Jay Lake (jaylake) wrote,
Jay Lake
jaylake

[books] A review of Julian Comstock by Robert Charles Wilson

I recently finished reading Robert Charles Wilson's Julian Comstock: A Story of 22nd-Century America Powell's | Amazon ]. This is a pretty amazing book, unexpected in a number of ways. It took me a while to grasp what was really going on, but I finally realized I was reading post-apocalyptic fiction written in Mark Twain's voice, with a strong dash of I, Claudius. What a feat of the imagination.

Adam Hazzard, the narrator, is (very loosely) Dr. Watson to Julian Comstock's Holmes. Much as with Conan Doyle, this device allows Wilson freedom to manipulate Comstock's methods, motives and actions from a safe distance, insulating the reader in a way which fascinates and occasionally frustrates. Hazzard is almost painfully naive, and never really sheds his innocence, so he forms an interesting unreliable narrator — truthful, sane and thoughtful, but simply missing the point of much of what goes on around him. Likewise the entire culture has, in the fashion of post-apocalyptic fiction, misinterpreted the ruined civilization from which they sprang.

This is Civil War era technology and Roman politics brought to a very American fusion. The Twain voice is a sly, sophisticated choice on Wilson's part, even though Hazzard himself is not up to Twain's acerbic powers of observation. Military adventures in the Boy's Own tradition, religious struggles, critiques of present and past governance, wit and humor — Julian Comstock has it all. Strongly recommended.

See here at Wilson's Web site for more on the genesis of this book.

Originally published at jlake.com.

Tags: books, klog, reviews
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