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Hugo Award nominee

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Title: Julian Comstock: A Story of 22nd-Century America
Author: Robert Charles Wilson
Year: 2009

A problem with reading science fiction is that, at least on the surface, many excellent books look like they contain nothing of interest, like they are ruminated versions of tales told a hundred times. Some of these books turn out to be truly excellent (I Am Legend, Oryx and Crake and The Road come to mind), but sadly, others turn out to be just that, a well-known concept or setting used again with no added spice and no added flavour. The only thing that it stirs within me is the question whether or not  I should continue reading so much in the genre.

This is what Robert Charles Wilson’s Julian Comstock: A Story of 22nd-Century America is to me. It’s set in a low-tech, post-apocalyptic America where political intrigues has forced Julian Comstock, the nephew of the incumbent president, to hide out in the countryside. He there encounters Adam, the narrator, and they become good friends and experience lots of adventures together; being forcefully drafted into the army is only the beginning of their travails. The events of the story are interesting, but very few compared to the number of pages (over 400). It’s a solid setting, but I require more than that.

The novel is separated into a number of parts, and after reading the first one, I felt moderately excited. The writing style was solid and the action was good. However, everything faded away after the first part, and the remaining pages (perhaps two thirds) felt like a very, very long epilogue. That’s not good. I will go as far as to say that I think this book is outright bad. There are interesting bits, but they are few and far between.

Which is a pity, because I know that Wilson can write better books (see Spin, for instance). He has a style which might be good if he only used it to write more compelling stories (he usually gets the characters right). This novel is too long by far, and it’s also the worst I’ve read so far of the Hugo-Award nominees this year. Now only Palimpsest by Catherynne M. Valente remains before I can tell you which book should win the award. Reading Julian Comstock: A Story of 22nd-Century America has at least made sure that I have one book less to take into consideration later.

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