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Count To A Trillion by John C. Wright

01/04/2012. Contributed by Andy Whitaker

Buy Count To A Trillion in the USA - or Buy Count To A Trillion in the UK

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pub: TOR/Forge. 364 page hardback. Price: $25.99 (US), $29.99 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-7653-2927-1.

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The jacket illustration by John Harris piqued my interest, as I do love spaceships. The comments for the novel on the back of the jacket lead you to believe you are going to be filled with wonder at the possibilities and ideas contained within the story. It was even possible that all my ‘gosh’ circuits would be blown out reading the novel. Suitably warned, I cautiously started to read.

The story itself is set at a time in the future when the western world has largely collapsed and has been replaced by other economic/social centres. Most of the world seems to have been effected by conventional and biological warfare resulting in the states breaking down into smaller states. While society seems to have taken a backward step, some aspects of technology seem to have continued to improve.

It is not many stories that start with a prologue describing how the central character of the tale, a young Menelaus Illation Montrose, received a thrashing from his mother. I’m not sure the prologue was needed as the description of the Texan environment Menelaus grows up in is covered in the main text. It does mention that his mother recognises the young Menelaus as a genius though.

The main story concerns a group of geniuses, mostly mathematical geniuses although other fields are included. They are recruited to investigate an alien artefact that appears to be covered in mathematical symbols. The artefact is orbiting an unusual star composed entirely of antimatter. An additional task for the mission is to retrieve and return to Earth some of the antimatter from the star. Due to the distances involved the mission will take at least one hundred years to complete.

In his drive to be able to decode the artefact, Menelaus attempts to artificially augment his intelligence while en-route to the spaceship. The attempt would have been illegal on Earth and uses untried methods devised by Menelaus. An unexpected side-effect is that it makes him insane. It is too late to return him to Earth so he accompanies the mission, spending long periods in suspended animation.

During this time, Menelaus dreams and there are flashbacks to his earlier years. We learn of his apprenticeship to a manufacturer of duelling pistols. This is something he does not particularly enjoy and, to escape this, he becomes a professional man, a lawyer. He was successful as a number of out-of-court settlements were achieved through a duel. This was something Menelause excelled at. Before you think I have just provided a synopsis of the entire story, I should mention that this is all covered off by page 77 when Menelause wakes up on Earth. The rest of the novel is about Menelause’s interaction with the survivors of the mission and their response to what they have learned from the alien artefact, not to mention the various power struggles that are in progress.

This is not a fast-paced book with Menelause involved in huge space battles and alien invasions. Although there are hints that an invasion may take place approximately eight thousand years after the time of the story, it is so far away even the characters in the book don’t get too excited about it. The slow pace of the story may put some people off, as might the language used to describe the problems of deciphering the alien artefact and the new approaches they develop.

This is a book about mathematical geniuses in the future. The author is trying to describe mathematical problems that are just beyond human understanding. He is using mathematical terminology used by theoretical mathematicians. If you watch science programs or read science magazines you may have heard of some of them, but not all. You don’t need to know what they are or even to understand them but you do need to appreciate that they are very complex and probably requires a very high IQ to work with them. Apart from the slow pace of the book, this is probably the biggest problem for the reader.

I was impressed with the author’s vision of the future and how Earth’s society could change. It changed while the mission to the alien artefact was in progress and changes again once the mission returns. Old customs are resurrected augmented with new technologies. Many of the ideas are based on extrapolations on current or expected scientific efforts.

While there was some good ideas such as the subterranean trains, the anti-matter star and the alien artefact itself, it did not overload my gosh circuits. I felt the book was overly long with rather verbose descriptions when they were not really required. It ends rather abruptly with some story threads unresolved. I know it’s a small point but it niggles me but this is a premium priced book and it should have been proof-read several times. There are quite a few typos that I would not expect in a novel at this price!

Andy Whitaker

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This book has 20 votes in the sci-fi charts

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