January 11, 2004
The Golden Transcendence

I recently finished reading The Golden Transcendence by John C. Wright.  A great novel that serious science fiction readers should pick up.

The Golden Transcendence is the third book in The Golden Age trilogy.  The first two books were The Golden Age and The Phoenix Exultant

The book are firmly in the space opera genre with a dash of Heinlein libertarianism tossed in for good measure.  The story takes place in the far future when artificial intelligences (known as sophotechs) and humans live immortal lives in a libertarian society of near unlimited technology.  The experience of real physical interaction is replaced in many cases by remote bodies, recorded experiences of others, and complete control of what a person perceives.  Humanity has moved beyond the one body - one brain system and has adopted many different systems of thought and even physical form.

Mr. Wright puts forth a brilliant vision of technology and society in the far future where wealth is measured in seconds of computer time and physical labor is non-existent.  In this future, there is are still wealthy and poor people but in a different way.  In a good interview, Mr. Wright explains:

"There would still be rich and poor, even if the poorest of the poor were absurdly well off by our standards. No advancements can eliminate differences in the abilities of men, or the differences in how men value the abilities of their fellow man (which is what causes inequality of prices and hence of incomes). If only by comparison, there will be poverty, even in Arcadia. My characters Ironjoy, Oshenkyo, and the Afloats [...] are meant to represent this idea of future poverty; the Seven Peers represent wealth."

As an example as just one of the concepts presented, we can look at the idea of 'sensefilters'.  Perception is no longer what organic senses directly tell the mind.  The signals received by the body or remote bodies are processed to be acceptable to the person's particular preferences.  If a person doesn't like to see advertising, their mind eliminates the advertising from their vision and fills in the scene with what would be there if the advertisement wasn't there.  Consciously, the person isn't aware of this, only that they have requested not to see advertisements.  Sensefiltering can be used to remove (or add) objects, people, and even ideas from an individual's perception.  The plot devices are interesting stuff that Mr. Wright explores in just enough detail to keep you wanting more throughout the trilogy.

The protagonist, Phaethon, is the son of one of the most important people in the society (known as the Golden Oecumene).  In the first two books, Phaethon struggles against first the realization that he is missing parts of his memory, his struggle against society, his fall into exile, and his return to strength.

The third book finds Phaethon poised to fight against the true enemy that has been revealed to him.  Without spoiling too much, Phaethon is forced to fight for the very survival of his society (which tossed him out) or allow it to be destroyed.

The author, John C. Wright, obviously has a libertarian heart and embodies the attributes of individuality, resourcefulness, ingenuity and desire for progress in Phaethon, the hero.  In the opening novel, we find a society content with things how they are, willing to simply stop progress to prevent anything from changing their utopia in any meaningful way.  Phaethon is a man of action in opposition to the statist Golden Oecumene.  The underlying theme is that without mankind's strive for exploration and new goals, it is doomed.

Overall, an excellent book and series for the science fiction reader looking for something more than blasters and evil six-legged aliens.  Getting used to the terminology and concepts is slow at first but well worth the effort.

If you enjoy Iain Banks's Culture series, Peter Hamilton's Night's Dawn, or John Varley's Eight Worlds, you will enjoy the The Golden Transcendence and the entire Golden Age Trilogy.

The author, John C. Wright, is a retired attorney and is working on the upcoming novel, Orphans of Chaos.

Posted by michael at January 11, 2004 03:27 PM