Fiction Reviews


Julian Comstock

(2010) Robert Charles Wilson, Tor (US), 7.99/ Can$10.99 / US$8.99, pbk, 689pp, ISBN 978-0-765-35923-0

 

It is close to the last quarter of the 22nd century and in the reign of President Declan Comstock, and the US is struggling to develop in a post oil world. However Declan Comstock is fearful of any who may threaten his rule and one such threat is a young relative Julian who is quietly living out in the countryside. Then one day army recruiters for the war against the invading Dutch come to Julian's town and he has to escape. Alas he gets caught and taken into the army but he manages to conceal his identity under the name of Commongold.

Under this pseudonym Julian fares well until his minor military success leads him on to bigger things and then a trip to Washington as well as accidentally to the President himself. Meanwhile Julian maintains an almost heretical interest in the works of the ancients. (Surely the pictures of men on the Moon were works of fantasy?)

This is a very solid read, which is exactly what you would expect from Robert Charles Wilson whose books I have greatly enjoyed. Indeed other must have like this one as it was one of the 2011 Hugo Award for Best Novel nominations (albeit ultimately not to win) and so I was keen to check this one out. However unlike many of his other works this does not have so much sense-of-wonder; it reads more like a historical novel of some young warrior rising to rule his kingdom, even if it is set in the future. Do not get me wrong, it is a very fine read, but it is SF light and I have to say I was a little surprised that it had been nominated for a Hugo 'science fiction achievement' Award. Perhaps there are hidden depths I could not discern: for example my knowledge of N. American history (if you can count 200 years as a history) and culture (in my ignorance I am with Gandhi here) means that I may have missed any historical or cultural references be they be manifest within the text or in the book's overall plot arc. Could this be why this novel has not been released this side of the Pond? I know not.

However if you are into historical and/or military novels with a twist then you will thoroughly enjoy Julian Comstock. However if you prefer your SF/F to be more fantastical then I would go for one of the author's other titles: Wilson really is a very fine writer.

Jonathan Cowie


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