Robert Charles Wilson's Julian Comstock: A Story of the 22nd Century was pressed into my hands by my editor, Patrick Nielsen Hayden, seconds after I told him that I absolutely, positively could not take any more books with me because I was totally snowed under, a year behind on my reading. "Read this one," he said. "It's worth it."
It was worth it.
The early jacket copy for Julian Comstock reads, in part, "If Jules Verne had read Karl Marx, then sat down to write The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, he still wouldn't have matched the invention and exuberance of Robert Charles Wilson's Julian Comstock." Damn right.
Julian is the story of a world sunk into feudal barbarism, 150 years after Peak Oil, plagues, economic collapse and war left the planet in tatters. Now, America (grown to encompass most of Canada, save for deeply entrenched Dutch and "mitteleuropean" forces in the now-verdant Labrador) is ruled over by a mad hereditary president, whose power is buoyed up by the Dominion, a religious authority that represents the true power in a nation where the new First Amendment guarantees the right to worship at any sanctioned church of your choosing.
The president's nephew, Julian Comstock, has been squirreled away to "Athabaska" to escape the attention of his uncle, who has already assassinated Julian's father, fearing a coup. In the bucolic Alberta farms, Comstock befriends Adam Hazzard, the charming, naive and eloquent narrator of the story. Hazzard is the son of a bondsman who is attached to the feudal territory of the local lord, and is an outcast due to his adherence to a disfavored sect of snake-handlers.
The president is determined to eliminate the threat that Julian poses to his throne, so he issues a general order of conscription for young men to go to the Labrador front and die before the Dutch. But Julian and Adam escape the local press-gang and enlist elsewhere under an assumed name, so that Julian will not be singled out for suicidal duty. As he distinguishes himself in battle, Adam chronicles his adventures, and the two embark on a grand, rollicking, gripping adventure that overturns the entire nation.
Politically astute, romantic, philosophical, compassionate and often uproariously funny, Julian Comstock may be Wilson's best book yet -- and that's saying a lot of a man who has already collected a shelf full of awards for books like Spin.
Update: Lorna Toolis from Toronto's excellent Merril Collection science fiction library adds, "could you mention that Bob Wilson's Julian Comstock is being launched at the Merril Collection, Thursday, July 2 at 7:00 P.M?"