Monday, April 14, 2008

Review: The Martian General’s Daughter by Theodore Judson

I try not to judge books by their covers, but The Martian General’s Daughter by Theodore Judson had me eagerly anticipating the book by the cover alone (cover by Sparth). I love the portrayal of the weathered old general dressed in a uniform looking like a holdover from the Civil War in front of an undeniably futuristic backdrop. On further examination I am drawn to the perhaps more compelling image of a young woman hovering in the background. When combined with the overall sense of shadow and decay, the cover becomes the perfect metaphor for the words to follow.

Set about 300 years into the future, The Martian General’s Daughter follows General Peter Black, both an ordinary and extraordinary man, and a general of unquestionable loyalty in a time when loyalty means little and gets you nowhere. General Black rose through the ranks in his service to older and perhaps more honorable Emperor’s and unquestioningly supports the new Emperor, insanity and all.

General Black is an alien among sad, corrupted men – a force to be reckoned with, in spite of his mundane and almost ordinary character. His introduction provides the best example:

The red dust the machines were raising was becoming very thick around the conveyer belt; some of the officers—including Brigadier Harriman, the second-in-command—were choking on the rolling clouds and were frantically waving their hands in front of their faces to make patches of breathable air. One of these officers, a young Spaniard named Arango, remarked to me how well the general endured the dust; the others were making a great show of their suffering while the old veteran remained seated, his eyes held straight ahead and his body rigid. “He is an example to us all,” said the young man. Not until the messengers came with the letter from Garden City did he realize that the general had gone to sleep.

At once we see the respect the general garners from the men serving him, the unexpected truth, and a hint of what his betters would think.

Told through the eyes of Justa, the general’s illegitimate daughter, we see the final throes of a once mighty empire. The story gains new dimensions as it moves forward – becoming as much the story of Justa as the general. We slowly learn bits and pieces of Justa’s past as she relates the story of her father. As an empire decays, we feel that Justa thrives and grows. In the end, we have three stories in one – the death of empire, the biography of a great general, and the growth a young woman.

Judson retells Roman history with this futuristic tale – standing on the well-known (and so often not headed) tenet: “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it”. A better student of history than I will be able to judge the success of Judson’s historical parallels, but they feel right to me. This book can be read as the retelling of history, a cautionary tale of the future and past, or a subtle yet biting satire on our own America. In that Judson certainly succeeds without browbeating that can be so common.

The prose can be rather dry at times and the ending leaves conflicting emotions within me – the greater of which believes it to be fumbled in a warm-fuzzy kind of way. But these are not great enough weaknesses to take away from a thoroughly enjoyable book. 7.5/10


ThRiNiDiR said...

The decaying empires is becomming a favorite theme of mine...great review Neth.

Anonymous said...

Nice review - I have the book on order from Amazon. Not to be picky - well maybe a bit - but :

throws => throes


Mihai A. said...

Very nice review. And thank you very much for the link.

Unknown said...

Thanks for the review. I cannot wait to read this book. 'Fitzpatrick's War' by Judson has been one of my favorite books of the last few years.

Neth said...


Damn typos! Thanks


Glad you liked the review.

Anonymous said...

I just wanted to say that I really enjoy the reviews you write here. Excellent blog! :)

Neth said...

Thanks Gabrielle - you clearly have great taste ;)


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