Martian General's Daughter, The by Judson, Theodore, 2008

Martian General

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Set just a few hundred years in the future, Theodore Judson's The Martian General's Daughter is an interesting tale that draws heavily from Roman history. It is told largely in a retrospective voice by the titular narrator, whose father by the way is not Martian: He is a Turk. At its heart this is an entropy story set in the context of a contracting empire that spans approximately half the globe. It reads quickly, and while there are some poorly crafted parts, concerning a few of the characters (but not all), overall itís a good read and a fine story.

Before the end of the first chapter of this book most readers will have figured out that it was heavily influenced by Roman history, particularly the fall of the Roman Empire. Adam Roberts, another Pyr author, gave a lengthy blurb on the back cover of the book, calling it "the most detailed, compelling, and believable rendering of the way actual empires work since Gibbon's Decline and Fall." That may be overstating it just a tad, but the novel does reflect history and Gibbon's work in an interesting way. The story is pretty simple. An aging and somewhat feeble general named Peter Justice Black had command of a Martian mining colony when word of a coup in the capital, called Garden City (Mexico City), reached him. The general had a long history of service to the Empire, having started out as a NCO under a long dead emperor, becoming a general for his son Matthias Anthony (an analogue for Marcus Areilus) and in turn his son, Luke Spacious Anthony (who is written a lot like Commodus). The pretender to the throne was the African Turk governor of Texas named Abdul Selin who had slain the latest in a line of fools who have ruled since the murder of Spacious by his mistress. Mr. Golden, a fuel dealer in Garden City has openly supported Selin, but was also financially supporting his two major challengers, one of whom was General Black. Both Golden and Black knew that if Selin got enough support he would decimate the Empire to stabilize his rule, and in all likelihood would kill both Golden and Black along with all of their family members. Black stirred from the torpor of his old age, and with the assistance of his illegitimate daughter, Justa, an important aide-de-camp, escaped to Earth and with Justa's counsel routed Selin's army in an act of tactical brilliance.

That is the main contemporary story, but the bulk of the book was given to Justa's recollections of the last fifteen years of history in which her father played an important role. Black came of age as a military commander under Emperor Matthias Anthony, who was a fair and capable leader. He was also capable of barbarity when circumstances called for it. Matthias died in a campaign against the Manchurians when they released a nano plague that destroyed electronics; the plague destroyed an AI device in his brain that served as an adviser. The presence of the nonfunctioning device withing the brain's tissue eventually killed it's owner. Matthias' successor was his son who came to be known as The Concerned One. The Concerned One was execrable, and during his eleven year reign went from evil to insane. He ruled over an empire that straddled "the northern half of the world," and stretched from Siberia across the Pacific to the Caribbean. He was a "beautiful monster" who killed when he wished, gave the masses blood sport as entertainment, and gradually withdrew to his own folly, leaving the business of running the empire to increasingly brutal regents. The Concerned One's descent into madness and depravity was one of the best parts of this book, and is closely seconded by the descent of the Empire to a low-tech network of loosely connected city-states. We see The Concerned One several times as the historical part of the book progressed, as the General and his retinue were called to Garden City several times to help deal with problems. Each time the Emperor was encountered he had slipped further and further into insanity. His antics were depicted well with crazier and crazier changes to State policy, odder and odder reasons for murder, and longer and longer strides towards a truly depraved sexual lifestyle. Judson was as illustrative as he needed to be in describing the downward spiral of the Emperor and though he did not become exceedingly graphic, the point cannot be not missed, for example, when the General went to the Capital for the first time. While waiting for the Emperor in a large marble foyer the City Guardians walked out and murdered the man to the right of him, splashing him with liters of blood. They then realized that they had killed the wrong man and shot the man to the general's left, dousing the other side of him.

Judson also did an amazing job describing the downfall of the Empire itself. Centuries before the war in Manchuria began the South Africans had released a metal eating virus that moved with people and destroyed metal whenever it came into contact with it. Like all diseases, that virus mutated and became harmless, but the South Africans kept pumping them out. The Manchurian nanites did not help the problem, so as the years went by more and more technology became useless. At the beginning of the story things like radios, planes, tanks and other tools of war still existed, and throughout the story Judson very gradually phased them out as the various phages did their deeds. With no usable high tech and very little usable metal the Emperors were unable to hold onto their lands, and the Empire gradually crumbled apart. Once Black destroyed Selin's army in Turkey, Selin scampered back to Mexico and the empire broke apart entirely. The world went back to independent regions which had contact with others only through trading caravans, and the level of technology dropped back to movable printing presses, wooden ships and the pony express.

Overall this book is pretty well written, and I think it tells an interesting story. Thematically it deals with entropy, and although military aspects also predominate the text, I think Judson's main motivation was to tell a tale about a vast empire that was crumbling from its core outward. In that, he succeeded wildly. No aspect or individual part of the book stood out, but I get the feeling that Judson really has not come into his own as author yet. Based on the strength of this work though, he bears further watching. Get this one for a flight or for something to read over a weekend.

Copyright © 2008, Gregory Tidwell

Reviewed by GTT · Rating Rating of 3.5 star(s)


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