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Julian Comstock: A Story of 22nd-Century America    by Robert Charles Wilson order for
Julian Comstock
by Robert Charles Wilson
Order:  USA  Can
Tor, 2009 (2009)
Hardcover, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Robert Charles Wilson, author of the excellent and unusual Hugo Award-winning Spin, now brings readers something very different again in Julian Comstock: A Story of 22nd-Century America. It reads rather like a historical epic, except that it's set in a disturbingly credible - and post-apocalyptic - future not too far ahead of us, following the Efflorescence of Oil, the Fall of the Cities, the Plague of Infertility, and the False Tribulation.

Wilson tells of the life of Julian Comstock, nephew of President Deklan Comstock, and son of Bryce Comstock, a successful general who was hanged as a traitor by his own brother. His crime? He 'made himself dangerously popular in the war with the Brazilians.' The story is narrated by Julian's Candide-like friend, Adam Hazzard. While Julian is an Aristo, Adam's family is of the inferior leasing class - they provide services to the high-born but are socially above the indentured laborers who are essentially slaves. The boys are mentored by Sam Godwin, who is somewhat of a father figure to both, and has taken Julian west to Williams Ford in order to escape 'the jealousy of the powerful'. In addition to the politicos, the powerful include the Church of the Dominion, whose enforcement arm works hard to cleanse the state of 'moral corruption.'

Julian is fond of Philosophy and has a passion for 'musty old books' (which are mostly illegal) and for the life and ideas of Charles Darwin. Close to Christmas, when both boys are seventeen, they and Sam are forced to flee Williams Ford, where Reservists have been sent to draft conscripts for the war in Labrador - they fear that Julian's uncle will send him to the front lines and so rid himself of a possible contender for the Presidency. Travelling in disguise by rail, they end up sold to recruiters and so join the infantry after all, Julian under the last name of Commongold. A series of exploits (including the capture of a Chinese Cannon) follows for the trio. Julian's natural leadership abilities shine in the war setting, while Adam develops a talent for dramatic writing that eventually reveals his friend's identity, to Adam's dismay.

They end up in the American capital (New York), where Julian, Sam, Adam - and Adam's feisty revolutionary bride Calyxa stay with Julian's mother Emily (long loved by Sam). When his uncle sends the three soldiers off to war again - and stacks the odds heavily against them, none expect to survive. But Julian's strategic genius gives them a reprieve and a coup in the capital hands over the Presidency to Julian Conqueror. He immediately butts head with the Church and continues to do so throughout his brief time in power. Though Julian's and Adam's adventures are gripping, pay attention as you read to the strong, thought-provoking vein of satire that runs through this brilliant, highly recommended novel. Julian Comstock is not to be missed either by SF fans or by anyone who wonders what might be ahead for us in the next century.

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