Thursday, September 17, 2009

John C. Wright: The Golden Age

John C. Wright's The Golden Age didn't work for me, though it would seem to have a lot of things in its favor. It's a futuristic high-tech story with a focus on personal enhancement and social interaction technology and little in the way of weapons or overt conflict. There is little in the way of visible government and secures cooperation with the society's mores via social pressure. Since everyone has access to largely unlimited resources, anything short of the ultimate form of ostracism leaves a lot of room for many variations in behavior and personal expression. I think the beginning of the story failed to grab me because of the reluctant hero angle. The protagonist, Phaeton, takes a while to admit that there's a problem and he has to take the responsibility to figure out what happened and why he's not getting what he wants even if he doesn't understand how he could have caused the problem.

Eventually Phaeton realizes that his memory may have been altered, and begins to suspect a vast conspiracy to silence him for something he doesn't remember doing or wanting. He bucks a lot of social pressure to investigate his past and figure out what he must have been trying to accomplish and who would have been trying to stop him. I thought the evidence he found seemed flimsy in the context of the story-with even his ostensible friends urging him to accept the world as it seemed to be, his constant bucking of the system seemed more like a habit of being contrarian than a dogged determination to find the truth. Of course, according to Wright's story, Phaeton was correct to trust his instincts, and there really was a vast conspiracy to suppress the evidence he'd discovered, and the entire society was at risk. But like Cassandra, Phaeton is doomed to be doubted, shunned, and ignored. In a society with serious life extension this is a long-lasting problem. The novel ends inconclusively, to be continued in a later volume.

I liked the technology and the way the society was organized. But from Phaeton's viewpoint, it's presented as an instrument of the society's downfall. No one is in charge, so no one is responsible for battling the external existential threat. The lack of centralized monitoring or control enables Phaeton to continue his investigation, and to amass enormous tools and weapons, but his refusal to cooperate with others leaves him ultimately very weak, and unable to recruit allies to his project.

1 comment:

William H. Stoddard said...

I didn't vote for The Golden Age on last year's Hall of Fame ballot. Not for ideological reasons, but because the story didn't strike me as having any real drama or conflict. The character's motives seemed to me, as you say, to be so flimsy that there was no sense of tension to drive the story forward. The actions just seemed to happen, without an underlying dynamism.