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Saturday, July 12, 2008

"The Martian General's Daughter" by Theodore Judson

Order “The Martian General’s DaughterHERE
Read Sample Chapters HERE
Read Book Reviews via Neth Space + Sci Fi Weekly

Reviewed by Liviu C. Suciu:

INTRODUCTION: I read Mr. Judson's sff debut “Fitzpatrick's War” when it was published and despite some minor flaws, I was impressed with the retelling of Alexander the Great’s story from world conquest to his decline in madness in a post-apocalyptic setting. 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 sixty pages were made freely available in the huge Pyr sampler, I was hooked and ordered it immediately. At about 250 pages, the book is slim, but I just could not put it down when I got it.

SETTING: If you watched the 1964 blockbuster movie Fall of the Roman Empire with its all-star cast, you may be familiar with the end of the Roman Empire’s Antonine dynasty, 180 AD, when the wise emperor Marcus Aurelius broke an almost 100 year tradition of adopting a qualified successor, to nominate his legal—there are historical doubts about actual paternity—son Commodus. At the brutal end of Commodus’ blood-soaked and decadent thirteen-year reign, the Imperial Purple became a bidding object with the Empire teetering on the brink for almost 100 years with armies deciding the wearer of the purple... “The Martian General's Daughter” plays out this scenario in a slowly decaying 23rd century Pan-Polarian world empire based in Garden City—formerly known as Mexico City. Matthias the Glistening and Luke Anthony play the wise emperor and his cowardly and murderous son. Elvis and Marilyn are literal gods of the Empire and the monotheistic religions—Christianity, Judaism and Islam are persecuted.

FORMAT/INFO: Narration is in the first-person by Justa, illegitimate daughter of Peter Justice Black, the gruff former sergeant who, by personal valor, became the general of the title. The novel has fourteen chapters alternating between the story’s present—2293 AD, after the death of Luke Anthony and the bidding for the throne by several different generals including Peter Black, governor of Mars—and the events leading up to then including the year 2278 when Justa first came to the attention of Matthias, to his death in 2280, and then the reign of Luke Anthony in which Peter Black plays an increasingly prominent role. There is also an epilogue and the book has 252 pages.

PLOT HINTS AND ANALYSIS: In 2278 AD, the Pan-Polarian Empire stretches all the way from its capital Garden City—formerly known as Mexico City, the city was rebuilt as an imperial capital by a Nero-analogue emperor after the burning of Washington D.C.—to Siberia and the Chinese border in the North, and to the Sahara desert in the South, with outposts on the Moon, Mars and various space stations. However the technology is slowly failing due to nano-tech viruses. Matthias the Glistening who is the last emperor with high-tech implants that allows him a large degree of control, attempts one more campaign against the Manchurian barbarians harassing the imperial border. On the Siberian frontier, he notices young Justa and allows her to attend his informal classes for highborn children. It is there that we meet the third main character of the novel, the young co-emperor Luke Anthony. Later, after being dismissed from the war, Luke shows more of his character in a memorable hunt that Justa witnesses by chance. But the nano-tech plague spares no implant-wearing human, so Matthias dies of “plague” as Marcus Aurelius did 2100 years earlier. Taking the name The Concerned One, the handsome, 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 Anthony is the most realized character of the novel, and all the scenes involving him are unforgettable and pitch-perfect. Peter Black gets noticed by Luke, for better or worse, when he writes the Emperor a letter complaining about the corruption of civil administrators in Asia where he is a general of one the provinces. Everyone around him expects a bullet to their head and their worst fears seem to be realized when Peter is called to Garden City. Fate works in mysterious ways though, for because of his incorruptibility, Peter Black slowly becomes the pillar behind the throne, saving Luke's bacon quite a few times. This allows Justa to observe firsthand the splendor and madness of Luke’s interesting reign.

In the present chapters—which take place in 2293 AD—Peter, now governor of Mars, is nominated as emperor by the armies of Asia when Luke dies. Managing to catch the last flight down before plague destroys the Empire's space flight, Peter and Justa, who is his aide-de camp now, try to salvage what they can from the detritus of the empire, but they face very long odds against the armies of North America led by the cruel general SelinSeverus for those keeping track of historical comparisons. For the two generals, it is personal since Peter Black earlier saved Selin from disgrace and almost certain death, but humiliated him in the process, and Selin is not the forgiving or forgetting type. However history does not need to repeat itself exactly and the book has quite a few surprises. The ending is excellent and fulfilling, but not in any simple or expected way.

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. The father/daughter relationship between Peter and Justa is as moving and well-realized as any in modern fiction…


ThRiNiDiR said...

Mixed reviews? All I saw was complimentary at the least :)...good review though, Robert. I'm on a lookout for this one.

Liviu said...

There were one or two reviews early in the year that made me hesitate a bit but the excerpt clinched it - someone even used the name of the emperor Matthias the Glistening in an essay/post trashing modern sf, bad choices of names... - it was very derogatory though about many books, not only this one

Almost all the post-release reviews are indeed very good.

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