A Retrospective on John C. Wright’s “Count to the Eschaton Sequence”

I have previously written on my favorite science fiction series, Count to the Eschaton Sequence, before. The first book is Count to a Trillion and is an excellent adventure science fiction novel.

This retrospective was a long time coming. I’ve found John C. Wright’s work fascinating, if not a bit verbose in areas, and creative. He’s held up in some circles as a master of the craft, and it’s easy to see why. He throws out so many creative ideas, it feels like God gave him a double-portion of the creativity he gave most.

I would simply say I admire his work.

There are six books in the series and according to the reviews they get better as they go on. However, I’ve read them and I can admit that the journey starts off on a strong foot. There’s an issue with the second book being very different than the first, but the first is a fantastic story.

The third and fourth books are good, but I really feel like the fifth and sixth were the best. The sixth book was actually huge in scale, far grander and stranger than anything else in the series.

Now how do I describe this series?

Let me start with the first book. These books in general deal with transhumanism, the growth of artificial intelligence, and ancient aliens. The main character injects a sort of brain medical solution thanks to the issue of translating an ancient alien message discovered in space. He uses the alien message itself to modify his brain and comes up with a minor version of an improvement to his brain. It’s fascinating. Along with it, though, go echoes of changing history. The astronauts become conquistadors, and the main character becomes a duelist and renegade. He fights the system of technocratic feudalism.

Amidst it all is Princess Rania. She’s the most interesting character to me, and Wright wrote her as a sort of King of Elfland’s Daughter type of character. She’s beautiful, brilliant, and is able to hold her own with the main character. However, she disappears and is seen as a kind of space goddess. It’s fantastic, again.

The biggest complaints people have are the following:

One – The main character Menelaus speaks like a Texan, since he is, and it’s hard to read. Well this isn’t a very good complaint, though I admit his speaking style takes time to adjust to. It’s fine, though. The duels, in particular, are interesting chess matches with high stakes.

Two – The characters are weak. I couldn’t disagree with this more. I get that they are, in fact, archetypes. But that’s actually the point. They become more than they were as a simple individual, and grow insanely. These characters are creatively written and brilliantly grow throughout the six books. It all leads to a fascinating conclusion.

Three – Each book has a cliff hanger, for the most part. This is true, and if you don’t like that, this may leave you with a sour taste. But honestly, it pays dividends.

In conclusion…

Read the first book. It’s great and if you like it try the second. If you’re lost then, just drop it. But honestly, the entire series is worth a read and I’m so mad that more people aren’t in love with these books like I am.

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You may like some of my other reviews:

Story Review: Black Amazon of Mars by Leigh Brackett

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Book Review: Interstellar Pig by William Sleator

I previously mentioned the book Interstellar Pig in my post about the first scifi book I ever read. The book was one I felt I needed to revisit, and since that post wasn’t technically a review I figured it was as good a reason as any to reread it.

The story of Interstellar Pig revolves around a young man named Barney. I guess in the book he’s of high school age, but he always seemed like a middle schooler. His family is on vacation for the summer in a beach house. Apparently the beach house he’s staying in has a long and sordid history with sailors going mad and seeking treasure.

Next door, three fit and beautiful people move in: Zena, Joe, and Manny. These three speak oddly and seem obsessed with his beach house, trying anything to gain entry. Meanwhile, they also play a bizarre scifi card game. Barney starts talking to them, and eventually plays the game.

The whole goal of the game is to have a “Piggy” in your possession when the timer runs out. You compete with other aliens to fight for the Piggy, using equipment cards with special effect,and unique environment effects from various planets to make it hard to do anything. However, the most prominent element is the intelligence variable, which Zena explains is stronger the lower it is.

All of this comes together to form an interesting story with a mystery, worldbuilding elements, and a great setup and payoff.

Sleator has done fantastic work with his other books, House of Stairs especially. But I think Interstellar Pig is by far his best work, and stands out as a fantastic story for any young person who wants to dip their toe into science fiction.

You might like some of my previous work:

Book Review: The Gray Prince by Jack Vance

download (2)I’d previously reviewed Jack Vance’s The Dragon Masters, which I loved. Like that book, The Gray Prince is a blend of science fiction and fantasy. Jack Vance is a master of that blend, and I recommend him to anyone who would desire reading that kind of mix.

However, I can’t readily recommend The Gray Prince. As a book it’s okay, but I feel it ends abruptly and lacks cohesiveness. There’s also a few other issues.

The book follows a small family, with Schaine Madduc returning to her homestead from the space port. Kelse, her brother, is antagonistic towards their old friend Jorjol. Jorjol is a native Uldra who was raised on the homestead, but in later days has become known as “The Gray Prince”, a leader of a rebellion against the human land barons, who took the aliens’ lands.

The main problem with the book is its use of the alien language and personal names. The Uldra use several unique terms that are difficult to explain. Vance describes it in passing, but mostly uses them to immerse the reader in the world. That’s normally fine, but in this instance there’s so many terms that I couldn’t follow it.

The names are another issue. The first third of the book I kept confusing Kelse and Schaine, and I thought Uther Madduc (Kelse and Schaine’s father) was Jorjol’s actual name. I had to refer to a character list online to figure out everything!

As another positive, the morals of the book are interesting. One could say they’re “shades of gray”, to throw a turn of phrase. The land barons are by no means the “good guys”. Uther and Kelse were both clearly bigoted towards Jorjol, and the consequences of those actions are seen in the events of the book.

Ultimately, I’d say that the problems with the book have to be weighed against the creative worldbuilding and storytelling. I think Jack Vance was a talented enough writer to warrant a read of this book, if only because of the recommendations online. However, I think it was just “good”, not great.

You might like some of my other reviews:

Book Review: The Ship of Ishtar by A. Merritt

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Book Review: The Enemy Stars by Poul Anderson

TheEnemyStarsI had heard of Poul Anderson in my readings of science fiction, but I think this was my first venture into his work. I should say I was not disappointed.

The Enemy Stars follows several characters, specifically those aboard the Southern Cross, a vessel for travelling the universe. Apparently the technology used is called a “mattercaster”, which I understood to be a teleporter of some kind.

I can’t speak of this book without getting into spoilers. Let me say, it’s a short read and worth your time if hard science fiction from the late 50’s is your thing. I liked it well enough, but I wouldn’t say I’d recommend it to everyone who likes sci-fi in general.

The book follows characters. As such, the main characters on the ship are interesting people, but I felt that the two main men, Ryerson and Maclaren, were far too similar. I had trouble remembering which one was which. Also their portrayal of Nakamura had him practice Zen and use simple Japanese words, which struck me as a little one-dimensional. The other characters also suffered from this plight, save Magnus, who was interesting in the end.

Like a playwright, Anderson is able to use various characters in a simple setting to make interesting observations and musings on a variety of subjects. The ideas are solid science fiction, with a black star being the central focus of the expedition.

It’s a good book, but not for everyone.

You might like some of my other reviews:

Book Review: Jack of Shadows by Roger Zelazny

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