Wednesday, April 9, 2008

The Martian General's Daughter by Theodore Judson - review

I read Mr. Judson's debut Fitzpatrick's War when it was published and despite some minor flaws - mostly lack of balance common in debut novels - I was impressed with the retelling of Alexander the Great' story from world conquest to decline in madness in a post-apocalyptic world.

Since the early reviews for The Martian General's Daughter were mixed, I was not sure if I wanted to buy it, but when the first 60 pages were made freely available in the huge Pyr sampler, I was hooked and ordered it immediately. Slim at about 250 pages, I just could not put it down when I got it.

It is a retelling of the pseudo-fall of the Roman Empire at the end of the Antonine dynasty, though this time the events happen in the Pan-Polarian Empire of the late 2200's, based on N. America - capital in Garden City former Mexico City built by the analogue of Nero once Washington burned - and stretching half the globe to the Chinese frontier and the Sahara Desert and with space outposts- in a world of declining technology where metal eating viruses and nanotech infections of metals slowly degrade the former high-tech civilization to the original pre-tech one of the romans.

Peter Justice Black, the gruff former sergeant who by personal valor became a general and his illegitimate daughter Justa who serves as his aide-de-camp navigate treacherous water in the wake of the death of Matthias the Glistening - his high tech implants became infected with nano so he died of "plague" like Marcus Aurelius - and the ascension of his son Luke Anthony in 2278 vs Commodus in 178, all recounted by Justa years later. Taking the name The Concerned One the handsome but murderous and cowardly Luke slowly descends into madness, though he is still loved by the people at least when their bellies are full.
Outside of Justa the narrator, Luke is the most realized character of the novel and all the scenes involving him are unforgettable, from his mocking of Matthias' lessons quickly changed to cringing fear when Matthias shows displeasure, to the final moments in the Imperial Palace.

In parallel chapters from the present after the death of Luke Anthony and several of his short lived successors in 2293, armies raise 3 generals to the throne, one being Peter Black the general of Asia currently commanding the imperial outposts on Mars - hence the title
The favorite to win is Selin - Severus - the general of N. America whom Peter Black saved from certain disgrace and death earlier, but humiliated him in the process.

However history does not need to repeat itself exactly and the book has quite a few surprises.

Full of vivid descriptions of cruelty, buffoonery, murders, battles, and a message of hope despite its bleakness, The Martian General's Daughter is an unforgettable book from Mr. Judson. Highly, highly recommended - one of my top sf books of the year and a big positive surprise.

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