Review of HERMETIC MILLENNIA: Pulp Action and Philosophical Gravitas.

from the pen of Paul di Fillipo over at Almost Invisible Worlds:

At year’s end the inevitable list making begins, focused on selecting the standout books, music, films, performances, and other superior artworks of the past twelve months. The attention of the critical compilers invariably gravitates to the high-profile candidates, those that have already garnered the most media and consumer attention. But in the rush to reach a consensus on the “best,” so many modest, low-profile, yet worthy offerings are often overlooked.

Here, then, are a mere five books from the vast flood of fine fantastika from 2012: five books not inevitably fated to end up on any best-of list and that might have passed below your radar this year — but all demanding a careful second look. In my column from last year on this same theme of under-praised books, I selected John C. Wright’s Count to a Trillion, released late in the publishing year. The subsequent twelve months saw the book retain its wallflower status, and now Tor debuts the sequel in the same understated manner. So, here we are again!

The Hermetic Millennia continues the exotic saga of Menelaus “Meany” Montrose, a rugged and cantankerous individualist of the twenty-third century, born to a high cosmic destiny while also unrepentantly seeking glory. This is a fellow who willingly takes on the title and duties of the “Judge of Ages” after all. But if the reader thought that Montrose’s previous adventures were spectacular, emulating as they did the primal and robust space opera outings of E. E. Smith and A. E. van Vogt, then his newest exploits will amaze the heck out of anyone. What Wright has put forth this time is a mix of British big thinker Olaf Stapledon (Last and First Men), Jack Vance (The Dying Earth), Philip José Farmer (Dark Is the Sun) and Jared Diamond (Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed). It’s a heady brew that achieves an ever-oscillating balance between pulp action and philosophical gravitas.

Montrose has gone into suspended animation until the day when he can awaken to deal with an invasion fleet, 8,000 years into his future. But all his careful plans are upset when his secure techno-Tomb is raided in the year 10515 by the Blue Men and their Dog Men helpers, and he discovers a world lapsed into an unforeseen crazy quilt of posthuman barbarism. Now all his intuition, initiative, and intellect must be employed to put affairs back on track.

Wright layers on a thick impasto of eons, rich with vivid details of vanished races and ideologies that have come and gone in Darwinian waves. The novel has a Chaucerian feel, as various revenants take the stage to tell their strange tales. The leisurely plot moves forwards satisfactorily, although, this being only an installment in a series, we are left with a melancholy cliffhanger ending.

Montrose and his peers — the Hermetics who lend their name to the era — stand as demigods with feet of clay to the average citizen, much in the manner of the immortals in Roger Zelazny’s Lord of Light. “I took the liberty to manipulate history to increase the longevity of certain stories I liked, and I established statistical incentives, introduced self-replicating sociometric viruses, and everything.” But Wright shows that even posthuman brilliance cannot fully contend with the confounding intractability of sentient beings — the human stain, he suggests, doesn’t fade with time.

“Pulp action and philosophical gravitas” should be the motto on my coat of arms.  I just so happen at the moment to a book of sober theology by CS Lewis in one pocket of my coat and a pulp action ‘weird fiction’ thriller by Jim Butcher in the other.  What else can one expect from someone like me? I hope readers find my works who like my particular mix of chocolate-covered lasagna.

I am embarrassed to admit that while my book gets first billing in Mr di Fillipo’s review, all the other books he reviews sound more interesting, including a collaboration between Greg Bear and Larry Niven (a combination that should work better together than my aforementioned chocolate lasagna) and a long-lost time-travel farce from the Nineteenth Century.  It has been a while since I read a really good, really gripping SF book, so his recommendations here pique my interest.

17 Comments

  1. Comment by Sean Michael:

    Dear Mr. Wright:

    Love that line: “chocolate covered lasagna”! And I do plan to get a copy of THE HERMETIC MILLENNIUM after I read your second and third Golden Age books while visiting my brother in Hawaii for Christmas.

    Merry Christmas! Sean M. Brooks

  2. Comment by Rolf Andreassen:

    “Pulp action and philosophical gravitas” should be the motto on my coat of arms.

    I wonder what that would be in Latin? Google gives me “Pulpam actio et philosophicas gravitas”, but I suspect that this is a somewhat canine variety of the language.

  3. Comment by Darrell:

    I’m, heretically enough, more of a fan of your fantasy novels than your SF. Do you have any plans to write any more fantasy novels?

  4. Comment by Mrmandias:

    If this was a covert and subtle intrusion of mindworms inside my psyche to convince me to rush out to pre-order your book now, it was ENTIRELY SUCCESSFUL.

  5. Comment by David Meyer:

    Orphans of Chaos was a fun read, but I may put reading the rest of the Chaos trilogy on hold in order to catch up on the Eschaton series, which sounds awesome so far.

    It would also be nice to think that my reading pleasure will have the additional benefit of encouraging Tor to publish the entire series. From that angle, I presume that hard cover sales speak lounder than electronic version downloads.

    Rest assured that I will eventually return to the kids at St. Dymphna’s.

    • Comment by David Meyer:

      My belated Christmas present from my wife of hardback editions of Count to a Trillion and The Hermetic Millenia arrived together from Amazon (.co.jp) today (and after Amazon had sent e-mail indicating that Millenia wouldn’t be shipped for another week or two)!

      I hope Tor gets the message that there is strong demand for Mr. Wright’s work, for however many books he takes to tell the Eschaton story.

  6. Comment by robertjwizard:

    Well as usual another big book chain has farted on me. 3 hours ago BN said Millennia was ready for download/credit card to be charged. The charge is on the card alright, no book.

    Some poor Barnes and Noble employees are going to be dealing with a very irate fanboy come morning time – especially if they have no hardcopy available. BLLLAAAHHH! RRROOOAAAARRR!!!!!

    Update:

    For anyone who encountered the same problem on the future extinct Nook I found a way around it. The pre-order icon has two tabs, one is share, the other is manage. Under manage, choose delete. This will remove the purchase and any trace of it from the Nook. However, that will not stop them from charging you again. Then simply go on and buy it since the pre-order is a delay or a bug of some kind.

    Then you have the cold satisfaction of dealing with customer service, which I personally relish because they will charge you twice.

    Say I have to wait longer… over your dead body, sir, over your dead body…

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      I went to the bookstore today, saw the book on the shelf, and held it overhead, calling out to customers in the next aisle to come buy my wares, much to my wife’s embarrassment. Perhaps I will tell you the rest of the story someday. It is a little hard to believe.

      • Comment by robertjwizard:

        Come now, Mr. Wright, I’m still a bartender, I don’t believe half what I hear anyway!

        My blog page is a giant ad for your book for the next couple of days. I don’t get near the traffic you do, but I get some. I have a vested interest in doing so – I hate stories that I’m not allowed to finish. I still get red in the face over Firefly – seriously, I just got pissed off.

        A Merry Christmas to you and all yours, and everyone here as well. Alright, even the Doctor as well!

        • Comment by John C Wright:

          May God bless you, sir, whether you believe in Him or not, may He bless you for kindness of heart.

          And, yes, I agree about FIREFLY. The DE RERUM NATURA of Lucretius was never finished, nor was the history of Thucydides, nor did Professor Tolkien live long enough to get his SILMARILLION into publishable shape. Such is life on this sad world.

  7. Comment by lewis451:

    I am writing to thank you for the self-gift I made of your book COUNT TO A TRILLION. I sadly say that I had not heard of you – being somewhat of a narrow-minded scifi reader. Since a boy, anything stretching too far beyond Jack Vance’s comfy worlds left me unsatisfied… until now. Not just because the protagonist is from Texas (as I am, even the Houston, Austin, San Antonio areas) but because it fires on all cylinders for me! I have a nice long list from you to read. Thanks for it all.

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