Robert Charles Wilson: Julian Comstock

Robert Charles Wilson: Julian Comstock

B+

Julian Comstock

Author: Robert Charles Wilson
Publisher: Tor

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Plenty of books have been written about men and women fighting to liberate themselves in some dystopian future. But the most depressing thing about Julian Comstock: A Story Of 22nd-Century America isn't the passionate, futile battle, but the narrator’s blind acceptance of his oppressive society.

The story is told by Adam Hazzard, a young writer discussing the life of his childhood friend Julian. In the year 2172, a series of crises, led by the end of cheap oil, has transformed America into a tyrannical Christian theocracy overseeing a series of feudalist estates. Abandoned suburbs are scavenged for valuable materials and products of since-forgotten technology. Literacy is discouraged among the working class, and modern science is deemed heresy.

Even though his best friend and his wife are constantly challenging the status quo, the best Hazzard can muster is outrage against individuals who wrong those close to him. When he’s asked to rein in his wife’s revolutionary tendencies, Hazzard says he’s been trying to steer her from political tracts to the propagandistic adventure stories he grew up on. He assumes everyone around him is honest and pious unless proven otherwise. 

Much of the novel focuses on military conflicts between Europeans and Americans in Canada. The book is written in the style of a 19th-century adventure book for boys, and the flowery prose can be grating, with winning lines like “The bed and blanket were infested with fleas, who took the opportunity to cavort at will and dine at leisure.” (The text is also sprinkled with Dutch and French words than can be skipped, though it’s worth the rewards of translating them.)

Hazzard’s absurd naïveté alternates between producing laugh-out-loud funny misunderstandings and situations that just seem unbelievable. But while it’s hard to sympathize with him, the characters around him are constantly showing new depth. The setting also grows richer as more truths get revealed. Julian Comstock doesn’t showcase a particularly likely future, but it does inspire a new appreciation of the 21st century.

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