Counting to a Trillion

I’d just like to say, this book was a big disappoint and blatant false advertising.  Imagine my surprise when – instead of a sequence of numbers – I opened this book to find that it had words!  Arranged in sentences!  To convey a narrative!

Talk about false advertising.

Ok, that’s the last time I’ll make that joke, I promise (just had to get one more out of my system and we authors need to make sure we don’t get too full of ourselves).  Onto the real review!




Count to a Trillion is the latest fictional work from author John C Wright, and I eagerly picked it up after having thoroughly enjoyed the Chaos Children trilogy.  True to form, John not only writes a book that’s hard to discuss without spoilers, but one that makes you curse the day he was born for having to wait for the next book to come out (seriously, cliffhangers in his hand should be considered a violation of the Geneva convention).

The story is in the grand tradition of space operas (or at least, what I’ve heard is their tradition as I’ve not read a lot of them) with epic ideas and mind boggling “what ifs”.  The cornerstone “WI” of this story is “what if the Singularity came, and nothing changed”.  Being a geeky techhead, I’ve heard more about the Singularity that I’ve ever cared to know, and I’ve often believed that everyone was just a little too hopeful about it (but then, I’m a cranky cynic).

The other “what if” is, “what if we lived in the galaxy of star trek or star wars – filled with myriad aliens, yet still could travel no faster than light?”  How would wars and trade and even communication work when trying to accomplish any one of those would take centuries on the galactic scale.  It’s almost like a throwback to the old legends of Marco Polo and other great travelers of old – except grander.

And while the internet may lynch me for saying so, this book not only begs to be made into a movie, but in 3D with Michael Bay consulting.  No I’m serious.  Scenes in this book require the spectacle and grandeur that only 3D viewing can provide with larger explosions and hotter women than Bay’s naughtiest dreams. (Though I don’t have confidence he’d retain some of the finer nuances of the story, which is why I think he should be an assistant, not the main, director.)

But despite all the epicness and sheer awesomeness, this isn’t quite a perfect tale.  The editors seem to have missed quite a few errors throughout so grammar nazis may want to wait for a later edition with the fixes (of course, if your a grammar nazi, I doubt your reading this blog).  The other issue has to do with the plot and has a bit to do with spoilers.  But first some background.

I have not read the amount of space opera I probably should, especially as a convention of the genre seems to be a stark difference between the “showing” and “telling” aspects of writing.  Let’s be honest, when you’re an aspiring writer, the proverb “show, don’t tell” sounds positively insane.  Sure it’s easy to see the contrast between showing and telling in a movie, but how do you do that in a book?  Isn’t EVERYTHING you’re doing, telling?  Novels like this one provide a handy guide as by the end of it, you will have many clear examples of the differences between showing and telling and when to use one or the other (because of their scale, space operas can’t ALWAYS show everything).  Now then…


This book structures follows an in medias res followed by the protagonist’s life flashing before his eyes.  At first I wasn’t sure how well this non-linear layout appealed to me (it seems like non-linearity in stories is increasingly becoming a gimmick) but by book’s end, I realized that it was right and proper and played very well to the narrative.

The flashback covers the protag’s early life and career right before he was chosen for the space program that has changed his life.  After that, he wakes up in a bright new future he has slept through.  And meets an old friend.  Who turns out to be the antagonist.

The biggest flaw of the novel is that we are told about their friendship, more than we are shown it.  The plot would have had a much stronger narrative punch had the flashback shown us the two characters meeting, and forging their earlier friendship.  Then the reader would have felt as betrayed and horrified by the antag’s actions as the protag was.  I’m not sure if anything could have been cut from the novel to make room for it, but that touch would have really made this book a true classic in my opinion.  As it is, some moments FEEL (not are, just feel) like Deus Ex Machina because we don’t have the background we could.

End Spoilers

So despite a flaw here and there, I can’t help but give this book

Out of 5 salt shells for sheer awesomeness and some great moments.

Not to mention great quotes:

Apparently these new rulers of the world did not indulge in any drinking or smoking to soften their moods when they met, which Menelaus knew to be a big mistake.  The Congress of the United States, back before the Disunion, always met sober, and look at what had come of that.

Hmmm… I think Menelaus (the protagonist) might be onto something…


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