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The Vindication of Man
by John C. Wright
Tor, $32.50, 352pp
Published: November 22, 2016

Here is the fifth installment of the saga that began with Count to a Trillion (which has one of the best beginnings of any SF novel) and continued through The Architect of AeonsThe Vindication of Man consists of parts 8 through 10, and while the title implies finality, Wright seems to regard vindication as a launching point, not a conclusion.

Menelaus Montrose and Ximen del Azarchel are rivals in a long game, the prize: the hand and love of the lady Rania. The effects of their struggles have reshaped the galaxy, attracted the attentions of vastly powerful aliens, and caused Rania herself to depart on a quest that will take millennia to complete.  Humanity has transformed itself in response to the challenges of eons, and both Menelaus and Del have extended their longevity and augmented their consciousnesses in ways that even E.E. “Doc” Smith hadn’t envisaged in his splendid space operas.  But there is a price to pay for all that life extension and reality juggling.  For example, Menelaus has so fractaled his self-awareness that at one point he finds his core self pitted against another version of himself who has fallen in love with an alternate version of Rania.  Indeed, the theme of substitution, and whether or not one settles for less than the original, is a recurring one; perhaps the author had in mind the myth of the cloud Helen for whom a war was fought while the real Helen absented herself.

In the past, both men have had the intrinsic decency to put differences and even their pet principles aside for the sake of some greater good.  Now their hatred for each other reasserts itself as the defining reality of their lives, even as they are given the knowledge, the opportunity to see their rivalry in a redefining context. They ignore the information, but the reader can enjoy the epiphany. The over-the-top insults, threats, and acts of sabotage culminate in a duel that Del devises to be absolutely airtight, incontrovertibly decisive.  (The author’s past life as a lawyer resurrecting itself.)  But the game isn’t over, is it, Wright?

These novels are chewy, audacious, sometimes tongue-in-cheek, sometimes deliberatively provocative, and the closest thing you’ll find to Mark Twain in a modern writer. When I saw the title, I figured this would be the last book in The Eschaton Sequence; I am glad to say it’s not. – Chris Wozney

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