The Golden Transcendence : Or, The Last of the Masquerade
by John C. Wright
Tor HCVR: ISBN 0765307561 PubDate: 11/01/03
Review by Ernest Lilley
384 pgs. List price $ 25.95
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The first few chapters of the final volume of the Golden Oecumeme left my head swimming and doubt creeping in. First I had to get myself back up to speed about where we were in the story - Phaethon, our hero, had won back his ship, the only real starship humanity possessed, but at the cost of selling it to the enemy of his branch of humanity - and then, like Phaethon, I had to make sense of the motives of that enemy, who now claimed to be there solely to offer Phaethon the chance to rescue the citizens of the Dark Oecumene, the extra solar human civilization which abruptly cut off communications with solar humanity after a broadcast showing horrific warfare and strife. It all got a bit confusing, there was much too much talking going on, and then, suddenly, with a single knife stroke, as it were, the author stepped in and restored sensibility (and action) to the plot and we were off again on what has been a tremendous debut and remarkable example of the quality of the "New" Space Opera. Whew. That was a close call. I was afraid this story was going to end in a whimper…and I'd so hoped for a bang. Well, I need not have worried, nor should you...though starting at the beginning is advisable.
The Golden Transcendence completes a Vancian epic. Use of the term "Oecumene" which refers to a sphere of influence, or perhaps a civilization, comes about most likely as a tribute to Jack Vance's Demon Prince novels, which take place in the "Oikumene". Or at least that's my take after discussing it in the accompanying interview with the author.
While the first novel takes place on civilized Earth, and the second in its outcast slum, Phaethon finally gets to shine as he takes the helm of his glorious super-ship, kilometers long and hulled with golden Adamantium. The Phoenix Exultant is a vessel to make "Doc" Smith proud, and given its name one can hardly be surprised to find that the battle for control of the vessel, and to save Solar Humanity from being taken over by the Dark Oecumene will take place in the heart of the sun itself.
The novel is rife with SF tropes, including tributes to Fred Pohl's Heechee stories as well as the deft use of several Asmovian devices, including the laws of robotics and the goal of achieving a universal super mind. This story draws on the golden age, as the author himself remarks, by taking from the best and using it to good advantage. Of course, while the author may appear to be drawing from the golden age of SF, it's probably closer to the truth to say that he is drawing from epic writing of a far older nature. When asked what recent books he likes, he remarked that Homer appears to have written a sequel to the Oddesy, which he hears is pretty good...but I'm sure he was smiling when he said that. Pretty sure.
How will Phaethon's expulsion from civilized humanity be resolved? Will he figure out what to do with the woman he loves, who turned out to be a construct designed by his wife in her form...or nearly so. Will he make amends to his father? Will he save the Earth? Ok, ok, will he save the Golden Oecumene? Does the author have any surprises up his sleeve? I wouldn't bet against either creation or creator. The former is, after all a hero, and destined to "deeds without peer" and the latter has shown his metal in the first two parts of the story.
We can look forward to more tales of renown, as the author has just finished a Heroic Fantasy, Last Guardians of Everness and has contracted for a SF novel to be titled: Orphans of Chaos, and "to be published in years to come."