be something like that going on) – it’s a mystery set in a very science-fictiony setting. More sci-fi than a lot of other sci-fi settings, in fact. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen artificial intelligence ever handled so well; usually such AIs are mere props or background characters, or scary antagonists, but not people. This series goes way beyond the science fiction setting mode of Star Trek – which, dating from the sixties, is a bit behind the times – sure, you have spaceships and cellphones and transporters. Yawn. This one has a whole lot more than that. Humanity itself has been so modified that the various branches of development would be labeled “alien” if the showed up in any other continuity! “Cyborg” and “genetic manipulation” don’t even begin to describe the wonders of the Golden Age.
Another contrast with many sci-fi books is that the futuristic setting (as one might be able to tell from the title) is a utopia rather than a dystopia. Or rather, it looks like a utopia on the surface, but there’s something suspiciously fishy going on: why is the main character missing huge chunks of his memory? The ability to redact, download, and alter memories themselves plays a big part in building suspense; and while issues of self-identity aren’t front-and-center, they do surface in several of the subplots. And there’s no bait-and-switch at the end, either – the near-utopia actually is pretty good, even if our main character gets to experience first-hand some of the problems it has; and what happens at the end… well, you’re going to have to read to find out! Or, you know, read the book descriptions on Amazon. Which would be cheating.
Compared to other works by this author: I’ve read the Chronicles of Chaos trilogy, and Count to a Trillion. The Chronicles of Chaos were entertaining, but not amazing; Count to a Trillion… well, let’s just say the sequel didn’t get a very high priority on my wishlist. The Golden Age trilogy? Very likely to find its way onto my bookshelves in hardcopy, even though I already own the whole thing on Kindle! I’ll even have to admit that I like this trilogy better than Mrs. Wright’s fantasy trilogy Prospero’s Daughter, which previously held first place in the collected works of the couple. (The ending of The Golden Age trilogy was stronger.) Next on my to-read list from this author: Chronicles of Everness.