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Bookmarks Issue: 
42-Sept-Oct-2009
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A Story of 22nd-Century America

A-Julian ComstockIn 2006, Robert Charles Wilson won his first Hugo Award for his SF thriller Spin ( 4 of 5 Stars Selection Sept/Oct 2005). That same year saw the publication of the novella "Julian: A Christmas Story," which the author has since expanded into his latest piece of adventurous fiction, a postapocalyptic novel.

The Story: And you thought the recession was bad. In 2176, things have changed dramatically for the worse in the United States: no oil, only a few electric generators, waning fertility, the powerful Dominion Church, and shell-shocked cities with living standards depressed to 19th-century levels. Enter Julian Comstock, whose exploits in the war against the Dutch have earned the ire of his uncle, President Deklan "Conqueror" Comstock. A cast of characters, including the novel's narrator Adam Hazzard and Julian's retainer Sam Godwin, help young Comstock stay alive while he pursues his own long-held grudge against the powerful Deklan.
Tor Books. 416 pages. $25.95. ISBN: 9780765319715

Fantasy Book Critic 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Julian Comstock is just a superb book written in a very quiet and understated manner, as well as being a page turner since once you start it, you cannot put it down. ... Another career defining novel like Spin, this novel consolidates the position of R. C. Wilson as a leading writer of speculative fiction." Liviu Suciu

Locus 4 of 5 Stars
"[The book] is beautifully written, populated with engaging and sympathetic, if conflicted, characters, and unlike anything else he's done to date. ... As always, Wilson trusts his characters to develop along their own lines, and as a result he earns our trust as well, in one of the more affecting post-apocalyptic, reverse-frontier tales of its type since Leigh Brackett's The Long Tomorrow or John Wyndham's The Chrysalids." Gary K. Wolfe

SciFi Wire 4 of 5 Stars
"On one hand it's a decidedly brilliant and convincing projection of the world's likely destiny. But on the other, it's also a bit of a steampunk romp, a loving look 'backward' at the American character and spirit, national attributes that remain fixed forever." Paul Di Filippo

Starlog 3 of 5 Stars
"A morality tale about the ways that power can corrupt, the dangers of religion and mankind's self-destructive nature, Julian Comstock paints an interesting picture of the future-although one whose plausibility I call into question. ... The novel's condemnation of religion's abuse and misuse of power is a bit too broad and straightforward for me, and the Five Act structure is one act too long." Allan Dart

Critical Summary

Wilson, whom Stephen King has called "probably the finest science-fiction author now writing," clearly pulls off a lot with this latest novel, and critics responded with appropriately universal praise. Well, almost. Adam Hazzard's narrative voice is clearly meant to evoke the moral fiction of the 19th century, and, as SciFi Wire saw it, it serves as "a kind of Sancho Panza to Julian's Don Quixote." However, the narrator's naiveté is a bit too much for Starlog's Allan Dart, who also felt the book would have been better if trimmed by 50 pages or so. Everyone else applauded Wilson's deft combination of riveting action, resonant characterization, and hard-SF detail.

Also by the Author

Spin (2005): One night, the stars disappear. Space probes reveal that huge alien artifacts have created a time warp; one day on Earth equals 100 million years outside the barrier. At this rate, the sun has only 40 more years to live. Who did it and why? The answer is revealed, and the story continues in Axis ( 4 of 5 Stars Jan/Feb 2008).