Book Review: Count to a Trillion

I went into Count to count-to-a-trillion-by-john-c-wrighta Trillion hearing about how John C. Wright was considered an interesting author. He’s considered controversial in some circles, but I didn’t hear about any of that as I started reading. In that way I avoided having my enjoyment of this book diminished in any way.

Science fiction has been a love of mine for a long time. When I was a kid I read Jurassic Park and got into Michael Crichton. I never stopped reading science fiction throughout my life, taking short breaks and spend
ing time doing other times, perhaps, but never halting entirely.

I can honestly say Count to a Trillion is one of the greatest science fiction books I’ve read since Isaac Asimov’s Foundation.

It seems to be space opera in the roughest of senses: a space princess, starship expedition, secret society, and ancient aliens all play a role. However it’s elevated to a level that I couldn’t do justice with my limited language skills.

The book focuses on Menelaus, a genius who grows up loving science fiction, to the chagrin of his mother. He’s a Texas-grown duelist who is able to out think people using their smart bullet type guns. After a stint as a lawyer, he ends up being recruited for a ship called the Hermetic, which is setting out on a century long expedition to a diamond star. Menelaus ends up experimenting on himself in order to create the next stage of evolution. In doing so, he misses the trip, remaining in cryostasis for the most part. Once he wakes up, over a century has passed and he is called on to assist in preparing the world for an alien invasion.

There are many interesting elements to the book including transhumanism, the philosophy of science, and the nature of evolution. The aliens in the universe are not seen so much as felt, and they are so far beyond humanity that it’s scary in a “fear of god” sort of way.

I am a student of philosophy, and as such I was able to understand a great deal of the philosophical underpinnings and thematic elements that Wright wrestles with in his prose (I was giddy when I actually saw the words “Russell-Whitehead”). This isn’t gloating, because I could hardly understand the physics language. The more scientific elements and heavily mathematical elements were beyond my limited understanding, but I enjoyed it none the less.

About the only thing I didn’t like was a seeming lack of character development. Menelaus is flawed genius who struggles in adolescence and flourishes as an adult, but Princess Rania is quickly introduced as a love interest without much development at all. She’s interesting, and her mysteriousness might be the part that Wright wanted to emphasize, but it made me (as a reader) unattached to her and unconcerned with her machinations. Also it felt like some characters just sort of drift and change without a catalyst, like Exarchel.

Ultimately, I can’t encourage people to read this enough. I would say the only people this wouldn’t appeal to are those who don’t like hard science fiction. It’s clearly a form of space opera, but it’s so advanced that it’s like a genre unto its own. The depth with which Wright explores the universe in this book is incredible and the prose is moving and expertly manipulated. This book is not for everyone, but if you like depth in your science fiction, you will like this book.